Vasily Artemyev: ‘Ireland is my step Motherland’
Russian coach Lyn Jones believes Ireland may lack sting in tail of the All Blacks
Ireland’s Garry Ringrose is tackled by Igor Galinovskiy and Vasily Artemyev of Russia during the 2019 Rugby World Cup match in Kobe. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Vasily Artemyev lingers inside The Misaki stadium on this typhoon-threatened night for as long as possible. There are old friends to see and 15 jerseys to swap with Rob Kearney.
It began with a hand shake and coin toss between captains. Last time the Russian played against Johnny Sexton was in Rotorua at the 2011 World Cup. Sexton had just lost his starting place to Ronan O’Gara.
The time before that was a Leinster Schools Cup quarter-final on a weirdly shadowy Donnybrook day way back in 2004.
“He just brings that composure,” said Artemyev. “He knew when to speed it up, when to slow it down. He’s one of the best fly halves in the world and he’s still going strong. He’s at the heart of everything that’s good about Ireland. ”
For 25 nervy minutes, when Ireland were without Sexton, Russia threatened to interrupt Joe Schmidt’s already faltering swansong.
“It’s good decisions, isn’t it?” said Russia coach Lyn Jones. “All the time. He runs the game. You can see him influencing what happens next.
All credit to him. I can’t believe he’s 34. It feels like yesterday he was just starting his career.”
Jones endeavours to defend the Irish performance.
“We’re not stupid people. We know the chances of winning were 0.001 percent. If that. It was up to us to pressure and frustrate Ireland for as long as we could. And try to get into a position where we could score some points. At the end of the day it was five tries to zip.
“You know if they were playing the All Blacks I think they might have had a bigger sting in their tail. It was for us to frustrate them.”
The amount of possession teams like Russia are unable to get or hold onto is the problem, the Welshman said.
“I think we troubled Ireland,” said Artemyev with his south Dublin brogue. “But we were a man down for 20 minutes. That drains the energy from a team. It drains the last burst needed for a try.”
Really the star of the night is neither Sexton nor Artemyev but Russian openside Tagir Gadzhiev who rolled into the mixed zone wearing the blonde afro wig donned by UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (who made Conor McGregor tap out) as a nod to his former sport.
Everyone agrees after 20 tackles and an awesome amount of spoiled Irish possession, the French and English clubs are already circling like vultures for his signature.
“He has the physique. He has got the attitude. All the necessary skill to play at the top level.”
Jones interject: “He could excel in a professional environment because that’s what a professional environment brings – better coaching, better players around you. And it’s the teaching. Give him a month and you’ll see a different player. There is some question as to whether he’s a six or a seven. He’s a six at the moment because he doesn’t understand how to play seven. But we’re a different side without him.”
He knows the way forward.
“I call him Tiger.”
Artemyev: “That’s ‘cause you can’t say his name.”
Jones: “I’m very old.”
Artemyev: “That background in MMA so he’s tough.”
“We are the underdogs of the tournament. We are bringing that passion into the Pool. We are losing the game but we are not broken.
“For me personally tonight was great. Ireland is my step Motherland.
“When we’re not playing Ireland, I support the boys in green. Playing against them, you see some familiar faces. It’s great being on a big stage like tonight, it is huge.”
He knows only too well that nothing lasts. Especially these heady days.