Midlands Lionhearts, representing ten teams from the English region, have returned from a two match tour of Russia.
They experienced mixed fortunes on the field with a 36-16 victory over a Moscow City Select side at the Red Arrow Stadium in Moscow, before falling to a Russia Select team 60-16 in Vereya two days later.
The tour was self-funded and organised to allow the players an opportunity to gain international experience, while at the same time giving Russia’s representatives the opportunity for additional game time ahead of their next matches in European Championship B.
The 22-man touring party received universal praise for their efforts, also delivering a coaching masterclass to local schoolchildren, attending a major musical festival as guests of the promoter and visiting some of Moscow’s most historic sites – including the Kremlin, Red Square and St Basil’s Catherdral.
In the opening match, the Midlands came out on top in a physical game thanks to a hat trick from Birmingham loose forward Greg Pearson, the final conversion coming from Leicester’s Frank Barlow on his 21st birthday.
In the second match, the Lionhearts led 10-4 after 22 minutes but ran out steam against a strong, well drilled Russian national side for whom Mikhail Burlutskiy and Alexey Nikolaev scored try doubles and centre Dmitriy Bratko claimed 20 points from a try and eight goals.
“The Midlands players should take great pride in competing against a strong Russian outfit for over fifty minutes” said tour manager and Doncaster assistant coach Chris Spurr.
“The players were a credit to themselves and to their clubs throughout. The experience for everyone has been fantastic and I’m sure it will be something that will remain with the players for some time to come.
He added: “All of us, players and staff, would like to thank Russia Rugby League for being such great hosts and so very welcoming during our stay.”
Birmingham Bulldog Matt Dudley commented: “It was an amazing trip, one I’ll never forget.”