Most members of the Russian rugby team play in Russia’s domestic leagues so few names will be familiar to world cup audiences.  Here’s a quick guide to some of the key Russian players to watch in this year’s Rugby World Cup.

Adam Byrnes
Melbourne Rebels, Lock, Age 30, Uncapped

Byrnes is probably the best known of Russia’s players, despite having not yet played for Russia in an international match.  Australian by birth, Byrnes qualifies for Russia through his maternal grandparents.

Probably best described as a solid professional player, Byrnes has played for a number of clubs in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, including Leinster, Sydney Reds and, most recently, the Melbourne Rebels.

A lock, he will be bring much needed experience to the Russian pack, which is likely to struggle against some of its more experienced opponents.

Vasily Artemiev
Northampton Saints, Wing, Age 24, 25 Caps

Artemiev is one of the brightest young talents in the Russian team.  A flashing winger, he is able to both score tries and create chances.  In his 25 matches for the Russian team so far, he has scored an impressive 9 tries, so Russia will depend heavily on him to get on the scoreboard.

Artemiev learned the game while a student at the Blackrock College in Ireland, and went on to play for the Irish Under 19s side. On returning to Moscow in 2008, he joined VVA Pdomoskovye, Russia’s leading club side and began to play for the Russian national team. His performances since then have attracted the attention of a number of professional clubs, and in March 2011, he became the first Russian player to sign for an English Premiership team – he will start his English rugby career with Northampton Saints when he returns from RWC 2011.

Vladislav Korshunov
VVA Podmoskovye, Hooker, Age 28, 54 caps

Since making his test debut against the Netherlands in 2002, Korshunov has played 54 matches for the Bears, and has rumbled over the line for an impressive five tries.  Only two players in the Russian squad have more caps than Korshunov, and his substantial captaincy experience (at both domestic and national level) will be tested to the limit during this campaign.

Other Players to watch

As well as the players highlighted above, keep an eye out for:

Igor Galinovsky – a centre from Krasny Yar, Galinovsky’s impressive sevens performances have earned him a well deserved world cup spot.  He will relish the opportunity to play Australia – he scored a hat trick of tries as Russia routed the Aussie sevens team 21-5  earlier this year.

Viacheslav Grachev – Aged 38, Russia’s grizzled vice captain will become the second oldest player ever to take part in a Rugby World Cup tournament. Playing at number 8, his experience in French rugby (he currently plays for Bizanos) will come in vital.

Denis Simplikevich – An uncapped fullback, the 20 year old Simplikevich’s impressive performances for Russia’s sevens team this year have earned him a ticket to New Zealand. He’ll struggle to earn a starting spot ahead of the experienced Igor Klyuchnikov, but if he does make it on to the field, he’ll be one to watch for the future.

You can find out more about the Russian squad in our full Russian players list, and more about Russia’s campaign at our Russian Rugby World Cup Homepage.