We continue our build up to the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2008 in April by turning our attention to Georgia and their Under 20 coaches Levan Maisashvili and Nikoloz Chavchavadze.
Four months on from Rugby World Cup 2007 and Georgia are still reaping the benefits of a tournament that not only heralded their first ever win at the seventh attempt, but also impressive performances that gave France, Argentina and especially Ireland a few headaches.
The number of people wanting to play the sport has increased greatly on the back of the World Cup and Georgia’s climb to the top of the European Nations Cup standings with three wins in 2008, two of them at home in the capital city of Tbilisi under new coach Tim Lane.
However it is not only the sport’s popularity that has benefited, but also the players that form Georgia’s age grade teams with their new levels of self belief having seen the national side come with a single try of causing an upset against Ireland in the World Cup.
This newfound belief and confidence is something that Georgia’s Under 20 coaches Levan Maisashvili and Nikoloz Chavchavadze are hoping to capitalise on at the inaugural IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, which is being held in Chile from 15-27 April.
“The World Cup last year, and the team’s performance in it, gave rugby a massive boost here,” admitted forwards coach Chavchavadze. “More people than every have been turning up at clubs wanting to play, but perhaps the biggest effect has been in the self belief of the teams at Under 18, Under 19 and Under 20 level.
“I think seeing the national side almost beat a team like Ireland breathed real confidence into our young players and made them believe that they can now go out and win matches against those big rugby nations.”
Maisashvili, who like Chavchavadze was appointed Georgia Under 20 and A coach on 1 January 2008, is no stranger to working with Georgia’s Under 19 team having done so as either assistant coach or coach from 1995 to 2005 and has also noticed the difference.
“The successful World Cup performance of our senior national team has had a really positive influence on our domestic rugby. From day to day there are more youngsters wishing to play rugby in Georgia. The increase in popularity is really big.
Future looks bright for Georgia
“The younger generation in Georgia is very promising and we have high hopes for the players who are now beginning their rugby careers. I think it [IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy] will be a very big experience for our younger players.”
Georgia were relegated from Division A of the IRB Under 19 World Championship under Maisashvili in 2005, finished fifth after missing out on the semi-finals on points differential with Chavchavadze as coach in 2006 and then placed fourth last year in Northern Ireland.
They have been drawn in Pool B at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy with Uruguay, Jamaica and Korea – two of whom Georgia beat at the IRB Under 19 World Championship 2006 in Dubai with their 57-3 defeat of Korea in the pool stages and 38-13 victory over Uruguay in the fifth place playoff.
“We don’t know much about Uruguay and Jamaica,” admitted Chavchavadze. “But I was in Dubai in 2006 and saw at first hand how Korea played. We beat them well, but they were very organised and overall those three teams will provide a real test.”
Winning is vital for Georgia
Georgia’s aim though is a simple one, to be crowned the inaugural Junior World Rugby Trophy champions and so gain promotion to the IRB Junior World Championship in 2009, swapping places with whoever finishes bottom in that inaugural event being held in Wales from 6-22 June.
“For us winning the tournament is a must because we want to be in that top tier,” Chavchavadze said. “Rugby in Georgia isn’t just a sport, it’s a tradition and the supporters really follow the teams, their training and their matches, so they want them to play at the highest level and win.
“We’ve been getting the players together and training well with them fairly regularly and we’re getting to the level we need to be at.”
Maisashvili, the backs coach, added: “This [promotion] means an opportunity to play against stronger opposition and more playing experience, which is really important for us, especially considering these players are the future of our national senior team.”
Next week we turn our focus to Namibia.