KRASNY Yar may be a new name on Edinburgh’s fixture list, but there is nothing novel about rugby in the Siberian city – the sport has been well established there for around half a century. And the current crop of Krasny Yar players who will take on Richard Cockerill’s side in the Challenge Cup at the weekend are not exactly novices either: some have played in France and Italy, while winger Vasili Artemyev was on Northampton’s books for three years after completing his education at University College Dublin.
Throw in that shock result from last weekend – Krasny Yar 34 Stade Francais 29 – and it should be clear that Saturday’s match in Moscow will not be a formality for the Scottish team. The relocation of the match to the capital, necessitated by the risk of bad weather plus the current lack of a suitable stadium in Krasny Yar itself, may be a minor disadvantage for the Russian club. But it is an obstacle they should take in their stride, as that win against the holders has provided them with a massive boost to their morale.
They are not going to get carried away by one result, and realise that it probably means they will be unable to take any other teams by surprise with their forwards-dominated game, but they certainly have nothing to lose or fear against Edinburgh. “I don’t think anyone will take us half-heartedly from now on,” said Artemyev, who speaks perfect English with more than a hint of an Irish accent. “I’m sure Edinburgh will turn up in Moscow with a full-strength team, and if they want to get a win they will have to earn it.
“We know our opponents are going to play their A game in the next fixtures, especially after our first result. We’ll have to compete against some top European clubs: we’ll take it game by game and see what comes of it. We just want to get this experience, first of all.
“It’s a high-paced European game that we don’t get to play too often, unfortunately, in the Russian championship. The more you play against good opponents, the more you improve, so we want to use this opportunity, and if we should win any more games we’ll be very happy.
“We’ve watched several of Edinburgh’s matches and were impressed by their performances against Leinster and London Irish. They’re a very physical side who love to play a fast-paced game. They have a good pack of forwards who are quite mobile.
“With the pace they play the game at, we’ll have to withstand their pressure in order to stay in the game. We don’t get opponents of such calibre often, so we’ll really have to start well, control the game, get our hands on the ball and then keep it. As long as we can withstand their attacking pressure I think we can do some damage in attack ourselves. It’ll be a tough one for us, definitely.”
It will be a tough one for Edinburgh too, though; particularly their pack. Standing on the wing waiting for the ball to come his way, Artemyev must have been in danger of developing hypothermia at times, as the Krasny Yar forwards like to play a tight game in which the ball rarely strays too far from their grasp.
It is a strategy they have developed with some success: all four tries against Stade Francais came from the forwards, so Edinburgh will have to be particularly sharp in the set piece and around the fringes of rucks. Having said that, Artemyev, for one, does not want outsiders to presume that his club are only capable of playing eight- or 10-man rugby.
“I think we have strength all over the squad,” he insisted. “[Against Stade] our forwards kept building phases, kept building momentum and managed to get breaks in the gain line, so we decided to keep on going with our forwards and to use our backs as a supplementary. We have good strength in depth in the backs too, but obviously we didn’t get too much ball because the forwards took over.
“To be completely honest, we just really desired to win more than our opponents. This is obviously our debut in the competition, and I suppose that no-one had really heard of our club even though our history goes back 50 years. But obviously, with this being the first game in the competition against the reigning champions, I don’t think the odds on our win were good.
“Coming up to the game, we just talked amongst ourselves and knew that the only way we would be stronger than the opposition was by desire, and that really paid off. The quality of our performance was a standout, and we managed to keep the ball as we planned to, and tried to control the pace of the game. You saw the result at the weekend.”
Whatever the result this weekend, Artemyev hopes his club’s current Challenge Cup campaign can convince more Krasny Yar citizens to take an interest in rugby. The sport may have been going for half a century, but it still lags behind quite a few others when it comes to recognition.
“Krasny Yar is a city right in the middle of Russia, and it has a population of over a million people,” the winger explained. “It’s the capital city of the whole Krasny Yarsk region, and rugby has historically existed here for over fifty years. Two of the strongest clubs in the USSR – and now Russia – live here side by side in the city. In the past 8-10 years the Krasny Yarsk clubs became the main strength of the Russian competition, with us and our main opponents Enisey-STM winning the Russian title for the past seven or eight years.
“In terms of amateur and schools rugby, in the last four or five years rugby has been introduced into the curriculum for many schools in the area which has brought a lot more hope for the future of our sport in the region because we have to compete against other more popular sports in the city. There is an ice hockey team, a basketball team, volleyball for men and women, football and ice hockey with a ball – which is quite a big regional sport. So in the list of most popular sports we’re probably sixth or seventh, so there’s still a long way to go to attract attention to our sport. So this platform in the Challenge Cup really helps.”