Moving into its ninth year, the Ukrainian Federation of Rugby League has revealed ambitious plans for an extensive expansion of the sport in 2015 which will see more teams than ever before play the sport, despite the political situation that continues to affect the country.
At a meeting in L`viv, western Ukraine, UFRL president Artur Martyrosyan mapped out next year’s competition structure which will see eight sides compete in the flagship Championship of Ukraine, underpinned by a second division, a new national cup competition and continued junior development at U21, U18, U16 and U12 level, which will see over 200 matches take place in total.
The Championship will encompass two four-team groups, with Group A formed by Sokil (L`viv), UzhNU (Uzhgorod), Rivne (Rivne) and Roland (Ivano Frankivsk) in the west of the country, which represents a strategic push outside of the UFRL’s traditional geographic base.
Group B will feature five-time Ukrainian league champions and three-time cup winners Legion XIII (Kharkov), Kryvbas (Kryvy Rog), Atlant (Dnipropetrovsk) and CEPU (Simferepol) in the east and south.
Sokil is one of the country’s oldest rugby union clubs which has now opened a rugby league section. UzhNU, or Uzhgorod National University, was founded by a former Kryvbas player from the city. Both have excellent facilities, including training venues in the Carpathian mountains.
Rivne and Roland are specialist union sevens clubs that feel more suited to adapt to 13-a-side rugby league. Atlant had been pencilled in to participate this year but the on-going hostilities forced them to postpone their activities.
League 2 will see four Kharkov-based university teams compete and, combined, they contributed the players and management that made up the first ever Legion XIII team eight years ago.
An eight-team Ukraine Cup will give the top clubs more competition and introduces Khmelnytsky, one of the best union sevens sides, to rugby league in place of Crimea-based CEPU for this tournament.
At youth level, an U21 9s competition – the Ukraine Youth Cup – will feature six clubs including Restruct from the capital, Kiev, while 13-a-side competitions will take place at U18 and U16 age groups, both with six-team competitions.
The UFRL will also continue its five-a-side, mini-mod league at U12 level throughout 24 schools. Kryvbas is the first club to able to field a junior team at every level, illustrating the growing depth of talent, while the sport’s entry into the government sport school system, confirmed in January 2014, is already paying dividends, with several previously rugby union-only schools now fielding league sides.
“Despite the difficulties, the UFRL has continued the development of rugby league in the centre and west of the country, especially through a programme of training the game in sports schools,” said Martyrosyan. “That has had a significant impact in growing our footprint.”
Also at the meeting in L`viv, the UFRL staged a cup competition featuring six clubs, including the four that will make up Group A in 2015 – won by Legion XIII – and ran a level 1 coaching course which qualified 11 new coaches who came from the host city, Kiev, Uzhgorod, Ivano-Frankivsk, Rivne and Kherson.
The UFRL also announced that its next coaching course will be in Ternopil on 7 February 2015.