Nikolai Vladimirovich Nerush
Age 50 (24 July 1960)
Birthplace Moscow
Coaching history VVA Monino
Record as Russia coach
(November 2008-present)
P21 W12 L8 D1

He’s achieved all he can domestically. Now Nikolai Nerush is facing the toughest challenge of his career to date. He tells Lúcás Ó’Ceallacháin why he can’t wait…

Nikolai Nerush is a realist. Drawn in a World Cup pool containing Australia, Ireland, Italy and the USA, the Russia head coach knows the challenge in New Zealand will be huge.

“This is the first time we have qualified for a Rugby World Cup,” explains Nerush. “The priority for us is to approach every game as a new challenge and to show the rugby world and the Russian public that we can play rugby with the best.

“We want to put in four good performances and have set ourselves the target of one victory in our first Rugby World Cup. Even this will be a monumental challenge.

“We hope to play our game our way. The style of the national team involves a fast, dynamic game in attack, solid set-piece, organised defence and a fast counter-attacking game. We know the current level of Russian rugby is a long way from that of Australia, Italy or Ireland, but we’ll do our best to perform at maximum capacity.”

Nerush doubles up as head coach of Russian club side VVA Monino in the Moscow region. He has also played for and been a youth coach at VVA, who are known as the ‘Lyechiki’ or ‘Pilots’, due to their connection with the aviation academy that has trained fighter pilots and cosmonauts. VVA have won everything there is to win in Russian rugby and, with playing numbers in the country limited, the squad make up the bulk of the national team.

“There is only really a pool of about 50 to 60 players for us to choose the national team from in Russia,” he says. “Sevens has allowed us to see other players in action before bringing them into the national team. The experience that the players can gain there is a real bonus for the national team, but it’s also a struggle for managing the welfare of players.

“At times I’ve been criticised for not choosing more players from outside VVA, but I have to do what is best for the national team. Now we’re starting to see a new generation of players coming through, as evidenced by the young side that did so well in the Hong Kong Sevens this year.”

The preparations for the World Cup have been ongoing since their 21-21 draw in Romania in 2010 ensured their qualification for the tournament. “We have been around the world and back, training in South Africa, New Zealand and England. We have played more games than ever, adding Tests against Canada and Japan as well as games against New Zealand clubs,” says Nerush.

“This season we were able to try new things in the European Nations Cup as World Cup qualification was already secured and there was no real pressure. We’ve tried players in different positions and given new players opportunities to play. We’re now closer to knowing what our best 15 is.”

The coaching team has changed with forwards coach Steve Diamond departing for Sale and Australian strength and conditioning coach Nigel Ashley-Jones also leaving. But Nerush has faith in the group coaching Russia at the Churchill Cup this month.

“Steve and Nigel were big losses for us as they brought a lot of innovation and expertise to our set-up. We’re fortunate to have Kingsley Jones come in and for Henry Paul to stay on. We still have plenty of time together with the Churchill Cup and camps, so we’ll gel as a unit and prepare the team.”

Nerush’s own playing achievements are numerous, but he prefers to focus on the enjoyment the national team has brought him. “I’ve won a lot of things as a coach, everything you can in Russia domestically, and now we’re heading to a World Cup.It’s been a long journey and I share the excitement of the players, staff and fans about the adventure ahead of us in New Zealand.”

This article appeared in Part 1 of our Rugby World Cup Supplement.

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