BROTHERS IN ARMS: Georgia stalwarts Giorgi Chkhaidze (left) andMerab Kvirikashvili celebrate victory over Namibia at RWC 2007
BRISTOL, 16 Sept - Merab Kvirikashvili and Giorgi Chkhaidze are the only Georgia players to have been selected in all four of the country’s World Cup squads since they first qualified for RWC 2003, and both admit the game has evolved dramatically in Georgia ever since.
"Up until 2003 we didn’t have a stadium or a proper training ground, we only had three or four balls to train with for the whole team and even then they weren’t new balls - they were faded and used," Chkhaidze said. "But since then we’ve seen a huge amount of progression in Georgia with stadiums built, proper training bases, team buses and so on."
Chkhaidze’s 11 RWC matches are joint second for Georgia, one behind Kvirikashvili who has played in all 12 of Georgia’s World Cup matches to date.
Kvirikashvili, who is also Georgia’s top World Cup points scorer and looks set to overtake countryman Irakli Abuseridze’s record 85 caps, says the sport is attracting more and more youngsters in his home country.
"Even with how far we’ve come there’s still a lot of work to do, because it’s not just Georgia where the sport is growing," Kvirikashvilsaid. "Everywhere in the world rugby is growing, there’s more players and better competition, so we have to keep working to ensure it continues to evolve in Georgia.”
At age 31 the Montlucon-based back isn’t thinking about hanging up his boots anytime soon, and hopes to return to the game’s ultimate stage in Japan in 2019.
"Four years is a long time and I never look that far into the future, but yes I want to be there in 2019. We will see."
Second-row Chkhaidze on the other hand is 34 and believes this will be his last World Cup, but after finishing his playing career he wants to remain close to the sport.
"I want to stay involved with rugby for a long time, maybe as a coach or maybe something totally different, but always within rugby," he said. "I started going to school in France to become a physical preparation coach. I haven’t abandoned it but for the moment it is on hold as I am here in England."
French club rugby
Both men have spent nearly 10 years playing for numerous clubs across France’s top three divisions, where the majority of the Georgia World Cup squad members also play, which is something Kvirikashvili believes is key to Georgia’s emergence as the dominant force in eastern-European rugby.
"If it weren’t for playing in France, Georgia might not be here at the World Cup because for many years our players have grown and evolved thanks to the French championships," he said. "If we were to play in Georgia, we would not be at the same level to compete on the international stage."
However, Georgia forwards heavily outnumber backs in France. Kvirikashvili, who began his career at scrum-half but moved to full-back two years ago at the request of national team coaches, credits the disparity to the famed hulking size of Georgia forwards.
"Our forwards are big and strong and they have a need for that in France, but they don’t need a lot of fullbacks. There are already lots of them in France, so I am very lucky to be able to play there. We only have a few backs in France but we are all very strong."
Georgia take on Tonga in the opening Pool C match in Gloucester on Saturday at 12:00.