Rugby in Georgia has a long and proud history with its roots dating back to the 1920s and the Georgia Rugby Union (GRU) being formed in 1961. But, as the national team beat Samoa for the first time last month, an initiative is now underway in the eastern European state that may change the landscape of the Game there forever.
Since its inception last year, the IRB’s Get Into Rugby (GIR) mass-participation programme has been making waves all over the world as the governing body aims to grow the playing numbers by one million globally.
And amid successes in places as far afield as north-eastern Namibia, the Mexican municipality of Huixquilucan and the Indian city of Pune, and despite being introduced less than three months ago, GIR is already making a difference to the Game in Tblisi and further afield in Georgia.
The GRU’s technical director and chairman of the development committee, George Tchumburidze, said: “We started working and preparing for this programme during the summer and then in the beginning of October were able to launch it. We chose three schools in Tbilisi, where the group dedicated for GIR implementation started the fun Rugby lessons.”
“Soon, two more schools came on board and it has really taken off. We are expanding this project step by step. Currently we have 120 of the first and second grade school children involved and we are planning to triple that number by the end of October 2014.”
GIR is growing the Game around the world
“In January we will start this programme in Kutaisi, which is the second largest city in Georgia, and Sagaredjo, a small provincial town in the eastern Georgian region of Kakheti. GIR is already rolling in the small region of Aspindza, in the south-west of Georgia, where there are 18 schools. Nearly 200 children are enrolled into GIR there and Rugby is becoming the leading sport among young people.”
GIR is the IRB's development programme which aims to grow the Game across the world in partnership with the regional associations and introduce people globally to Rugby and its values of Integrity, respect, solidarity, passion and discipline.
This free-to-access programme is designed to assist IRB Unions to grow their player base and the GIR website provides those Unions’ coaches and teachers with the resources and information to introduce children to the Game and encourage them to Try, Play and Stay in Rugby.
So far, there have been 175,000 participants in the programme since it was started earlier this year with roughly one third of them being female. GIR is being delivered in around 1,000 locations in more than 50 Unions.
Schools Rugby is being developed
And in Georgia, GIR forms part of a much wider, long-term strategy for growing the Game there. The GRU is developing schools Rugby as an identified area of enormous potential growth and by tapping into this potential, they plan to reach the goal of establishing first ever full-scale national schools championship.
GIR in schools is being implemented by a special sub-committee of the GRU’s ambitious and forward-thinking development group, which consists of representatives of the Georgia national Fifteens and Sevens squads (men’s and women’s) and is led by national team captain Irakli Machkhaneli.
“At first, we planned to have one session per month but such was the popularity we extended that to two classes a month in all schools and this is having a great effect,” said Machkhaneli.
“We believe the participation of some of the female players will increase interest among the girls and therefore will increase the overall number of participants and the reach of the programme.”
“In many cases, we are dealing with small children and taking that fact into consideration. It has to be fun and entertaining. By the second session they were already asking so many questions about the Game.”
The emphasis is on fun for boys and girls
“For this introductory stage, we are doing some fun games involving the Rugby ball, such as hide and seek, freeze etc. and so it is all very accessible. They are showing great enthusiasm and the number of children is growing from lesson to lesson in every school where we go. It is so encouraging for us.”
Perhaps the greatest moment in Georgian Rugby’s recent history came last month when they beat the mighty Samoa 16-15 in Tblisi. It was a momentous occasion for the national team and will have given them a real sense of confidence ahead of the final stages of the Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifying process early next year.
Captain that day Mamuka Gorgodze said: “We won a very important game. It is a first time in history that Georgia has defeated one of the top 10 nations. This victory is very important for players, coaches, fans and the Union. Now we can say all our efforts have paid off. We are ready and it would be great if we play against such teams more often."
“The fans had a special influence on the players and I want to thank them all. We won this match together.”
A special St George's Day
GRU President George Nijaradze said: “I agree with Mamuka. I think it is very difficult to imagine how the support from the stand strengthens the players. It was St George’s Day and that spurred us forward towards this historic victory. This fact that Georgia had a chance to play against such strong opposition speaks for itself."
“We beat the eighth-ranked team in the world but tomorrow we may lose to a team below us on the IRB World Rankings. This is normal and we have to keep working hard. We must develop step by step. It is impossible to gain a top-10 place in five minutes. Beating Samoa was a miracle and Georgia played sensationally. I have never seen such creative play from us. With this victory we have gained a huge respect from the global Rugby family. Now we have to work 100 times harder in order to retain this respect.”
This feature forms part of our Around The Regions series exploring the game beyond its traditional heartands. Do you have an interesting story to tell about Rugby around the world? Let us know by emailing email@example.com.
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