Rugby in Georgia is growing at a fast pace, the inhabitants of this proud country inspired by the successes of their national team and eagerly looking forward to a third successive appearance on the greatest stage of all, Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand.
Before then, though, they are embracing the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2011, the first International Rugby Board tournament to be held in the country which kicks off at two new stadiums in Tbilisi on Tuesday.
“My people work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months a year,” admitted Georgian Rugby Union President George Nijaradze, evoking the sense of community and “delight with the IRB’s decision to allow us to host these seven nations in our country.”
The future potential for Rugby in Georgia is something the GRU take pride in and with their commitment, support from the IRB and from local and national government, as well as KART, a local charity foundation, the sport continues to grow at a fast rate of knots.
A new level
Hosting the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy will without question contribute enormously to this growth, highlighted by the fact that the two stadiums – Avchala and Shevardeni – will host their first matches on the opening day.
There are also plans in place for 23 stadiums, with capacities not exceeding 3,000 seats, to be build throughout the country, providing the next generation of Lelos with the arenas on which to learn and play the sport.
“This alone will take the game to a new level,” admitted Lasha Kurtsidze, the GRU’s Tournament Manager for the Trophy. “Kids that will be seeing the tournament and then have fields to play in. We grew up playing rugby on concrete.”
Georgia certainly has the motivation to do this tournament justice and the Under 20 side certainly have clear goals. “Of course we want to win. At home, in front of families and friends, we want to prove to them that we are proud to wear our colours,” insisted captain David Losaberidze.
A victory on home soil in Georgia’s appearance in the Trophy since 2008 – and with it promotion to join the elite nations in the IRB Junior World Championship in South Africa next year – could spearhead an even bigger growth.
That said, the Georgian Rugby Union have a clear map of where they want to be in four years time, as Nijaradze explains: “We had 2,300 players in 2008 and we already have 5,000 documented players at all levels. We will soon have the facilities which ensure that we can look after the bigger numbers.”
Adding, with a smile: “I would say the world can be afraid of Georgian rugby’s growth.”
Georgia already has much to smile about, earlier this year they won a fourth successive European Nations Cup title, a competition in which they regularly beat Russia, Romania, Portugal and Spain.
In New Zealand, they will be hoping to add to their solitary Rugby World Cup victory – against Namibia – and their memorable performance against Ireland at RWC 2007 when they pushed their opponents to wire, losing 14-10.
The current European Under 19 champions, Georgia’s Under 15s recently won a tournament in France, beating a Christchurch XV (from New Zealand) 47-0 in the final reports a proud Nijaradze.
Surprising the world
“We don’t want to knock on the door of the big nations,” he added. “Our main goal is to enter that door.”
For this, the Georgian Rugby Union has put in place a four-year cycle that will focus on quality and education, making the most of the wise assistance of their national coach Richie Dixon.
“We have acknowledged our problems and shortcomings and will work very hard at getting them right,” added Nijaradze.
Rugby World Cup 2011 might be a bit too soon with Georgian rugby in the middle of its cycle, but as Nijaradze puts it: “I wish, I dream, that in RWC 2015 we will surprise the world.”
Losaberidze, whose side face Canada in their opening match on Tuesday, is hoping that he will be playing for the Georgian Lelos by then. “Yes, of course. My dream and that of my team and I guess everybody in this tournament is to play in a Rugby World Cup.”