Rugger in Poland is flying high and the world’s most loved sport is gaining a great deal of attention in Europe with Polish rugby from national level to club and grassroots community levels. The Polish Rugby Federation (PZR) has invested wisely and recognised the areas that need to be reinforced, supported and crucially financed. It seems this concentrated input and effort is paying off.
Will Poland ever qualify for the Rugby World Cup?
That is the ultimate goal, it must be every player’s dream to represent his country in the world’s most prestigious rugby tournament and Poland are chasing that dream with intent. The national team currently leads the 3rd tier European league, Rugby Europe Trophy division. Winning promotion to the 2nd tier RE Championship league will open up the opportunity to play in the RWC qualifying competition. This is a task that the new head coach, Christian Hitt has undertaken with great verve and approach to elevate Polish rugby to a higher level.
The Welshman Chris has assembled an experienced group of coaching staff to support him in his goal to gain that all important promotion to the RE Championship. Chris took up the objective that Irishman Duaine Lindsay, his predecessor, had commenced, the search for players from abroad eligible to play for Poland, a method that Italy and Japan have found to be very productive, as well as bringing in the experienced former Welsh national team player, Morgan Stoddart to the coaching staff. Poland has 3 wins from 3 games and broken records by winning against Ukraine away from home for the first time. Rugby Europe introduced a new promotion strategy and 2 teams instead of 1 from the RE Trophy league will be promoted from now on, Poland rugby stands a real chance to excel with a successful promotion campaign.
How many players, leagues and clubs are there in Poland?
Officially recognised rugby union clubs by the Polski Związek Rugby (PZR), the governing body founded in 1957 has 75 clubs registered and around 7,000 active players both male and female. The top league being the Ekstraliga in a 3 tier ranking followed by Liga (Division) I and II. At national level, there are men’s 15s and 7s plus junior age groups that play 7s, whereas the women play 7s format only both at national and club level. The Ekstraliga has 10 clubs competing in it, however, the season is split into 2 mini-seasons due to the sometimes harsh winter bringing snow. The winter break begins at the end of October then finishes in February the following year. Actual league match periods are late August to the end of October then early March to mid-June. The most successful team since the end of the Soviet era in 1989 is Ogniwo Sopot RFC with 11 Ekstraliga winner’s titles. The recently promoted Poznania Poznan RFC to Poland’s top flight league, sees them trying to honour 5 past Ekstraliga titles from the 70s when they were known as Polonia Poznan before relegation kept them in the lower leagues. The most successful women’s team is another team from the tri-city area of Gdynia, Gdansk and Sopot, the Biało-Zieloni Rugby Klub Gdańsk 7s with the majority of players representing Poland at national level. Team captain of Poland, Karolina Jaszczyszyn was voted MVP in a recent international tournament in Spain and there is hope to take the team to the upcoming Olympics. The girls from Gdansk are a real force and have won the women’s championship for the last 11 years.
Raising the profile of rugby with a Grassroots Program
There has been a huge shift in promoting rugby in Poland and all the major clubs have invested in grassroot programs to attract young players to the sport. Supported by the PZR and local city councils many clubs have implemented training programs with schools and special camps to seek out future prominent players breaking the myth that rugby is a violent or hooligan activity which many parents believe. The principles of rugby and training methods are beginning to make inroads and turning rugby into an attractive sport in Poland. This early approach trend has given rise to the popularity of rugby tournaments which take place and seen some new ones introduced.
Which Rugby Tournaments & Festivals to attend in Poland?
Poland has several international rugby tournaments that take place annually, one of the most entertaining weekend of exhibition rugby is the Krakow Rugby Festival which hosts the tournament at the local Ekstraliga club, Juvenia Krakow RFC’s ground every 3rd week in June. The organisers lay on a complete schedule of services from airport transfers to unlimited beer for the entire weekend, the spirit of rugby thrives in Krakow and hundreds of international players from all over the globe make this tournament one to put on the end of season tour list. Something a little different but also highly entertaining is the summer fun of beach rugby in Sopot on the Baltic Sea coast. The Sopot Beach Rugby Festival is well known and always attracts both national and international teams to battle it out in the strength sapping sand at the end of July every year. Staying with beach rugby the newly introduced Ukiel Beach Rugby Cup which takes place a week before the Sopot Beach Rugby competition in Olsztyn a couple of hours drive from the tri-city area. Warsaw also has a yearly tournament in May every year, Warsaw Rugby Tournament.
Rugger in Poland is certainly gaining more active enthusiasts whether a spectator or player, so much so that the Ekstraliga matches are transmitted live on TV, with other opportunities to watch them via the media platforms of YT and FB. The Polish national team continue the promotion drive to reach the 2nd tier level of European rugby and maybe, just maybe will be able to realize every rugby player’s ambition and dream of earning the chance to play in the world’s highest and most prestigious tournament the Rugby World Cup one day.