After automatically qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2019 thanks to their outstanding performance at the previous tournament in England, Georgia had to wait 18 months longer than they would have liked to in booking their place at Rugby World Cup 2023.
Georgia’s failure to repeat their top-three pool finish from England at Japan 2019 meant they were reliant on claiming one of the region’s two qualifying spots – Europe 1 or Europe 2 – or entry via the Final Qualification Tournament, to make it to France.
With a 10-point cushion over nearest rivals Romania at the halfway point, Georgia could afford to drop points at home to Portugal in round one in 2022, a 25-25 draw bringing to an end their 20-match winning run in the competition.
Georgia bounced back with a convincing 72-10 bonus-point win over the Netherlands helping them to stay in firm control of their destiny. As it turned out, qualification was secured off the pitch with the four points awarded to Georgia for their abandoned match against Russia enough to guarantee them a place in the top two of the qualification table with two rounds of the Rugby Europe Championship 2022 to spare.
We take a look back at Georgia’s Rugby World Cup story.
RWC debut: 12 October, 2003 in Perth: England 84-6 Georgia
RWC record: Played – 20, Won 5. Drawn 0, Lost 15, Points for 262, Points against 646, Win percentage 25 per cent
Most RWC appearances: Merab Kvirikashvili, Mamuka Gorgodze, 8
Most RWC tries: Mamuka Gorgodze, 4
Most RWC points: Merab Kvirikashvili, 86
Best finish: Third in Pool C, RWC 2015
Qualification for RWC 2023: Europe 1/2
Most memorable match: Georgia 17-10 Tonga, Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester, RWC 2015
A man-of-the-match performance from captain and talisman, Mamuka Gorgodze, helped to get their Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign off to a perfect start against higher-ranked opposition.
Standout moment: The wild celebrations that greeted the final whistle, on the pitch and in the stands, as the realisation of what Georgia had achieved against Tonga sunk in will go down in Georgian folklore.
Low point: Second half v Fiji at RWC 2019
Georgia have had heavier defeats than the 45-10 setback they suffered against Fiji in Higashiosaka, but this was perhaps the most disappointing of the lot given the expectation going into the game and the fact it was only 7-3 to Fiji at half-time. Led by Semi Radradra's unstoppable performance, Fiji ran in seven tries and scored 38 points as the Lelos were blown away in the second half.
Iconic player: Mamuka Gorgodze
Who else? Georgia built their best-ever campaign at RWC 2015 – the third of his four tournament appearances – on his broad shoulders. The number eight was immense throughout the campaign in England, but with 27 tackles and a crucial try, it is his performance against Tonga that will live long in the memory.
Record breaker: Vasil Lobzhanidze
The scrum-half became the youngest player to play in a Rugby World Cup match when he took to the field against Tonga at RWC 2015, aged 18 years and 340 days, beating the record held by USA’s Thretton Palamo.
Did you know?
Three Georgian players have won 100 caps or more for their country: David Kacharava (122), Merab Kvirikashvili (114) and Giorgi Chkhaidze (100).
"The biggest reason is because in all of Georgian history we have been fighting. We have it in our genes to fight, to wrestle. I think that's why we are good in the scrum." – full-back Soso Matiashvili talking about the power of the Lelos pack at RWC 2019.