For 75 years the most famous Russian rugby player has been Prince Alexander Sergeevich Obolensky, an escapee from the purges of the Soviet revolution who famously ran in two tries for England in their win over the All Blacks at Twickenham in 1936.
With Russia making its first appearance at the World Cup, that may be about to change. Future generations may yet talk about the likes of Vasili Artemiev, Vladislov Korshunov or Andrei Ostrikov in the same respectful tones.
The Bears are the only new boys at this edition but that is not to say that rugby is new to the country.
The first recorded match was in the 1880s although it was frowned upon by the Tsarist police to such an extent that there was next to no activity until the 1920s with the first Soviet championship taking place in 1936.
Outlawed again by the Soviets for a decade, it struggled to compete alongside football and the state-sponsored Olympic sports. The Soviet Union turned down an invitation to compete in the inaugural event in 1987.
But they are through to the 2011 tournament after qualifying second from Europe behind Georgia - their big rivals and former teammates in Soviet days.
Drawn in the same pool as Australia, Ireland, Italy and the United States, there has been a great deal of focus placed on the opening game against the American Eagles, something their national team director Kingsley Jones has tried to play down.
"It is wrong to say it is our World Cup Final because it suggests we are not focusing on the other games," the former Sale Sharks coach told AFP.
"Of course, it is our best chance of winning a match and so we will be very eager to give it everything. But we play Italy five days later - how do we pick ourselves up and prepare for that if we focus only on the USA?"
Jones has every reason to be optimistic. At the recent Churchill Cup in England, an understrength Russia side had the better of Canada for 70 minutes before losing and were edged 24-19 by a very decent Italy A team.
Not world-beaters yet and certainly no serious challenge to Australia or Ireland, but they are confident they can move the game in Russia forward.
"Part of the motivation for us in the World Cup is to create a cycle," explained loose forward Ostrikov.
"We want to play well enough for some more players to catch the eye of some top clubs in Europe so they can go and get the experience. If that happens then we can come back in four years time as a much better team," he said.
The Georgians, who have successfully parked a large number of players at French clubs, are known for the strength and power of their forwards but Jones says the Russians have more flair.
"The Russians like to play with the ball in hand," he said. "They play some very good attacking rugby when they look like a tier one side.
"With the ball in hand and with a strong back three they are very good. Their strength is when the game is fast and loose and open," said Jones.
The Russians will be captained by experienced hooker Korshunov and even though Castres lock Kirill Kulemin is out with a knee injury, the Melbourne Rebels lock Adam Byrnes - who qualifies through his mother - and probable No.8 Ostrikov, who will be at Sale Sharks next season, bring a touch of class to the forward pack.
Behind the scrum Northampton Saints recruit Artemiev is a class act while former Bayonne centre Konstantin Rashkov, now with Aix-en-Provence, brings calm and experience to the flyhalf jersey - although he will be pushed by the more daring Yury Kushnarev.
The World Cup marks an exciting time for the game in a country which has been chosen to host the World Cup Sevens tournament in 2013.
Nikolay Nerush/Kingsley Jones
Nerush is the man at the helm, the titular coach, but the spotlight is likely to fall more on Kingsley Jones, who succeeded Steve Diamond as director of rugby. The Welshman was coach of Sale Sharks when they won the English Premiership in 2006, but has taken a step back from the front line to help the Russians - he is contracted through to the end of next year. As a defence coach specialist he has made them a tighter unit. "They work well together, giving us better organisation and understanding," says Ostrikov.
The English-speaking world be will be hearing a lot of Artemiev during the World Cup, partly because his Irish education makes him a fluent English speaker - much sought by the media - and partly because he is a blindingly good wing. Educated at that great rugby academy Blackrock College in Dublin, Artemiev became the first Russian to sign to with an English Premiership team when he joined Northampton in March.
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