Yury Kushnarev says he wants to give back to the game that has given him so much after finally calling time on his record-breaking international career.
The 36-year-old retires as Russia’s record points scorer (794 points) and record caps holder (120 caps). Only Romania’s Florin Vlaicu and Georgia’s David Kacharava have made more test appearances for a team outside of the Six Nations and The Rugby Championship.
“I dreamed of being a pro rugby player, and rugby has given me lots of opportunities in my life … travel and the chance to explore the world and make new friends, and I’m really appreciative,” Kushnarev told World Rugby, shortly after unlacing his boots for the final time.
“I will definitely stay in rugby in some capacity, as a coach or an official. I would also like to do television and media stuff to promote rugby in Russia and inspire kids to play the sport.”
While Kushnarev’s farewell appearance in Sochi did not go entirely to plan with Russia soundly beaten 42-27 by Chile, his contribution to the Russian cause was marked in a suitable fashion after the match ended.
Kushnarev’s wife Natali and two children, Anna and George, joined him on the FGUP YUG-Sport pitch as he received a special jersey, with his caps and points tallies incorporated in the design, from union officials.
Russia and Chile’s players then formed a guard of honour to give the fly-half one last, emotional send-off.
Time for a new era
“I will miss the matchday feelings, the adrenaline and the atmosphere and the reaction you get from the crowd, and even the kicking process,” he said.
“I’ve been ready for this for a while. I have decided to spend more time with my family, my wife and kids, and to give an opportunity for the younger generations to step up.
“It was nice to play in front of my family and I tried to enjoy the moment at best I could, although the result went against us.
“Chile kicked well, dominated the battle for the high balls and won the collisions in the first half and took their chances.”
Kushnarev believes the number 10 jersey is in good hands, with Ramil Gaisin the current custodian and another Enisei-STM player waiting in the wings.
“He (Gaisin) is a good player and leader and he has all the ability to lead the team,” he said.
“He is the present of Russia, and if we talk about the future, I’ll mention Timur Maslov. I hope he can start his international career very soon.”
Getting plenty of kicks
As well as scoring 794 test points, starting with his debut against Czechia in 2005, Kushnarev appeared in both of Russia’s Rugby World Cup campaigns, in 2011 and 2019.
In Japan, Kushnarev enhanced his reputation as a strong kicker, out of hand and off the tee, with some huge clearance kicks and a 100 per cent strike rate in front of goal, booting four from four as well as landing a drop goal – one of only six in the entire tournament.
However, with it being the first, the tournament in New Zealand is the one that sticks out most in his mind.
“Getting to the World Cup was a childhood dream. I was very happy and proud in 2011 because it was the first time Russia had participated,” he said
“I think that the team performed well despite not being able to defeat the US; we competed hard in every game and enjoyed the atmosphere around us!”
With Kushnarev retiring and head coach Lyn Jones handing in his resignation this week, 2022 will be a new dawn for a Russian side struggling to make it to Rugby World Cup 2023.
At the halfway point of the qualification race, Russia are fourth in the Rugby Europe Championship table and five points adrift of securing one of the two automatic places available to the region.
Everyone involved in Russian rugby aspires to be where Georgia are, challenging the top-end nations, and Kushnarev believes that is possible.
“Russia can do it but first of all, we need a strong strategy around development, to get the right people involved, to invest in rugby and to give it time and patience.”