IRB Nations Cup
Tim Lane: Making Georgian rugby tick
By Chris Thau
They used to say that you play the way you train and if
that's true, and in my experience it remains one of the
Game's most valid axioms, Georgia's one-point win over the
IRB Nations Cup trophy holders Scotland A should have come as no
The Georgians arrived in Bucharest several days before the rest of the teams, very much on their own steam. All they asked of the Romanian hosts was for access to a training ground and they have trained every day, two and sometimes three times a day, at the Parcul Copilului field.
The intensity of the 90-minute sessions defied the searing heat of the Bucharest summer. Every 15 minutes the players took on water, only to start all over again with added concentration and intensity - as relentless as it was compelling to watch.
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At the centre of this whirl of bodies and energy was the coach of the Georgian National team, former Wallaby five-eight Tim Lane. This was the first ever trilingual training session I've attended, with Lane delivering his commands in French - instantly translated into Georgian by his assistant Ilia Maisuradze - his praise coming in English, punctuated by Georgian phrases and words.
It was defence-attack and attack-defence, wide and narrow, across the field and along the touch line with Lane moving at pace between workshops, criticising, cajoling and praising his players.
"I am pleased with the way they respond to challenges. They want to play for Georgia, they want to better themselves, they want to know more and they are prepared to give it all," said Lane after the session.
"The majority of our first fifteen, who play in France, have been unable to come. In fact only the present captain Tedo Zibzibadze played in the recent game against Russia, when all our French-based professionals turned up. This is a fact of life and instead of complaining, we decided to use it to our advantage. So we decided to bring to the Nations Cup a lot of the younger players based in Georgia to give them a try in the intense conditions of such a tournament. This is exactly what happened last year in the Churchill Cup, when we lost heavily to the hosts.
"Rugby is the top team sport in Georgia and we have serious government support to expand our educational programmes. They are real heroes and the fact that they reached the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and 2007 is credit to them and their country," Lane added.
After the country's spectacular progress to next year's World Cup and the recent success against Scotland A, Lane has also achieved cult hero status in Georgia.
Having first become aware of Georgia during his coaching stint with Toulon in France, where he guided the team from the second division to the elite Top 14, his interest in the country and its rugby interests has risen steadily.
"It was Guia Labadze, at the time the Toulon Captain, who talked me into applying for the Georgia coach position. He is what I would describe as a model professional player and at the age of 36 he is my favourite as captain of his country."
The 51-year old former Wallaby, who started out his career with Manly in Sydney, established his credentials as the assistant coach of the 1999 World Champions Australia and his remarkable pro CV also includes stints as assistant coach of South Africa and Italy as well as head coach of a number of French clubs, including Clermont Ferrand, Brive and Toulon.
Georgia is now the primary focus, though, and building a squad capable of making the same kind of waves as they did in France in 2007.
"There are not many places up for grabs in the World Cup squad but the competition is intense and many youngsters are stating a claim here in Bucharest, which is tremendously good news."
Scots take inspiration from senior side
Meanwhile, the Scotland A team sat huddled together in a Bucharest restaurant on Saturday night to watch their senior team beat Argentina in Tucuman, over 7,500 miles away.
Having reviewed their own performance against Georgia in the opening game of the IRB Nations Cup, which they lost by a single point, 21-22, Sean Lineen's men are taking motivation from their countrymen as they prepare to face Namibia.
"Everyone's delighted with the senior team's brilliant victory in Argentina and that should inspire us against what is another World Cup outifit in Namibia," said Lineen.
"The way the Scotland team played was outstanding. They moved the ball well and they defended outstandingly well and that's something we're looking to aspire to with the way we're trying to play.
"Once we'd digested and got over the disappointment of the Georgia game we realised that we were up against a pretty physical outfit.
"I thought a lot of the youngsters really stepped up. We could've won the game but for a couple of missed kicks right at the end."
Looking ahead to the second of three internationals at the IRB Nations Cup, Lineen is expecting yet another intense encounter as Namibia are at full strength and playing some fast and physical rugby.
"They play an attacking brand of rugby so it'll be a good game - there's no doubt about that.
"They've got an incredibly quick back three, they've got a nine who is a quality player - he helps them tick - and up front they've got some hardy men.
"They know their rugby and this is their World Cup squad but we want to make a mark here this week so it's important that we do well."