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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dragons Keep Rugby Fire Burning in the Snow

MTThe Moscow Dragons squad taking on another amateur rugby team, despite the wintery conditions, at a recent weekend match.
Before coming to Moscow, Sam Stockley had never played rugby in the snow. But on his arrival three months ago, the 21-year-old university student from Bath, England, found the Moscow Dragons, a local expat rugby team, in the middle of its winter season.

"It's completely different," Stockley said. "It's freezing. I wouldn't choose to do it this way, but it's good fun."

Founded in 1997, the Dragons are a group of die-hard rugby players who take their talents and enthusiasm to local pitches all year round.

A truly international squad, the Dragons hail from 18 different countries, plus a handful of Russian rugby players.

"We say officially that we have players from 18 different countries," said club president Steve Lidstone. "But in reality, it's probably around 30 different countries."

As the only expat side in the city's eight-team amateur league, the Dragons play a match every weekend.

They practice one to two times a week throughout the winter months, and in warmer seasons, or in preparation for an upcoming tournament, three times a week.

"If a league game gets canceled on the weekend, then we'll call up another team and see if we can organize a friendly," said Roland de Rijk, a Dutch player. "After all, playing rugby is what it's all about."

But although many of the Dragons are experienced -- some of the Russian players have even played at the international level -- Lidstone stresses that anyone interested in joining the team can come and train, regardless of skill level.

"We welcome all comers to rugby," Lidstone said. "We have a few people like that who come along and who maybe have never played rugby before. We get them training and then take them along to a game to get them on the field.

"If they take to it, they can join. If not, they can stay and socialize."

The team's main social event is the annual Valentine's Ball, held recently on Feb. 15, which gives the Dragons a chance to celebrate and raise money for a selected charity at the same time. This year over $2,000 was raised for Action for Russia's Children, a British-registered charity made up entirely of volunteers that raises funding for orphans, homeless, disabled and needy children.

One of the Dragons' other annual events is the Red-Blue game, an intersquad game to commemorate a teammate who died three years ago after being hit by a motorcycle in Moscow.

"It's become a tradition for us to play the game on the anniversary of his death," Lidstone said. "He was a young player who played brilliantly that day, and sadly he died that night."

The Dragons also organize four tours abroad each year, including the annual Capitals Cup tournament for expat teams from primarily East European capitals, including Warsaw, Budapest, Prague, Vienna and a combined Riga/Tallinn squad.

After capturing the cup in 2000 and finishing second in 2001, the Dragons took fourth place in the 2002 cup held in Vienna, Austria.

Club captain and founding Dragon member Kevin Moloney said the team has a chance to reclaim their 2000 glory in this year's cup, which will be held in Riga, Latvia, in September.

"Assuming we can get most of the team together this year. I think we have a really good chance of winning it," said Moloney, who is from Limerick, Ireland.

Also in the works is a trip to Bucharest to watch Russia and Romania play a Six Nations B match on March 22, and then, for the Dragons to play a match against a local team.

But competition aside, Lidstone says as much energy is put into the team's social activities as into its success on the pitch.

"We are not a hard-playing side in the sense that we take everything completely seriously. We have a very great social aspect as well. We play 'three halves of rugby' as they call it. It's just as important to be involved in the third half, after the game."

And for the Dragons, relaxing -- and downing a few pints or the occasional tequila -- after a tough match is a sacred tradition.

"It's a very hard, physical game, and I think both sides appreciate that win or lose, the other side is also putting in effort," Lidstone said. "Afterward, all of your physical aggressiveness is drained out of your body. So all that's left to do is have a good time."

For more information on how to get involved call Steve Lidstone on 764-3042 or visit the Moscow Dragon's web site at www.moscowdragons.org and sign the guest book.