Soviet Union national rugby union team

The USSR national rugby union team was a sporting side that represented the Soviet Union in rugby union until the early 1990s.

Soviet Union
UnionFederation of USSR Rugby Union Players
Team kit
Change kit
First international
 Soviet Union 31–10 Griviţa Roşie (ro)
(4 August 1974)
Largest win
 Soviet Union 72–0 Sweden 
(30 October 1976)
Largest defeat
 England 53–0 Soviet Union 
(7 September 1991)


Although tournaments such as the Soviet Cup and the Soviet Championship existed, rugby never became a major sport in the USSR. Rugby union was the more popular of the two rugby codes, however, as rugby league only began being played following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Rugby football was played in the Russian Empire as early as 1884; however, the first official match, played in Moscow, did not take place until 1923. Because of the Russian Revolution, some Soviet/Russian players emigrated and/or ended up playing for foreign sides, a notable example being Prince Alexander Obolensky (Александр Сергеевич Оболенский) who played for Oxford and England in the 1930s – he was the scorer of 2 tries on his England debut in their win over New Zealand in January 1936. His noble birth precluded him from playing in his home country and his family had fled the country when he was only a year old.

In 1935 the Moscow Championship was initiated, followed by the first Soviet Championship which took place in 1936.

In 1949, rugby union was forbidden throughout the USSR during the "fight against cosmopolitanism". Competition was resumed in 1957, and the Soviet Championship recommenced in 1966. In 1975, the Soviet national team played their first ever match.[1]

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet team began to improve their performances, often coming second to France, or third to Romania in the FIRA tournament. The team were never given the opportunity to play a tier 1 nation where test caps were awarded.

The organisers of the 1987 Rugby World Cup had intended to invite the USSR as one of the participants. However, before the invitation could be made, the USSR refused to take part on political grounds, allegedly due to the continued IRB membership of South Africa. The first tournament was by invitation rather than qualification, and despite successes against teams such as Italy and Romania in the years leading up to the inaugural Cup, the USSR did not enter.

The Soviet team did not attempt to qualify for the 1991 Rugby World Cup finals. They played their last game against Spain in the FIRA tournament in November 1991, shortly before the country's own dissolution. The USSR's successor was briefly the Commonwealth of Independent States, after which the former constituent states formed their own national teams.

The Soviet rugby team visited Ireland and the United States for the first time in 1990.[2][3]

The FIRA Trophy 1974–1997Edit

Year Winner Second place Third place
1973–74   France   Romania   Spain
1974–75   Romania   France   Italy
1975–76   France   Italy   Romania
1976–77   Romania   France   Italy
1977–78   France   Romania   Spain
1978–79   France   Romania   Soviet Union
1979–80   France   Romania   Italy
1980–81   Romania   France   Soviet Union
1981–82   France   Italy   Romania
1982–83   Romania   Italy   Soviet Union
1983–84   France   Romania   Italy
1984–85   France   Soviet Union   Italy
1985–87   France   Soviet Union   Romania
1987–89   France   Soviet Union   Romania
1989–90   France   Soviet Union   Romania
1990–92   France   Italy   Romania
1992–94   France   Italy   Romania
1995–97   Italy   France   Romania

USSR tour to New ZealandEdit

In 1991, in preparation for the second Rugby World Cup in Britain, France and Ireland, New Zealand hosted short tours by Western Samoa, Fiji, Romania and the USSR. There were no matches of Test status played by New Zealand against the tourists, but a side designated "A New Zealand XV" met both the Romanian and Soviet sides.

The USSR tour party comprised 26 players and was led from the front-row by Sergei Molchenov. They won four and lost four of the eight matches played:

  • May 25: W 25–24 v Nelson Bays (Nelson)
  • May 29: W 23–16 v Marlborough (Blenheim)
  • June 1: L 15–73 v Canterbury (Christchurch)
  • June 5: W 33–10 v Mid Canterbury (Ashburton)
  • June 8: L 11–37 v Otago (Dunedin)
  • June 12: L 16–39 v Taranaki (New Plymouth)
  • June 16: L 6–56 v NEW ZEALAND XV (Hamilton)
  • June 18: W 22–15 v King Country (Te Kuiti)

The tours gave the New Zealand selectors a chance to gauge the form of players likely to be on the periphery of selection for the World Cup. The teams in the representative match you refer to were as follows:

June 16, 1991 at Rugby Park, Hamilton New Zealand XV 56 (8G 2T) – USSR 6 (1PG 1DG) New Zealand XV: E J Crossan; E Clarke, W K Maunsell, T D L Tagaloa; A F McCormick, J P Preston; J A Hewett; O M Brown, N J Hewitt, M R Allen, R M Brooke, D W Mayhew, M P Carter, W T Shelford (captain), W R Gordon

Tries: McCormick (2), Crossan (2), Maunsell (2), Tagaloa (2), Shelford, Carter Conversions: Crossan (8)

USSR : V Voropaev; A Zakarliuk, I Kuperman, A Kovalenko, I Mironov; S Boldakov, A Bychkov; E Kabylkin, S Molchenov (captain), R Bikbov, S Sergeev, E Ganiakhin, V Negodin, A Ogryzkov, A Tikhonov Replacements used: Y Nikolaev, V Zykov

Penalty Goal: Boldakov Dropped Goal: Boldakov

Referee: Mr D J Bishop

USSR tour to EnglandEdit

In September, the USSR were guests of the RFU and played the Combined London Old Boys at Croxley Green (OMTs' ground) before meeting an England XV in a World Cup warm-up game at Twickenham where they lost 53–0 to a full-strength side led by Will Carling.

Final games as CISEdit

Their last representative matches as a united Soviet side were during the 1991–92 season. A team labelled "CIS" fulfilled their remaining FIRA Championship fixtures against Italy, Spain, Romania and France A.

Russia has competed as a separate entity at the international level since 1992.

Notable playersEdit

200 Soviet players became Masters of Sport. Three notable ones are:

Successor teamsEdit

The rugby teams of the USSR's successor states have had varying success.

Initially, the former USSR competed under the Commonwealth of Independent States banner, but this itself terminated in 1992. It had played four matches.

The most successful "successor" rugby team has been Georgia, which competed in the 2003 Rugby World Cup, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. They had a respectable performance against Ireland and defeated Namibia twice in 2007 and 2015, defeated Tonga 17-10 in 2015. The Rugby World Cup, coincidentally, got going at around the point that the Soviet Union was disintegrating – no other ex-Soviet team other than Georgia had ever qualified until 2011 when Russia qualified, and the early World Cups were also smaller tournaments. The Georgia Rugby Union was founded in 1964, but did not compete as a national team during the Soviet Era.

As of 3 March 2008, however, Russia's form had improved greatly, being placed at 17th position in the world rankings, ahead of Portugal, the USA, Japan, and coming one point behind Romania.[4]


The following successor teams are in the European Nations Cup: