RUSSIAN REBEL FINDS A CAUSE; Former Leinster Man Byrnes Happy to Be Gracing World Stage; an Irish Haka? No, the Boys Are Just a Little Worked Up!
Byline: by ADAM REDMOND
SINCE late 2010 Adam Byrnes has been sure he would come up against some old friends at the Rugby World Cup, but he was expecting to do it as a Wallaby and not as a Bear.
On Sunday morning, the Australian former Leinster second row with the Irish name will face Declan Kidney's team wearing the red of Russia after he feared his ambition of playing at the World Cup had passed him by.
Starting off the Super Rugby season with the Melbourne Rebels the then 29-year-old Byrnes had a golden goal of making Robbie Deans' squad, but he was restricted to just 10 appearances as his team struggled to impose themselves during their inaugural season in the SANZAR competition.
The story goes that whilst flicking through a rugby magazine he came across a plea from a Russian coach seeking out established professionals with Russian heritage to come forward: Byrnes got in touch and by August he had linked up with the squad for their tour of the UK.
It was an interesting few days as Byrnes began to bed into a dressing room where very few of his team-mates spoke fluent English.
The presence of former Welsh international Kingsley Jones on the coaching staff provided a welcome communications link, but the player's own upbringing has given him a half a yard when it came to tackling the language barrier.
'Both grandparents on my mother's side are Russian, and I was baptised in a Russian Orthodox church, so I have strong connections to my Russian heritage,' said Byrnes, whose Irish ancestry on his father's side goes back six or seven generations.
'Language was easy as a kid, mum spoke to me in Russian and I spoke it fluently as a child.
'But over time that has waned a bit as English took over. I've been brought up with Russian culture in my family. It's taught me a lot of things and the opportunity to play a World Cup with them is something I am very proud of.'
It's clear that Byrnes (right) is not just a rugby tourist exploiting a tenuous link for exposure on rugby's grandest stage, no need to pick up a history book, just a play book.
'Some things I had to learn like lineout calls and team patterns. The basic greetings I picked up along the way,' he said of his introduction to his new team.
'My first impressions were of surprise at how well they were in attack and their formations. Definitely willing to throw the ball around. Whereas a lot of teams play conservatively, the Russian team actually have an expansive game and pride themselves on their attack.'
Understanding the tactical element is also helped by New Zealander Henry Paul's role as assistant coach, but a surprising south Dublin lilt has helped Byrnes attune to his comrades.
Winger Vas Artemiev starred for Blackrock College alongside Luke Fitzgerald before entering the Leinster academy in 2006.
A year prior, Michael Cheika brought Byrnes to Dublin and handed him his first professional contract as he went on to make 17 appearances in two years before a knee injury scuppered his career at the province. …