OISO, 28 Sep - Russia's squad at Rugby World Cup 2019 is not only the oldest, with an average age of 31, it is also almost exclusively home-based. Just two players in Japan, Valery Morozov (Sale Sharks) and Andrey Ostrikov (FC Grenoble), earn their living abroad.
Players such as 28-year-old hooker Stanislav Selskii have to look overseas for the next challenge. "You always wish to grow as an athlete, to reach new peaks," he said. "The Russian championship is not a top one, especially compared with the English and French leagues. I would like to play at such a level and to prove myself there.
"I would be glad to receive any offer, from any championship, even from the Japanese league which is making big progress."
Yet as Russia, pictured in action against Samoa, continue to seek that elusive first win at a World Cup, there are signs that their best players may have a future in their home country, coaching the next generation and thus helping to improve the quality of the national team.
Kirill Kulemin, the former second-row who missed Rugby World Cup 2011 through injury and is team manager in Japan, is in charge of World Rugby’s high-performance programme in Russia.
"The main directive from the World Rugby is to keep staff and players in the game. It’s a very good initiative in educational terms for the team management, staff, coaches and also for referees," he said. "We can already see high-performance impact on such teams as Georgia, Japan and United States."
Russia has enjoyed high-performance assistance since 2008 and Kulemin lists many benefits. "Our union is provided with everything necessary, including finance and specialists in various fields. For example, a referee from New Zealand has been linked to our national team. His assistance has allowed us to reduce the number of fouls during a match, from 20 to just eight or nine."
"Richie Dixon (the former Scotland and Georgia head coach), has joined us on a regular basis. He gives advice and helps the coaching staff and his extensive experience speaks for itself."
Kulemin accepts that Russia's best players need to move abroad. "We should give young talents opportunities to join the national team at a younger age, ideally between 23 or 24, to reduce our team’s average. For better progress, they need to have more international experience, to play in foreign leagues. High-level games in our championships are not enough.
"We expect some young players to demonstrate their best at this World Cup and to make themselves conspicuous for the foreign sides. Possibilities and potential are all there."
Second-row Bogdan Fedotko, 25, experienced a taste of top rugby on a seven-month internship at Canterbury International Academy in 2011.
"It was so classy in New Zealand," he said. "I often saw players such as Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Sonny Bill Williams. I was only 16, so I could only dream of it. I have supported the Crusaders, and the New Zealand national team, since then."
Scrum-half Vasily Dorofeev, 29, is also looking abroad. "Every player wants to play at his maximum level. Each of us here, except maybe the veterans, would wish to play for top (foreign) clubs and to improve our game. I am no exception."
Kulemin believes that the multi-faceted high performance programme should help players stay involved in the sport. "Players who compete at the World Cup may become coaches in the future, and our task is to hold them within our system, so that they don’t get lost after finishing athletic career. They can work in Rugby Union of Russia (RUR) or with clubs.
"If Russian rugby develops further, they will always be wanted. For example, Alexander Voytov has passed through the high-performance system. He received the highest coaching level from World Rugby and now works with the national team as assistant coach."