A moustache and an Irish accent: Russia's Artemyev wins hearts at World Cup

Tokyo (AFP) –


With his bushy moustache and enthusiastic interviews delivered in an incongruous Dublin brogue, Russian captain Vasily Artemyev is quickly becoming a darling of the Rugby World Cup.

One of the lowest ranked teams in the competition, Russia haven't come close to winning a match at the tournament so far, losing 30-10 to hosts Japan, 34-9 to Samoa and 35-0 to Ireland.

But this hasn't stopped Artemyev grinning from ear-to-ear at every post-match press conference and gushing with the excitement of a schoolboy that belies his 32 years.

After a punishing game with Samoa, during which he was smashed with two high tackles that saw two Samoans ultimately receive suspensions, Artemyev showed no hard feelings.

"To our Samoan brothers from the big island of Russia to the rather smaller island of Samoa, we say thank you very much for the game," said the captain, sticking firmly to the spirit of rugby.

After getting shut out by Ireland 35-0, he was equally upbeat.

"We are very emotional to play here. We are losing the games but we are not broken," he beamed.

Artemyev's antics have endeared him to Japanese media, with the Mainichi Shimbun describing him as "refreshing" and "cheerful".

"One after another people become fans of Artmeyev. You can feel his love for rugby, that's great isn't it," tweeted one Japanese supporter.

- 'Step-motherland' -

The Ireland game was a meeting with old friends for Artemyev, who moved to Dublin when he was 15 -- explaining the accent -- and played junior rugby for the powerhouse Leinster club.

He describes Ireland as his "step-motherland" and was educated at Blackrock College, a private boarding school and rugby hotbed that counts Brian O'Driscoll among its alumni.

Before that, he learned his rugby in his home town of Zelenograd, a suburb of Moscow, where his father was an engineer.

"When I started, rugby was going through a difficult patch. It was only kept going by the love and enthusiasm of the coaches. They built a team out of street boys, not at all well-trained. In a word: thugs," he told sport.ru.

"My first pitch was on an air raid shelter. I could see it from my window. Actually, it wasn't really a pitch, just a piece of grass. I spent my childhood training there."

He told the Irish Times that his parents had sent their rugby-mad son to Dublin because it was "cheaper than England and much closer than New Zealand".

It was rugby that enabled an outsider from Russia who did not speak the language to fit in with the rest of the school, he told the Irish Times.

"My English was very poor. Once the rugby started, I adapted. It was fascinating though that, of almost 200 guys in the year, over 100 played rugby."

He played junior rugby against the likes of Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney, whom he would later skip past to score a try for Russia at the highest level -- the 2011 World Cup.

Artemyev went on to study law at the elite University College of Dublin. After representing Russia in the World Cup, he signed for English Premiership side Northampton Saints but left halfway through his third season.

He is determined to boost the standard of Russian rugby and believes it is going in the right direction.

"We're getting positive feedback from home, and we've got good exposure from the (Russian) federal sports channel," he said.

As for his now famous facial hair, he revealed he started growing it a few months ago.

"Before the World Cup, we basically never left our training camp. Everyone was letting their beards grow but mine doesn't grow much.

"So I kept the moustache for a laugh."