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The 2018 Finnish rugby finals come to Kuopio

The beautiful lakeside setting of Kuopio hosted the 2018 Finnish rugby’s finals day on Saturday. For the first time in Finnish rugby’s history, the finals were moved out of Helsinki and taken to Kuopio. This charming city proved to be an excellent choice of venue by providing a great atmosphere, great weather and some quality rugby on show.

Finnish rugby in general has come along way since 2011 when they were (unfairly) labeled the worst team in the world. They have gone from a park sport in Helsinki where expats would throw a rugby ball around and then retire to the pub for a few beers, to now being an officially recognized sport in Finland.

Rugby is a labor of love in Finland

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Finnish Rugby Federation led by Stephen Whittaker and George Mossford, two tireless drivers behind the country’s rugby resurgence, Finland are climbing back up the world rankings. As Whittaker mentioned to me on Saturday, “It is a labour of love but it is very satisfying seeing a day like today happening in Kuopio”.

With rugby growing more popular in Finland but still a minority sport this was an important day in the country’s rugby calendar and for the city of Kuopio, who were better known for hosting wine and music festivals rather than a rugby finals day. For first time visitors to Kuopio like me the breathtaking descent by air over Kallavesi and the Northern Savonia region together with the gorgeous supply of midday sunshine set the scene perfectly for a cracking day’s rugby action at the Väinölänniemi stadium. Having spent an afternoon enjoying the wonderful hospitality of Kuopio Rugby Club, it would be difficult to come up with a more stunning setting for a finals day anywhere in the Nordics let alone Finland.

Rugby in Kuopio is growing in popularity

Importantly what Saturday showed is that rugby is becoming increasingly popular in Kuopio. As befitting a region that is renowned for it’s nature and scenery that encourages many different kinds of sport, rugby is now beginning to create it’s own little sporting niche. One of Finland’s best players is Jussi Viljanen, who has been a resident of Kuopio for the last five years. Jussi stated how much he enjoys playing rugby for Kuopio RFC and how pleasant it is to live in the region.

“The facilities we have are up there with the best in the country and we are a very close community. Kuopio is a great place to live and to play rugby in.”

Saturday’s busy schedule had four finals to get through and the ladies match between Jyväskylä and Tampere was my pick of the games. This was a thrilling contest with both sides showing excellent running and defensive skills. It was the Jyväskylä Ladies who won a thriller in the last few minutes. The Men’s Final rounded the day off with the Helsinki Warriors beating their archrivals Helsinki Rugby Club to win the 2018 title.

The final word should go to Kuopio RFC for laying on such a successful day. The hospitality was excellent (the sausages were as good as I have tasted at any rugby ground), the atmosphere was great and I for one will be planning to return to Kuopio next year to enjoy it all over again.

Text and photos Charlie Inglefield