11,000km Pilgrimage of Georgian Rugby’s Brazilian Devotee

05-Dec-2014

By Alastair Watt

When Georgia’s rugby union team beat Japan in November, one supporter of the Lelos perhaps had reason to savor the victory more than any other. Thirty-one year old Diego Dubard was at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in Tbilisi for the first time that evening, having made an 11,000 kilometer pilgrimage from his native Brazil to cheer on Georgia, his adopted rugby nation.

 

Dubard, having been brought up in football-daft Brazil, took some time to develop a taste for rugby, and recalls that his first impressions of the sport were not encouraging.

 

“My cousin had played rugby in France, and when he came back to Brazil he threw me a rugby ball. I caught it, and he tackled me on the concrete. It hurt. At that point, I hated rugby!” admits Dubard, whose Belgian surname attracts intrigue.

 

“My great great great grandfather had a castle in Belgium. But he was a bit of an anarchist and he was expelled from the country and moved to Brazil,” revealed Dubard, who has eventually come to love a bit of anarchy himself, but only on the rugby field.

 

As a youngster, Dubard enjoyed success in judo and, after that abrupt rugby education from his cousin, it was not until his then girlfriend, a rocket fuel engineer, returned from France with a passion for the sport to begin his own path to the oval ball.

 

“My girlfriend at the time found out there was a club in Brasilia. She wanted to play but there was no women’s team,” remembers Dubard who was curious enough to take part in a practice session.

 

“From the first practice I loved the game, the spirit and hitting people. The first time I was tackled it took me three minutes to get up, but I was hooked,” says the Brazilian.

 

This baptism in rugby for the Brazilian was in 2010 and within a year he was playing regularly for a team in Brasilia which, as the capital city, benefits from the large expat community, including Argentinians and Frenchmen- some of whom have been rugby coaches.

 

However, it was a Portuguese coach who was to instigate Dubard’s devotion to Georgian rugby.

“Our coach from Portugal always focused on the backs, running with the ball and passing. I respected him but there was not enough contact. After a two-hour session, the guys stayed behind to do some of the more physical stuff, and lots of contact,” said Dubard. The extra-curricular activity drew some criticism from the Portuguese coach.

 

“I told him I didn’t like the coaching. He saw us playing after the session and shouted: “You play like Georgians! You like too much contact!” revealed the Brazilian. The observation was not intended to be complimentary.

 

However, Dubard, who works for the Ministry of Education in Brazil, grew curious and immediately researched the Georgian team, something of which he knew very little at that time. Soon he was educated and infatuated.

 

“I did some research, then I saw Mamuka Gorgodze (Georgian back row, aka Gorgodzilla) play on TV. He bashed someone over. I immediately loved the guy,” adds a smiling Dubard.

 

The Brazilian then watched all of Georgia’s matches at the 2011 Rugby World Cup and fell in love with their style of play: “It was physical, plenty of contact. This is the rugby I like.”

 

Two years later, Georgia travelled to play Argentina in a mid-year test match in San Juan. At a mere 2000 kilometers from Brasilia, Dubard wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to see the Lelos for the first time in South America.

 

“I took a flight to Buenos Aires, then a bus to Mendoza and eventually reached San Juan. I met the Georgian team the night before the game, and they couldn’t believe I had come to support them. I think I was the only Georgia fan in the stadium!” recalls the infectiously positive Brazilian.

 

Georgia suffered a respectable 29-18 loss in San Juan after which Dubard enjoyed dinner and drinks with the Georgian team and vowed to take his Georgian connection to the next level, by visiting the country itself.

 

A little more than a year later and Dubard was honoring that promise. Departing from the Brazilian summer, he embarked on 20 hours of flying to be met by a chilly Georgian winter.

 

“It’s too cold for me,” admitted the bulky Brazilian. After one night in a forgettable hostel, Dubard checked in on Facebook to say he was in Tbilisi. Within minutes, his Georgian Facebook friends became real ones, displaying typically generous Georgian hospitality to invite the Brazilian to bars, restaurants, night clubs and, of course, their homes.

 

Dubard boasts a commanding physique, which isn’t likely to diminish after his encounters with Georgian cuisine. “I weigh 115kg, but by the time I leave Georgia it will probably be 120!” he confesses.

 

Eating Georgia’s signature dish khinkali, Dubard’s vast beard absorbed most of his first attempt: “I tried khinkali, and my face was covered in juice. I know what I am doing now, though” something he demonstrates aptly with a modest plate of the stuff during this interview.

 

On matchday, Dubard was given pitchside access and exhibited another thing he’d learned about Georgia – its national anthem.

 

“He sang it perfectly!” interjects GRU media officer Sandro Ujmajuridze.

 

Dubard was enthralled by a thrilling match with the Japanese: “We (Georgia) played brilliantly, the rucking, the scrum. The performance had everything that made me love Georgian rugby in the first place.”

 

It was good to know that several thousand miles of travelling had been worthwhile.

The Brazilian may have now returned home but plans are already afoot for his next missions to see the Lelos. Dubard will travel to England next autumn for the World Cup, where he intends to attend every Georgia match. Meanwhile a return to Georgia has already been earmarked for early 2016, where Brazil’s one-man Georgian rugby fan club can expect another royal welcome in Tbilisi.

 

 

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