All Whites: 'Snow rugby' catches on in Russia

Although rugby remains far from the most popular sport in Russia, the snowy version of the game appears to be catching on.
Although rugby remains far from the most popular sport in Russia, the snowy version of the game appears to be catching on.
Image: AFP Photo/Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

A January morning in Moscow and temperatures hanging around -10 degrees Celsius. On one of the rare rugby pitches of the Russian capital, hundreds have gathered to take part in a "snow rugby" tournament.

Though rugby remains far from the most popular sport in Russia, the snowy version of the game appears to be catching on.

In the suburb of Zelenograd, 28 male and 12 female teams compete in the eighth edition of "the biggest snow rugby tournament in Europe, and possibly the world," according to organiser Vladimir Dorofeev.

The rules are similar to those of "beach rugby", in which Russia has a good reputation.

The game is played on a small field -- covered in snow -- with two teams of five players, over two halves of five minutes without tackles or scrums.

This allows for "a very quick game, very dynamic," says Dorofeev, who oversees the beach and snow versions of the sport at the Russian Rugby Federation.

For some, "snezhniy rugby" is a way to practise their favourite sport year-round.

That is certainly the case for Anton Nikolaichuk, a resident of Murmansk where, he jokes, "it's winter for 10 months a year".

Nikolaichuk has come down to Moscow from Murmansk -- the largest city in the Arctic Circle -- especially to take part in the tournament.

"The rules are very simple, anyone can play," he says, unlike the more complex 15-a-side traditional rugby union.

Dorofeev has high hopes for the sport. In the year of a Rugby World Cup for which Russia has qualified, his ambition is to see snow rugby "in the Olympics in the near future".

Russia tackle Japan in the opening game of the 2019 World Cup in Tokyo next September. - AFP

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