2009: Nations Cup points to future

(IRB.COM) Sunday 27 December 2009
 2009: Nations Cup points to future
Since impressing in the Nations Cup, Russia have already gone on to turn heads in the IRB Sevens World Series

On the face of it, the IRB Nations Cup 2009 was fairly unremarkable, Scotland A triumphing at the climax of a tournament that also featured the 'A' sides from France and Italy, as well as Uruguay, Romania and Russia.

However, the tournament also shed light on a number of interesting developments among the nations vying to join the rugby world's elite, developments that we may all be forced to sit up and take notice of far sooner than expected.

Firstly, if Andy Robinson goes on to achieve great things with the current Scotland side - and victory over Australia in the November tests might have been a portent - he will always look back fondly on his first tournament in charge of a Scottish national side in the most unlikely of places.

Away from the glitz and clamour of the RBS Six Nations, Robinson's first assignment with Scotland was to take the 'A' side to Bucharest, where they walked away with the 2009 trophy in Romania's capital.

Chris Cusiter led them with great maturity, and indeed went on to be rewarded the full (joint) Scotland captaincy in the autumn, as they proved too strong for France's second string in the final at the stadionul National Arcul de Triumf, 22-12.

With Robinson at the helm, will Scotland rise from their current IRB World Ranking of nine and really challenge in the Six Nations and then at next year's Rugby World Cup? With the likes of Richie Vernon and John Houston pushing the established names for their places, he may be onto something.

It was the other ranking finals in Romania, though, that provided a real glimpse into the future. Italy A were too strong for Romania's first team, a sign that perhaps things are beginning to click for the Italians under Nick Mallett, who has great plans to greatly increase the number of Italian-born players in the national side.

Even though they were beaten into fourth place, Romania's brave effort was fanatically supported by a partisan home crowd - a sign, perhaps, that rugby fever is returning to a country which enjoys such a proud and illustrious history in the sport, undone more by political strife in the 80s than any great shortcomings on the pitch.

Russia: The greatest sleeping giant of all?

And in the match for fifth and sixth, one of the game's most dangerous of 'sleeping giants' gave notice, Russia triumphing over Rugby World Cup veterans, Uruguay.

Couple that result with their current ranking in the European Nations Cup - top - and their recent performances on the IRB Sevens World Series - Shield winners on their first trip to Dubai and Bowl finalists in South Africa - and it is easy to foresee a Russian national side competing with the very best before too long.

After all, when the IOC voted to add Sevens to the sporting programme of the Olympic Games from 2016, they opened the flood gates in Russia and other places like China, India and the USA.

With the crucial IOC seal of approval, Rugby can now become a core sport on the Russian national schools curriculum. It will be intriguing to see how much more competitive they are both in the Sevens and at future Nations Cup tournaments before long - perhaps even at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand?

If they were to qualify as 'Europe 1', they would line up in the same pool as Scotland, at which point we would get a very clear indication of both Robinson's and Russia's progress.

2009 IRB Nations Cup

12 June 2009
Italy A 15 - 31 France A
Scotland A 49 - 7 Russia
Uruguay 11 - 17 Romania

16 June 2009
Scotland A 27 - 3 Uruguay
Italy A 35 - 3 Russia
France A 20 - 16 Romania

21 June 2009
Russia 29 - 26 Uruguay
Italy A 24 - 13 Romania
France A 12 - 22 Scotland A