. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rugby Sevens Tourney Comes to Local Airbase

MTIrishman Ross Hassett eluding Unistaff defenders in the eight-team First Annual Russo-British Chamber of Commerce Rugby tournament played in Monino on Saturday.
Russia may not have a long rugby sevens tradition, but the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce is trying to change that.

Over the weekend, the organization held the First Annual Russo-British Chamber of Commerce Rugby Sevens Tournament under sunny skies on the pitch at the Monino airbase, attracting 3,000 fans and bringing in English rugby great Will Carling and former Welsh star Ieuan Evans.

The tournament featured five teams composed entirely of Russians and three rosters with players who doubled as regulars on the Moscow Dragons -- a local team whose regular players rotate but generally include mostly expats and about a quarter Russians. The Dragons split up and formed the DHL, CMS Cameron McKenna and RBCC teams.

The five other teams were from Moscow-area rugby clubs, which were also sponsored for the day by Western or joint-venture firms. Sistema funded the club side from Fili, and Moscow Narodny Bank supported a team of players from the Zelenograd squad.

The Slava club also sent a squad, but the two early Russian favorites were local boys from the base's airforce academy -- VVA Podmoskovskiye and the academy's second-string side Unistaff. They went on to meet each other in the final, with the first-stringers emerging with a 45-7 victory and walking away with the championship.

The first game of the day wasn't very competitive, with the eventual champions creaming Sistema-Fili 51-0. The second game, between DHL and MNB, proved more interesting, with a beautiful breakaway try scored by Kenyan Austin Olago, who has played with the Dragons since first coming to Moscow to study aeronautical engineering in 1998.

After making the two-point conversion kick, the DHL team was tied with MNB at 19-19. But this was the closest any primarily expat team would come to beating a Russian side. A quick last-minute try by MNB dashed all hope of an expat team competing for the cup, with a final score of 26-19.

Next, the RBCC's own Dragon-comprised team and Unistaff faced off in a well-played contest, even if the final score didn't reflect it.

Mike Solovyanov / MT

Kenyan Austin Olago running the length of the field for a try for DHL on Saturday.

South African Ryan Plumb scored a nice try for RBCC, his first of two for the day. But it wasn't enough to top the Unistaff team, which took the match with a runaway try for a 31-5 victory.

"They're more fit than us, that's for sure," RBCC's Plumb said after the first-round loss to Unistaff.

The final first-round match was between CMS Cameron McKenna and the Slava side. Slava looked very good from the start, and, even as a try by the young Vasily Artenyev looked like it might spell a turnaround, the final score saw Slava on top, 26-5.

In the tournament's consolation final between RBCC and Sistema-Fili, the expats were off to a tough start, as they were down 12-0 from early on.

Dan Kearvell had a great pass to Kairu Kaiga of Kenya, otherwise known as KK, who made a quick burst down half the field, only to be tackled and pushed out less than 10 meters from the try line.

A textbook line-out to Plumb was brought over to Irishman Ross Hassett, who made it in for a nice try, complete with conversion. This brought the score to 7-12. In the second half, RBCC failed to answer Fili's third try.

Then Olago, who, along with Kaiga, was playing his last game with the Dragons before returning to Africa, took off with tremendous acceleration, easily breezing by defenders until reaching the far end of the field.

Attempting a grabber, where a player kicks the ball upfield and runs around the defenders to grab it again, Olago was obstructed by a Fili player. After the penalty, RBCC set up a brilliant play that brought Plumb in for a try. With Sistema-Fili leading 14-19, the game looked like it could go either way, until Fili's fluke try gave it a 26-14 victory.

After a full day of rugby, beers were downed, ankles were iced. The Dragons, who practice twice a week, year-round, showed no bitter feelings toward the Russian clubs that had demonstrated what youth and a strict practice regime can do for a rugby team.

Instead, a somewhat winded Hassett justified a heroic full-field chase that prevented a try with: "A guy about half my age thought he could get by me."