GLOUCESTER, 25 Sept – Former Georgia captain Irakli Abuseridze says he is delighted to see Georgia’s players at RWC 2015 overtake his overall selection record, and claims that rugby is now the number one sport in the eastern European nation.
Abuseridze (pictured in his playing days) is a sports director with the Georgian Rugby Union and part of the Lelos’ staff at England 2015. He also dabbles in politics as an elected deputy with the municipal council in Tbilisi, where he serves on the city’s sports committee.
“It’s politics, yes, I like it but I must admit I prefer rugby,” Abuseridze said outside Kingsholm stadium on Thursday, where the Georgian team put the finishing touches on preparation for Friday's match against Argentina.
“In my job I try to promote all sports equally in Tbilisi, it’s not just about rugby. If we can do well in athletics, football or whatever sport, it’s great for our country.”
Abuseridze, 37, played at three World Cups from 2003 to 2011, and had a record 85 international caps. At England 2015, however, he has seen Merab Kvirikashvili overtake him by appearing in his fourth World Cup and, in the win against Tonga, set a new mark of 86 caps for Georgia.
Davit Kacharava also looks set to surpass him – if he plays against Argentina he will tie Abuseridze on 85 caps, meaning an appearance against either New Zealand or Namibia will push the former Georgian captain down to third on the all-time list.
“It doesn’t bother me at all, on the contrary it’s great to see. I hope these boys can stay fit and healthy and make it to over 100 selections.”
Rugby overtakes football
Abuseridze claims the Lelos’ progression in recent years has helped rugby usurp football as the number one spectator sport in Georgia.
“Rugby has overtaken football thanks to our strong results. Football used to be number one but now we are getting better results, we are winning international titles such as the World Rugby U20 trophy, and because of that people in Georgia are now following rugby more than football,” he said.
“And the government is starting to invest and help us more financially, because they are seeing that rugby is a collective, community sport which is now in first place in terms of success among Georgian sports.”
Abuseridze has witnessed a dramatic change in the evolution of Georgian rugby since he began playing at international level in 2000.
“When I first started we didn’t have a single rugby field, we had to ask permission to train on football fields or we trained on gravel fields that were like concrete.
New stadiums planned
“From 2003 investment really started to improve, and after the 2007 World Cup they built stadiums and all the essential facilities for international players. And now, we have another seven or eight stadiums planned for the next few years.”
The majority of Georgia’s RWC 2015 squad play abroad, mostly in France’s top three tiers. Abuseridze hopes that the level of club rugby in Georgia will evolve enough to entice the best young players to stay at home.
“Playing in France has helped our players progress dramatically. But I wish to see the Georgian club championship improve to the level of Federale 1 (France’s third tier). If we can be as strong as Federale 1 then we will see even more progression.”