From Russia with ambition as Morris seeks flying start
WHILE most rugby fans' attentions will be on England's first Six Nations game against Scotland next Saturday Cheltenham coach Darren Morris' thoughts will be elsewhere.
Former British and Irish Lion Morris has been forwards coach of Russia since 2010 and will be looking for his team to make an impact at the European Nations Cup.
The competition – which is designed for second tier nations – runs at the same time as the Six Nations, and Russia's first opponents are the 18th-placed team in the world, Spain, on home soil in Sochi.
Although Russia exited the 2011 Rugby World Cup after losing all four of their group games, Morris viewed their debut in the tournament as a success.
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Ex-Wales international Morris now hopes to be able to build on the valuable experience by winning their first ever European title since the side was formed in 1992.
Russia currently lie 20th in the IRB world rankings, but winning the competition could see them overtake 17th-placed Georgia.
However, this could prove difficult as the Georgians are the current holders of the ENC and have won back-to-back titles.
Morris has been putting his squad through their paces in recent weeks, having recently returned from a training camp in Johannesburg, South Africa.
With fixtures to follow in the tournament against 22nd-ranked Portugal, 19th-placed Romania and 21st-placed team Belgium, Morris said the squad are ready for their opening game.
He said: "The training camp in Johannesburg was very good.
"It was very productive and a really good exercise for the team, so for them it was really beneficial."