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Steve (on the right in track suit) addresses the squad with translator Dmitri Basilaia on his left


Steve and Dmitri talking to winger Denys Primushenetskyi


Ex-Richmond coach Steve Hill supervises scrum



One of Richmond Borough’s top rugby coaches Steve Hill has been drafted in to help coach the UKRAINE national rugby team as they prepare for the Europe Rugby Trophy Competition, which is the third tier of national rugby in Europe.

Steve was the well-regarded Director of Rugby at Richmond Rugby Club but was made redundant after thirteen years of service last May.

Teddington Town caught up with Steve during his training sessions with the Ukrainian squad to ask him about his surprising new role, which will last for the next three weeks.

All of their matches are taking place outside of Ukraine because of the war so they have a training camp in Havirov in the Czech Republic, a week in Trelleborg, Sweden and a final camp in Zurich before their game against Switzerland.


So this is a bit of dramatic change from Richmond – tell us exactly how it all came about?

I have been heavily involved in the Penguins International RFC+ for over 20 years and they were asked to provide some additional coaching support for the Ukrainian National team. Given the situation in their country I was very keen to help where possible. The Penguins International RFC Charity are picking up the cost of all my travel and accommodation. The Penguins also bought a good amount of balls and bibs supplied at cost by Reg Clark at Rhino Rugby which I brought across for the squad to use.

What is your exact role with the Ukrainian team Steve and how do you fit in with the coaching team?

The Head Coach is Oleksandr Prymachenko from the Argo Club and his assistant is Dimitri Basilaia, a former Georgian international player who played in the 2011 World Cup against England and subsequently played for Edinburgh and Toulon. He currently runs a restaurant in Kiev despite it being bombed daily! They are a new coaching group with the national team and my role is to advise particularly on defence and team strategy.

Are the players full time professionals or do they have other jobs? Wouldn’t they be expected to be fighting for their country?

Four of the squad are professionals in France and Poland, the rest are amateurs who have travelled from Ukraine to play. It took the squad coming from Ukraine 13 hours in a coach and then  nearly six hours to clear Ukraine customs as they had to prove they were not running away from the war and that they would all be returning after the matches.

What have you learned about the history of Ukraine as a rugby playing nation? We’ve all heard of Schevchenko as a great footballer but no well known rugby players come to mind?

Ukraine has huge potential as a rugby playing nation. It is similar to where Georgia was 20 years ago. They produce big powerful men, especially front row forwards, and many of them have grown up participating in the sport of wrestling so contact is something they all enjoy. The administration by the national federation is definitely an area that needs to improve. They had 18 rugby clubs operating before the war with 10 still functioning to a greater or lesser extent now

How would you describe the standard of national rugby in Ukraine? Is it Championship level or below?

From what I have seen so far there are definitely individual players who could play at Championship level, but across the squad the standard is closer to mid table National 1/National 2

What sort of competitions do Ukraine play in – is there something like a Six Nations?

Yes they play in the Rugby Europe Men’s Trophy, the third tier competition, and play against; Croatia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Lithuania and Switzerland

Do they all play for regional clubs as well as the national team?

90% of this squad play for clubs based in Ukraine, a good number in Kiev

What has been there best ever result?

In 1991 they lost narrowly to Georgia twice, 15-19 and 6-0

Do boys & girls learn to play rugby at school in Ukraine?

Boys and girls do play at both schools and clubs. The Head Coach Oleksandr is heavily involved coaching in schools

Do you have a specific mission or objective in your role there?

My role is to provide whatever is needed from a coaching perspective to help the team win their upcoming games. In addition I have already spent hours with their coaches seeking to increase their knowledge and understanding of coaching rugby.

What have you discovered so far about the Ukrainian players. Do they have different or specific qualities  that perhaps European players don’t?

To a man they are very tough and physical. Size is no barrier to getting involved in contact. They are both physically resilient-they do not get injured much- and they have high levels of endurance. They are more used to coach lead sessions than player lead and they would be very happy to train for 2 plus hours each session if allowed to!

The Penguins objective is to foster – by coaching and playing – the development, goodwill and camaraderie of Rugby Union worldwide.

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