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Russia's Byrnes meeting some familiar faces at RWC

Updated: September 29, 2011, 02:20


NELSON, New Zealand(AP) The divergence in attitudes of players from burgeoning rugby outposts such as Russia to those from the more privileged Super 15 or Heineken Cup is as distinct as East from West.

So says Adam Byrnes, who should know after having previously played for the current provincial champions in each hemisphere - Leinster and Queensland - before his wanderlust took him to New Zealand to play for the Russian Bears in their maiden Rugby World Cup campaign.

"There is a massive difference in attitude. They just shut up and get on with it. Basically, there is no complaining,'' Byrnes said Thursday of his teammates. "You see guys come out with their elbow completely bandaged up and there is something clearly wrong with him. The coach says, 'What's wrong?' And he says, with a deadpanned face, 'nor-mal' and then trains away with what could be a broken arm.

"They have a keenness to just get on with the job and do it. They're very hard mentally.''

The Australian-born Byrnes qualifies to play for Russia because both of his maternal grandparents were born in the Soviet Union. Baptized as Russian Orthodox, Byrnes and his family continue to embrace their heritage and still celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 as per custom.

Not that his induction into the Russian squad has been seamless. Byrnes experienced a real culture clash when joining up with his teammates at a camp in Britain, and acknowledges his rudimentary linguistic skills haven't improved greatly beyond the fundamentals.

"At this stage, basic greetings, team patterns like lineout calls - not too much,'' he said. "I used to speak a bit as a kid when my mum used to speak to me, but I thought it would never come in handy and I was a bit naive and stupid and let it go.

"It's been a massive learning curve for me. It's been completely different to what I have been used to before. I've had to learn a few things.''

On Saturday, Byrnes will come up against a few familiar faces when Russia plays Australia at Trafalgar Park to wrap up its Pool C schedule. He is the first Melbourne Rebels player to compete at a World Cup and used to play for the Reds, so he can expect a warm welcome.

Byrne's aggressive reputation precedes him - he almost came to blows with American captain Todd Clever soon after coming on as a substitute to make his Russia debut in the 13-6 loss on Sept. 15 - but the 2.01-meter (6-foot-7) lock sought to downplay any impending clashes.

"There's 15 of them, there's one of me,'' Byrnes said. "I've got a holiday in Moscow after this, going back with the boys to spend some time in Russia. I'm really looking forward to that experience as well, so hopefully they don't bash me up too much.

"I lived and breathed with them for two years when I was at Queensland. I've had a few messages here and there (from Wallabies players) and I'm going to catch up with a couple of the boys this afternoon. We're mates off the field and when it's on, it's on; and afterwards we'll relax and have a good time as well.''

Often lumped in with Georgia and Romania as playing a power game based on dominance by its forwards purely because of geographical proximity, Russia instead prefers to run the ball in the backs and counterattack - similar in style, if not capability, to the Wallabies.

But Byrnes has seen enough bench-pressing in the weights room to realize there is little point in baiting these Bears.

"In the gym, I've never been part of a team where the guys have physically been so strong and outlifted forwards of other teams,'' he said.

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