Russia rugby's sleeping giant?

Sport24 columnist JJ Harmse (File)
Sport24 columnist JJ Harmse (File)
JJ Harmse

I am in Taranaki country at the moment, with New Plymouth on the New Zealand west coast the venue of Thursday’s clash between the USA and Russia.

A lot has been made of the game and although the Cold War between the countries may be a thing of the past, but one thing was clear before kick-off, there was not going to be a lot of love handed out.

Taranaki also won the Ranfurly Shield recently and let me tell you, this is rugby country. Driving from Wellington to New Plymouth, a long winding road with many small towns, it was clear that everyone knows about the Rugby World Cup.

Flags are everywhere and there was the odd green and gold Springbok banner and flag to be seen.

One of the other reasons for my visit to the Taranaki was to attend the launch of the World Cup Sevens tournament, to be held in Russia in 2013.

We saw a contingent of Russian heavies attending the launch, with Russia’s deputy Prime Minister, Alexander Zhukov, giving some real meaning to his government’s support of rugby and in this case, Sevens rugby and the hosting of the World Cup.

Russia will be hosting a lot of international events in the coming years, with FIFA's Soccer World Cup in 2018 the top of the list.

It was interesting listening to Kingsley Jones, a Welshman coaching the Russian team at the moment and getting his take on the abilities of the Russian athletes.

“They are strong ball carriers and good athletes with a healthy appetite for rugby,” he revealed.

We have been hearing now for many years about the USA being the sleeping giants of the game, but it seems that things are stalling in the land of the brave and the home of the free.

Russia on the other hand will get a real boost with hosting the World Cup Sevens and we might actually see the Bears and not the Eagles, emerge as a new team on the up.

There is of course massive interest in the way Georgia and Romania are going about their business in the World Cup and if Russia could also emerge as a strong contender at Test level, we might not have to wait that long to see the Six Nations extended.

That is of course if the establishment of rugby allows this to happen.

At every World Cup we realise just how poorly world rugby is treating the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Georgia. At every World Cup we hear promises of a better day for those countries, with more games being promised and the IRB adding to their financial contributions of the high performance centres in those regions.

Yet, it is almost inevitable that come the next World Cup, the teams making up the Six Nations and Tri-Nations are the ones that are the have’s and those outside of those competitions the have not’s.

Let us hope that come England in 2015, not only have the likes of Russia have become real contenders, but the Pacific teams are exposed to regular rugby.

The fear of upsets on the biggest stage should never deter the IRB from continuing their work with the minnows. In the end, we will have a better spectacle if 16 of the 20 teams at the next tournament are actually good enough to win a match.

Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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