KOBE, Japan (Reuters) - Russia captain Vasily Artemyev said he was incredibly proud of how hard his side pushed his “step-motherland” of Ireland on Thursday in another brave World Cup defeat he hoped would inspire rugby fans at home.
Artemyev moved to Ireland at the age of 15 and in his seven years studying there became one of the top junior players of his generation at the same famous Dublin rugby school that produced former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll.
Ireland won 35-0 but a resolute Russian side made them wait an hour to secure a highly-expected bonus point, following up impressive performances against Japan and Samoa that have changed opinions of a team who only reached the tournament when others were disqualified.
“For me personally, it’s great. It’s my step-motherland. When we’re not playing Ireland, I support the boys in green and just playing against them, seeing some familiar faces it’s great,” said Artemyev, who played against Ireland’s Johnny Sexton, Keith Earls and Rob Kearney in his teens.
“After tonight’s performance we can definitely have our heads held high. We play for our supporters and hopefully we can inspire them and bring rugby to a new level, that’s the long term goal.”
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, whose team are ranked 16 places ahead of Russia, a chasm in world rugby, said the Russians had “certainly got a bit to offer” and gave up nothing defensively.
“We’re not stupid people, we knew the chances of winning were 0.001%, if that. It was for us to pressure and frustrate Ireland for as long as we can,” Russia coach Lyn Jones said.
“I’m absolutely so proud of these guys and the hardships they go through. Although they get paid, sometimes it’s not really professional. Today’s a big step... We’re raising the bar and the popularity of the sport.”
Artemyev, who played in Russia’s only other World Cup appearance in 2011 when their pool game against Ireland finished in a 62-12 defeat, has high hopes that their performances in Japan can lead to bigger things.
“We’ve been getting good feedback from home, there is good exposure on the federal TV channels which is a huge step forward,” Artemyev said.
“I feel that people are getting to know what rugby is about, the values that rugby brings and we’re getting some good support from home. It’s great.”
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Toby Davis