Ireland played their part in grooming Vasily Artemiev for the top, but is the Russia wing now about to return to haunt them?
Here is a quick trivia question for the anoraks among you. Which current international winger has won two Leinster Schools Cup titles with Blackrock College and will appear in his first World Cup later this year? You may have run through the Irish back-line and narrowed it down to Luke Fitzgerald, and you’d be right. But you’d also be right if you said Russia’s Vasily Artemiev.
Fitzgerald and Artemiev have been on remarkably similar career paths since the latter first appeared at Blackrock College. His parents were keen for their son to have the best education possible so opted for Blackrock College, with its reputation for producing excellent academic results and outstanding young men, as well as having a strong rugby programme. The last point was the clincher for Artemiev himself.
The winger, who was first introduced to rugby aged nine in his hometown of Zelenograd, fell in love with the pressure of playing for a school with over 100 years of rugby tradition as soon as he arrived in 2002.
“From day one when I came to Rock training I wanted to be a Rock man through and through. When it came to game days you were part of a tight group, it was something special playing for the school,” says Artemiev, with just a lingering of a south Dublin accent. Artemiev’s form saw him selected for the age-grade sides of Leinster and Ireland, before securing a place at the Leinster Academy for two years.
“I found it difficult to stay on top of my game and balance this with college,” says Vasily, who was tipped by many to go on to full Ireland honours. “Life in the academy was very demanding and sometimes I missed rugby due to my studies. I did what I had to do to get my degree first. I was a bit upset when I left the academy, but in my final year of college I really enjoyed my rugby and felt under less pressure.”
He has shown explosive pace on the sevens circuit and has proved to be a devastating finisher – but in 2011 he has been concentrating on the 15-a-side game. “I enjoyed the sevens immensely, but there is a small pool of players for the national sides and many of us have had to play both sevens and 15s regularly. Thankfully, those involved in the RWC aren’t playing sevens this year.”
While it might sound like a welcome break, it has meant more work. The squad have been working hard all season, with an acclimatisation camp in New Zealand in early January something he doesn’t remember too fondly. “Our strength and conditioning coach has been doing great work, but he pushed us beyond our limits in New Zealand.
“We crawled off the field a few times! All the good work done by the coaching staff will prepare us well for the RWC. Hopefully our trip to New Zealand will have won over the local support for our games.”
There is debate over his best position after his impressive performances at full-back in last year’s Churchill Cup. Those displays caught the eye of Northampton and Artemiev will try to break into the Saints squad after the World Cup – no easy feat when you consider the quality in their back division. “I’m under no illusions. I know it will be a real challenge to make the first-team squad but I’ve set myself that target for next season and want to play in the Premiership regularly.”
Before the challenge of the Premiership, there is the small matter of a first-ever RWC for Artemiev and his team-mates. “Qualification is huge for the Russian rugby community. It means the world to those involved and is the culmination of a lot of hard work,” he says. “When we get there we want to show the world that Russia can play rugby and compete with the best. We’ve set the target of winning one game at the World Cup and to make history for Russian rugby.”
The Ireland match may also pit Artemiev against his old childhood friend Fitzgerald. “The game with Ireland will be interesting. I was incredibly proud to represent Ireland and stand for the anthem, but this will be another proud day for Russia against Ireland. It’s ironic that Luke and I might play against each other, but at least we will have a chance to catch up after the game!”
If Artemiev performs to his potential against Ireland, the IRFU may be left wondering about ‘the one that got away’.
Age 23 (24 July 1987)
Height 5ft 11in
Weight 14st 2lb
Club VVA Monino
Russia caps 19
Russia points 30 (six tries)
This article appeared in Part 1 of our Rugby World Cup Supplement.
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