World Rugby ranking: 75
Playing record (official Tests): P97 W51 L44 D2
Playing numbers: 120 (men, est), 20 women, 80 (youth, est)
Rugby Europe division 2017/18:
Conference 2 South: Austria, Cyprus, Serbia, Slovakia
Results in 2016/17 campaign (Rugby Europe Conference 2 South):
Slovenia 74-13 Serbia
Turkey 0-25 Slovenia
Slovenia 15-22 Bosnia Herzegovina
Austria 13-0 Slovenia
2016/17 league position: 3rd
Slovenia may still be working their way up through the Rugby Europe ranks, but they already have a brotherly record that even the Barretts of New Zealand couldn’t match.
Tarleton RFC of Lancashire might not be a household name in every rugby-loving home across the world, but avid lovers of the great game in Slovenia, it’s got quite the reputation. It’s been the breeding ground for no fewer than five of its internationals – Archie, Frankie, George, Jack and Max – who, incidentally, all took to the field together in a 43-17 win over Bulgaria three years ago. They also happened to be brothers (surname Skofic) which turned them overnight into Guinness World Record holders. Such was the sense of occasion, it even attracted Slovenia’s most sought-after VIP to watch his first game of rugby. “That game was the first and only time the president of Slovenia came to a rugby match,” explains Aleksander Jug, general secretary of Slovenia Rugby. “It was an emotional day for all of us, we sold out the stadium of 2,500 which was unheard of at the time. The brothers still play now but availability is tricky, so while we don’t get all of them, we nearly always have a Skofic playing for us.”
Slovenia's president with the Skofic brothers
Rugby’s origins in Slovenia go back as far at the 1960s, when a group of students from Croatia – who themselves had only recently been introduced to the game by British sailors – brought it to Ljubljana. “They formed a club and for the next few years competed in a championship across what was then Yugoslavia,” explains Jug. “But it never really had a good chance to succeed as it just didn’t get the support it needed from the government. It took 10 years for a second club (Bezigrad) and then another few years for a third – all three were based in the same city, Ljubljana. A few other clubs were formed in smaller towns but there was just not enough interest in rugby to keep them going.”
Spreading the word remains the toughest challenge. “Rugby is not even mentioned yet in the curriculum at schools,” continues Jug. “The ministry of education, science and sport does not recognize rugby as an activity that could be taught at schools.
“Media coverage is extremely poor too,” admits Jug. “Even when we write articles and send them to reporters, they usually don’t even put them on their online news portals.
The Alpine Rugby Championship is a key development tool for sides in central Europe, with Austria, Slovakia, Croatia and the Czech Republic all joining the two Slovenian outfits
“We’ve still only got three active clubs now, two in Ljubljana and one in Maribor,” continues Jug, “but that isn’t really enough for a league and they’re of different levels, so we compete alongside other countries in different leagues.
“RK Ljubljana play in the Croation national championship and both RAK Olimpija and RK Maribor play in the Alpine Rugby Championship.”
The Alpine Rugby Championship is a key development tool for sides in central Europe, with Austria, Slovakia, Croatia and the Czech Republic all joining the two Slovenian outfits to form the league. Olimpija are in the Premiership, with Maribor just below in the Championship.
Like every nation (developing or otherwise), rugby’s biggest challenge comes from other sports – as well as pre-conceptions. “Rugby in Slovenia is still stigmatized as a rough sport where people get hurt a lot and brawl,” explains Jug. “Although, on the other hand, Slovenians are crazy for ice hockey, so that doesn’t make much sense. It also gets confused with American football a lot, perhaps less so in recent years, but often enough.”
Despite Jug not painting the prettiest of pictures, Slovenia rugby has been progressing. “We had a very long period without youth sections, there simply was not enough interest in younger population, but now our youth sections are growing with two clubs in Ljubljana having at least U12-U18 teams, we are getting there.
“In the past few years, we started with the Get into Rugby project. We made our own version of it, which suits our conditions more and last year we reached more than 3,000 children.”
Such a showing does give Jug hope and it’s with the youth that the focus lies for the Rugby Europe campaign ahead. “We expected to top the table but barely finished third,” he says. “A lot of players were unavailable due to injuries or work and so we suffered two tough defeats. This year we’ve made quite a few changes and we hope to remain at the same level."
“We have some talented young players coming through and our focus is very much on youth and helping them to build a stronger national team in the future – in the next few years I’d hope we can move up a level and not suffer any trips downwards.”
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