If rumours that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin considers rugby the 'ultimate game for the Russian man' are true, the sport looks set for a fine future.

The 58-year-old ex-president is revered by the majority of Russians for a sense of rugged sporting adventure, whether it is getting snapped bare-chested astride a Mongolian horse, earning a judo black belt, taking to the sky in a fighter jet, shooting a Siberian tiger with a tranquilliser gun or diving to the bottom of the world's deepest lake in a submarine. Rugby rates on his manliness scale and there were pre-tournament whispers he might slip through the turnstiles at New Plymouth to see the national side play in the pool rounds against the United States.

With Putin's support and sevens coming on to the Olympic programme from 2016, the sport is guaranteed significant investment. The only sports played in Russia's school system are of Olympic origin and Moscow is also host to the 2013 Sevens World Cup. Minister of sport Vitaly Mutko is a backer who talks about rugby being "football's brother".
Nine new rugby stadiums and associated facilities have been promised around the country in the next few years as a result. The future of sevens was also helped last year by Russia's absence from the football World Cup finals and a poor Winter Olympics.

It makes a turnaround from rugby being banned in the communist Soviet Union by Josef Stalin in 1949 - it was apparently a game for capitalists - before being re-instated by Nikita Khrushchev in 1957. The sport has struggled until recently.

Advertisement

An invitation to take part in the inaugural 1987 tournament was turned down for political reasons, which included South Africa's membership of the IRB, yet a Soviet side played matches against a New Zealand XV in 1991. In 2003, Russia were banned from participating in the World Cup qualifying rounds, after capping three ineligible South Africans. There are still only around 20,000 registered players in a country of 140 million.

The United States is also likely to get a boost to their sevens capabilities with Rio de Janeiro 2016 on the agenda. The New Zealand Rugby Union has a memorandum of understanding with USA Rugby until the start of 2013 which includes collaboration in areas ranging from providing community rugby resources to generating commercial development. Denver, Colorado has been touted as a potential venue for All Blacks tests.

In addition the United States Olympic Committee has gathered plenty of sevens intelligence from its New Zealand counterpart since the sport joined the Olympic programme in August 2009. Around 750,000 Americans are said to have played rugby in 2009 out of a population of 307 million.

Rugby is unlikely to ever compete against the big four sports of NFL, basketball, baseball and ice hockey because most Americans are often only introduced to the sport as part of their university education.

However, the prospect of a gold medal and defending their Olympic champion status - having won the last time rugby appeared in 1924 - might lure more players, especially if the macho concept that rugby is NFL without the padding appeals further to the American male ego.