Georgia looking to build on fine form
Georgia secured the Europe 1 qualifier spot at Rugby World Cup 2015 by virtue of an impressive 22-9 win over Romania on March 15. Some 30,000 fans packed into the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium that day to see the Lelos secure their place in Pool C at England 2015 and tee up a clash against world champions New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium in the process.
The RWC 2015 fixture list continues to take shape, and Georgia now find themselves as the sole European representatives in Pool C, having been drawn alongside the All Blacks, Argentina, Tonga and the Africa 1 qualifier, which will be known in early July. Of the qualified teams in the pool, the Pumas are the only side that Georgia have already faced on the Rugby World Cup stage.
Georgia’s confirmed schedule has a distinctively West Country feel to it. The Lelos will play their first two matches at Kingsholm Stadium in Gloucester, before crossing the River Severn and heading to Cardiff. Their last pool match will then take them to Sandy Park in Exeter.
We take a closer look at what RWC 2015 holds for the Georgians, and profile some of the key players to watch out for at next year’s showpiece event.
First up Tonga
Georgia will play the second match of the tournament against Tonga at Kingsholm Stadium. These two sides have only ever met each other twice, a home and away play-off in the Repechage stage of qualification for RWC 1999.
On that occasion, Georgia and Tonga won one match apiece, with the Sea Eagles’ superior points difference enough to take them through. Next year’s Pool C opener will be sure to be a finely balanced tie and both teams will be looking to kick off their campaign with a win.
Next up for Georgia will be the Pumas and what will be an enticing battle between two of the most daunting packs in the Game. Georgia have met Argentina twice already at a Rugby World Cup and were beaten on both occasions.
The Lelos did end the 2012/13 season on an encouraging note, however, when they faced Argentina in a one-off Test in San Juan. After putting in a monumental opening 40 minutes and leading 12-9 at the break, Georgia ultimately paid the price for poor discipline in the second half to lose 29-18, but the Lelos clearly demonstrated that they can compete with the best.
Awesome All Blacks
Georgia then head west to Cardiff to take on the mighty All Blacks, and what will possibly be the most memorable 80 minutes of rugby the Lelos have ever played. The two sides have never faced each other before and the match will provide an invaluable chance for the Eastern European giants to test themselves against the very best.
Georgia coach Milton Haig hails from New Zealand himself and will be looking to use his powerful arsenal of forwards to try and stem the constant flow of All Black pressure. Whatever the final score, this fixture will be sure to create some unforgettable memories for Georgian players and fans which will last for a lifetime.
Georgia will then cross the border back into England and head south west to Exeter, where they will play the Africa 1 qualifier at Sandy Park. The Lelos’ final opponents in Pool C will be one of Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe or Madagascar, with all four teams challenging for top spot in the Africa Cup Division 1A. Georgia have met Namibia once before at a Rugby World Cup, dealing the Welwitschias a resounding 30-0 defeat at RWC 2007 to record their first ever win at the showpiece event.
Players to watch out for
The 22 year-old second row has put in a series of massive performances for his country, not least in the European Nations Cup 2014. This Toulon behemoth looks set to have a long and promising career with the national team.
“Gorgodzilla”, as he is affectionately known by his Montpellier teammates, has been in fine form of late and picked up the man of the match award for his relentless marshalling of the back row in the decisive qualifier against Romania.
Georgia’s all-time leading points scorer and a talismanic veteran of three Rugby World Cups. Kvirikashvili re-invented himself as a full back after RWC 2007 and the Lelos have reaped the benefits ever since.
Georgian Rugby in numbers
1989 – the year Georgia played their first ever international
2003 – the year Georgia first played at a Rugby World Cup
98 – Georgia’s record points haul in one match (against the Czech Republic in 2007)
4 – the number of points that separated Georgia and Ireland when the two sides met at RWC 2007
54,827 – the number of fans that saw Georgia beat Russia in Tbilisi and qualify for RWC 2015
16 – Georgia’s current IRB World Ranking