Georgia introduce young blood into team to face Tonga

18-year-old Vasil Lobzhanidze is odd one out in a hugely experienced line-up for the Lelos' World Cup opening match on Saturday

YOUNG GUN: Scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze will become the World Cup's youngest ever player after being named in Georgia's starting line-up 


BRISTOL, 17 SEPT -  At 18 years and 340 days, Georgiascrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze will become the World Cup's youngest ever player after getting the nod from coach Milton Haig for Saturday’s starting line-up against Tonga..

“I am very happy to be the youngest player in the history of the World Cup. I am a little bit nervous,” Lobzhanidze said. “My family knows and are very happy, they will be watching for me.”

Lobzhanidze is part of a line-up that team coach Milton Haig chose primarily for its experience. With 617 caps shared among the starting 15, at an average of 41 caps per player, it is the most experienced Georgia squad to take the field at a Rugby World Cup.

“If we had a question mark about two guys and one was more experienced than the other, the experienced guy got the nod,” Haig said.

“What we will bring is our forward power; we know that’s what we can bring. We’ll be looking to test Tonga out on those wider channels and create some opportunities for ourselves, because part of our game now is having the ability to use the ball with a bit of space and width.”

Strong performances

Haig made two changes to the side that played its final World Cup warm-up match against Japan on 5 September, with Giorgi Tkhilaishvili replacing Shalva Sutiashvili on the back of strong performances in the warm-up games against Japan and Canada.

“Giorgi is not tall in stature but he’s a bit combative and quite physical around the ruck and tackle area, and we’re going to need that on Saturday to match up against the Tongans.”

Winger Tamaz Mchedlidze also comes in ahead of Muraz Giorgodze.

“He’s a big boy, around 107-110kg so he’ll be a handful coming off the blind wing. We want him to use his power and pace to create some opportunities for us,” Haig said.

Danger men

The Lelos’ coach said Georgia must work to counter Tonga's agility and flair on Saturday, citing Fetu’u Vainikolo and Siale Piutau in particular as two of the danger men.

Starting loose-head Mikheil Nariashvili, who was part of Georgia’s 9-23 home defeat at the hands of Tonga late last year, believes the Georgia squad at England 2015 is one of the best the eastern European nation has ever seen.

“We know Tonga are a big team with a big culture of rugby behind them and some talented players,” Nariashvili said. “But we have prepared very well for this match over the past four months.

"We’ve been together for a while thinking only about this opening match, and we are looking forward to see what happens on Saturday.”

Three Georgia players who picked up minor injuries during the pre-World Cup warm-up games, Lasha Khmaladze, Alexandre Todua and David Kubriashvili, were ruled out of Satuday's squad but Haig says he expects them to recover in time for the remaining pool matches.

RNS amh/co