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The untold story of the Siberian Bear: why Latvia’s rugby hero is an inspiration | Robert Kitson

Celebrate the tale of Uldis Saulite, the lock who left his life as a carpenter to follow his professional rugby dream in temperatures so cold his shoes cracked

Rugby’s greatest pioneers do not always hail from the most obvious postcodes. In Latvia most people follow ice hockey and basketball and view rugby as a minority pastime for ’crazy people’. There are only five clubs and 500 active players, including women and children. The story of Uldis Saulite is one of extraordinary perseverance against overwhelming odds.

Back in his native city of Jelgava, the young Uldis did not play the game until he was 16. Naturally big and strong, he soon caught the eye of a couple of former Latvian internationals, one of whom gave him the money to pay for the late bus home from training he could not otherwise have afforded. He grew steadily fitter and found rugby an enjoyable release from his day job as an apprentice carpenter.

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