Eni­sei make his­tory with Euro­pean de­but

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

KRAS­NO­YARSK: Rugby union will break new ground in the Siberian city of Kras­no­yarsk this week­end when lo­cal team Eni­sei-STM be­come the first Rus­sian club to play in the group stages of a Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion.

Eni­sei will host Ir­ish side Con­nacht in the con­ti­nent’s sec­ond-tier Chal­lenge Cup on Novem­ber 14, some 6,000 kilo­me­tres (3,700 miles) east of Ire­land, af­ter over­com­ing the odds to get among the big boys of Europe’s club game.

As the harsh Siberian win­ter sets in, Eni­sei will then switch their next two home group games against French club Brive and English side New­cas­tle Fal­cons to the con­sid­er­ably warmer climes of the re­sort city of Sochi, far to the west on Rus­sia’s Black Sea coast.

“It’s the life-long dream of any rugby player to try his skills at the top level against the Euro­pean elite,” club cap­tain Yury Bara­nov told AFP.

“To win a place in the Chal­lenge Cup is al­ready a great achieve­ment for our team but now we all want to be com­pet­i­tive and not just whip­ping boys.”

Banned un­der Stalin

De­spite first com­ing to Rus­sia in the 1880s with for­eign work­ers build­ing the trans-Siberian rail­way, rugby has strug­gled to take off in the vast coun­try af­ter a some­times testy re­la­tion­ship with the author­i­ties.

The sport was briefly banned un­der Com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor Joseph Stalin due to be­ing “cos­mopoli­tan” and de­spite the launch of a na­tional cham­pi­onship in 1966, the game is still a rar­ity even af­ter an uptick of in­ter­est in re­cent years. Even in Kras­no­yarsk-con­sid­ered the cen­tre of rugby in Siberia-the club ad­mits that it may strug­gle to fill its 25,000-seater sta­dium for its Euro­pean de­but.

“I don’t ex­pect that the match will be sold out but peo­ple liv­ing in Kras­no­yarsk are show­ing se­ri­ous in­ter­est in the first ever Euro­pean cup en­counter in our city,” said sta­dium man­ager Sergei Venevt­sev.

But while the away side may not have to con­tend with the fiercest of home sup­port, the Ir­ish out­fit will have to face the no­to­ri­ous Siberian weather. “The weather fore­cast­ers have promised the tem­per­a­ture will be around mi­nus two de­gree Cel­sius by mid-Novem­ber,” Venevt­sev said. “That’s mild for Siberia.”

Con­nacht team man­ager Tim All­nutt said the lo­gis­tics of the trip were test­ing, not least two flights for a to­tal 10 hours of air­time to play at a venue with a seven-hour time dif­fer­ence.

“It is a very se­vere trip and the time fac­tor is go­ing to be one of the is­sues,” said All­nutt, quoted by the Ir­ish Times. “They’re def­i­nitely go­ing to be dif­fer­ent con­di­tions than we are used to.

“We’ll have ther­mals un­der our shirts but not on the legs. Just nor­mal shorts. The un­known el­e­ments are the mileage and the time dif­fer­ence. We re­ally we don’t know what to ex­pect.”

As for the club, present day Eni­sei started off life in the mid-1970s as the team of a hulk­ing lo­cal fac­tory churn­ing out heavy ma­chin­ery for the vast Soviet em­pire.

Af­ter years play­ing in the lower leagues of Soviet rugby, the team won pro­mo­tion to the top divi­sion in 1989 just as the USSR was com­ing apart at the seams.

Since then the club, which was re­named as Eni­sei-STM in 2000, have won six Rus­sian ti­tles, four na­tional cups and two Rus­sian Su­per Cups.

Hopes for the fu­ture

But while they have racked up their fair share of do­mes­tic glory, the club is now fac­ing a dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion by tak­ing on some of Europe’s finest-and they ad­mit it will be tough.

“Eni­sei have proved that Rus­sian rugby is able to com­pete on a Euro­pean level but we do not set any grandiose goals for our first ever Euro­pean Cup cam­paign,” man­ager Alexan­der Pervukhin said.

“In any case, the ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing against Europe’s top teams in of­fi­cial matches will be pre­cious for Eni­sei play­ers.”

While Eni­sei’s par­tic­i­pa­tion may be im­por­tant for the club, Rus­sian rugby chiefs are hop­ing the the club’s move up to the next level may help to spur in­ter­est in the game in the coun­try, which is look­ing to bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

“It’s a great suc­cess for the all of rugby in the coun­try,” Rus­sia’s rugby fed­er­a­tion boss Vy­ach­eslav Kopiev said af­ter Eni­sei-STM made it into the Chal­lenge Cup group stages.

“We are set to join the race for the right to stage 2023 Rugby World Cup in Rus­sia. Hope­fully, the Chal­lenge Cup matches in Rus­sia will boost the in­ter­est for the game in our coun­try.” —AFP

HONG KONG: Ja­pan rugby team cel­e­brates af­ter Ja­pan qual­i­fied for the 2016 Rio Olympics by win­ning the fi­nal match of Asia Rugby Sev­ens against Hong Kong in Hong Kong. —AP

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