KAKEGAWA, 8 Oct - Tagir Gadzhiev had never played rugby when Russia made their Rugby World Cup debut in 2011.
Born and raised in the republic of Dagestan, renowned for its wrestling schools and a breeding ground for Olympic champions, his sport of choice until the age of 18 was martial arts.
"I was doing combat sambo, competing in mixed martial arts," Gadzhiev, now 25, said. "I got involved in rugby by chance. I liked everything about the sport and decided to play it professionally."
It has worked out well, to say least. The Bears coaching staff named the flanker, pictured above, Russia's most valuable player in the tournament opener against Japan.
"In Dagestan, we've got all the conditions to do this sport, and there are options to switch from wrestling to rugby. It's really tough to do wrestling and martial arts because every day is the same - the same mat and the same routine. Wrestlers might wish to try something new as a kind of distraction."
Gadzhiev was able to switch his mindset from individual ambition to the teamwork the oval-ball game demands.
"In wrestling and many other sports, there is no variety of actions as in rugby. In this sport, you've got some elements of wrestling, jumping, running, something of everything, which is much more interesting.
"If someone who does wrestling also likes playing basketball or football, he will be able to reveal his full potential in rugby.
"I would say my spirit is individual but rugby teaches you to become a team player, to work collectively."
After his star turn against Japan, Gadzhiev (pictured above against Samoa) received plenty of messages from his native land.
"I am very glad to receive words of support from Dagestan while being here in Japan. I hope my example will inspire the youth who might be eager to play rugby and represent the Russian national team in the near future."