The old cliché about European competition providing a reviving break from the grind of bread and butter domestic fare does not always hold up to closer scrutiny.
Glasgow host Guinness Pro14 rivals Leinster in the Champions Cup on Saturday – opponents they certainly relish facing but don’t exactly lack in opportunities to do so. Without being unkind to Reading, well maybe a little, Edinburgh’s Challenge Cup trip to the Berkshire dormitory town last weekend to face London Irish for the fourth time in two years was distinctly lacking in a sense of the exotic.
Today, however, Edinburgh fly out to Moscow for what could certainly be placed in the category marked “interesting” ahead of their Pool 4 clash with Siberian outfit Krasny Yar in the Russian capital.
The Scots travelled beyond the old “Iron Curtain” last season to face Timisoara and two big wins over the Romanians assisted their passage to the quarter-finals of Europe’s second-tier tournament. However, any expectations of another “in the bank” ten points against the Russians were given a rude awakening at the weekend when they created one of the all-time shocks in the history of continental rugby union competition when they stunned defending champions Stade Francais 34-29, scoring five tries in the process.
That match took place at Krasny Yar’s own stadium in Siberia’s biggest city but, with the harsh winter drawing in, their next two games have been moved west to Fili Stadium in the capital as their home programme in the pool is completed as soon as possible.
Such is the vastness of Russia that it means Edinburgh’s journey to fulfil the fixture is about 500 miles less than their opponents’. Not that Krasny Yar captain Vasili Artemyev is worrying too much about that as his side look to build on the momentum of last weekend and take another big scalp.
“It was always too much of a risk to plan an end-of-October fixture in Krasnoyarsk because it can get quite freezing cold, with the pitch freezing over,” said the 34-year-old winger, whose English is impeccable in an accent that could mischievously be described as vodka with a generous splash of Bailey’s.
Artemyev was schooled in Ireland, attending Blackrock College from the age of 15 and going on to University College Dublin, learning his rugby trade in the Leinster Academy before winning a move to Northampton Saints, where he spent three seasons. He has 74 caps for the Russian national team, featuring in all four of their matches at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
“With the main city stadium, which has undersoil heating, undergoing reconstruction just now, we only have our home pitch to play on,” continued Artemyev. “So it was a long-term call to play this game in Moscow. But we won’t feel too uncomfortable because the logistics of Russia mean we have to travel to play in Moscow quite regularly during the season.
“It’s one of those places that we come to a lot during the Russian championship. Obviously there’s a four-hour time difference between Moscow and Krasnoyarsk so we’ll have to adapt to that, but nevertheless it’s a great event for the club. It was our debut last week and this week we’re hosting another top European club in Moscow.”
The 12-team league is half fully and half semi-professional, with Krasny Yar and their city rivals Enisei-STM very much the “Old Firm” of Russian rugby. The two met on the BT Murrayfield back pitches earlier this year, as Enisei won the Continental Shield on the day of the European Champions Cup final.
There may be a strong suspicion that the French club Stade Francais might not have taken last weekend’s match sufficiently seriously but Artemyev, understandably, feels nothing should be taken away from the scale of the achievement. “To be completely honest we just really desired to win more than our opponents,” he said. “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 skipper is now calling for more of the same against Edinburgh.
“We have watched several of their matches and were impressed by their performances against Leinster and London Irish,” he said. “They are very physical side who love to play a fast-paced game.
“They have a good pack who are quite mobile. With the pace they play we will have to withstand their pressure in order to stay in the game because we don’t get opponents of such calibre often.”