Ambitious Georgia building for RWC 2015
Results and analysis of Rugby World Cup 2011 suggest that the Tier 2 nations have improved greatly between the last two tournaments and are expected to make another leap by the time RWC 2015 arrives. But will that jump see them competing with the top teams in England? Georgian Rugby Union President George Nijaradze believes it will.
Nijaradze saw his team achieve their pre-tournament goal in defeating Romania and giving Argentina and Scotland all they could handle in New Zealand. Achieving 2011's one-win objective was one thing but Nijaradze and his ambitious organisation are targeting the quarter-finals next time round and feel it's a realistic aspiration.
“I hope that at the end of the next four-year cycle we can surprise a lot of people,” explained Nijaradze. “Our target is very clear. We want to be a part of the Tier 1 countries. We have this potential because we have the support of our government for the next four years and we also have support from the private sector, so we’re now looking to build our infrastructure.”
That infrastructure will be the stadia they can now build on the land provided by the government (many of which will be ready for use this spring), and which will be used to help improve the quality of the domestic competition. Although the vast majority of the Georgian national squad play their club rugby in France, the GRU are very proud that nine of the RWC 2011 squad played in Georgia (there were none in the RWC 2007 squad). However, Nijaradze feels there are more benefits than problems to having players based abroad.
“Playing in France has been a great opportunity for our top players, and keeps them on the high level. Yes, it can be a problem with the releasing of players, but we are looking for alternatives, and we hope that one of them will be the UK. A couple of our boys have played for Gloucester 2nd XV. And next year we will be sending another five guys to England.”
Quality not quantity
While expanding the domestic league is vital, it’s not all about quantity for Georgia. In the four years since 2007, the number of registered rugby players in the country has doubled from 2,600 to 5,289, and Nijaradze is confident that there is potential to increase it to as many as 30,000 “in six or seven years”. But Nijaradze also believes there is more to their progress than that.
“The number of players does not itself solve all problems. You can increase the number of players or clubs, but the main thing is to increase the quality. Without the quality, numbers don’t work.”
That is why the GRU are putting their efforts into acquiring foreign coaches like Scotsman Richie Dixon (the former head coach who’s now consulting on development) and various others from the UK and New Zealand – and not just for the top level.
“We have invited specialists from abroad to help with education, and to help increase the competitiveness of the domestic competition. They will not just be helping us with the national team, but with developing our academies, which is very important to us now.”
The part played by Nijaradze and his team in this plan should not be underestimated. There are roughly 40 people employed by the GRU, and although the side may not be as high-profile as the Englands and Australias of this world, Nijaradze’s role can be even more demanding than that of his Tier 1 counterparts.
“This job is a huge responsibility,” he said. “You have to carry a very heavy weight on your shoulders. It’s much more difficult to be the president of a Tier 2 nation than a Tier 1 nation. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no holidays if you want to achieve some results. But this is our choice. It’s because we love rugby – it’s part of our lives. Anyone who touches rugby once ... it’s forever.”
A great World Cup
So, to make all that work worthwhile, what is the one thing that Nijaradze would most like to see happen, to help Georgia and the other Tier 2 sides close that gap to the top sides?
The Georgian President is adamant: “The most important thing – and it’s what everyone is talking about after the last World Cup – is that the Tier 2 nations need more games against the Tier 1 countries. Our countries have showed the world that the gap is less and less, so we need to be playing Tier 1 countries once or twice a year, and we need a new tournament between us and other Tier 2 countries.”
Nijaradze is confident that the hypothetical tournament could happen. He will be meeting the other Tier 2 presidents in America in February, and hopes the new tournament might start from 2013.
But whether or not the new competition gets off the ground, Nijaradze firmly believes Georgia and the ever-improving Tier 2 nations are going to make RWC 2015 the best ever.
“The World Cup in England will be completely different,” he insisted. “Not just the level of games, but everything else. It is going to be a great World Cup, I am more than sure of that.”
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