Ahead of their crucial Rugby World Cup 2015 repechage semi-final against Zimbabwe on 2 August, Russia invited Total Rugby behind the scenes, including one trailblazer with rugby in his blood.
While many of Russia’s players have converted from more mainstream sports to get to the top of international rugby, star fly-half Yury Kushnarev was seemingly born to play the game.
“I was born in a small town close to Moscow called Monino. My father played for the Soviet Union national team and they were based there. My brother started playing rugby, and then me, and we are still playing,” explained Kushnarev, who appeared in his country’s first ever Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011 and has amassed a record 425 points from 63 Tests.
Four of father Vicktor’s 28 caps for the old Soviet Union came during the Cold War period against Zimbabwe, who now loom large as Yury’s next Rugby World Cup qualifying opponents in the repechage.
Not all of Kushnarev’s teammates have come from a rugby-mad family. As an Ice Hockey player from an early age, lock Kirill Kulemin was more bothered about pucks than rucks. But he has since forged a career as a professional rugby player in France, and now in England with Sale Sharks.
“I had been playing hockey for seven years, until I was 15,” Kulemin told Total Rugby. “I believe it helped my physical development and later on allowed me to switch to a contact sport like rugby. I think rugby combines different aspects from other types of sport.
“In Russia, Rugby is far from being the most popular game. So many players come to rugby from other sports like Basketball, Athletics, Handball and Hockey like me. If we fall into the hands of professional coaches who teach us a good technique, then such players can develop into great rugby players.”