Georgian rugby’s future in good hands – Maisuradze


© Luis Cabelo





Georgian rugby enjoyed a year to remember in 2015. The national team secured automatic qualification for RWC 2019, the under-18 side reached the Rugby Europe Championship final and the Junior Lelos won the World Rugby U20 Trophy for the first time.


The latter success in Portugal, in what was their first appearance in the final, means Georgia will take their place at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester this June alongside the likes of defending champions New Zealand and hosts England.


Something which coach Ilia Maisuradze says will “mean honour, challenges and a great opportunity”.


“It is our great honour to play alongside some of the best rugby nations in the world,” explained Maisuradze, who played 21 times for Georgia, including their narrow loss to Ireland at Rugby World Cup 2007.


“The challenges are to play well against those teams and the opportunities are to get maximum effort and experience from these games to develop better rugby players to play for the Lelos.


“The main challenges for us in stepping up from the Trophy will be to get our game on a better level and stick to basic skills because I believe that the higher level you play, basic skills are becoming more and more important.


“The challenge is also to prepare our team to play against big teams, such as all three of our pool opponents (New Zealand, Wales and Ireland). We will try to get the best from matches, to see how we worked, which areas of the game are good and which has to be worked on more.”


To help Georgia prepare for the U20 Championship, Maisuradze and the players have travelled to South America to play two matches against both their Argentina (on 20 and 24 February) and Uruguay counterparts(on 28 February and 4 March).


“This South American tour is critically important to us,” explained Maisuradze, who was part of Milton Haig’s coaching team at RWC 2015 and also during the European Nations Cup campaign this year before heading to South America.


“We will try to get our best team to play the best rugby there. We played against Uruguay last year and they had a quick, aggressive and mobile team. We won, but that was last year and last is past and we have to look forward.


“Argentina is a great rugby nation, which is moving very fast in development, and I think their rugby style perfectly suits our preparation plan.


“They are a better team than us, they have strong forwards, aggressive defence, quick backs and that’s great because if you want to compete against the best, you have to play against the best. That’s when you really identify your strength and weakness.


“On tour I want to see the responsibility from my boys, the understanding that this is the first time Georgia will compete at the U20 Championship, and the constant step by step improvement in order to be in the best physical and mental shape possible, which will be important and vital by the time we get to Manchester in June.


“We will need strong character and the whole team focused on one aim, because when things get tough on the pitch the main thing is have a team united as a whole.”


Maisuradze is delighted that Vasil Lobzhandize, a key member of Georgia’s winning U20 Trophy team who went on to become the youngest player in Rugby World Cup history in September, will join the squad in Manchester.


“That’s great for the whole of Georgian youth rugby,” he admitted of the availability of Lobzhandize, who was nominated for World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year in 2015 and already has 12 test appearances to his name.


“It was great for Vasil as the Trophy and age grade teams gave him the experience and prepared him to play for the senior team at the World Cup.It is very motivational for young Georgian players because they can see that if you work hard, and you have got the talent, you can get up to that level.


“It is incredibly priceless for us to have a player with senior and World Cup experience in the team.”


Lobzhanidze is not alone though as three other members of Georgia’s U20 Trophy-winning side have already graduated to the senior side in BekaGorgadze, Giorgi Tedoradze and – earlier this month – RevazJinchvelashvili.


A statistic that brings a smile to Maisuradze’s face as he ponders the future for Georgian rugby.


“Age-grade rugby in Georgia is moving forward, last year’s under-18 and under-20 performances showed us that. Georgian clubs are developing, we are raising better young players. The Georgian National Academy of Rugby started working and soon we will get better players, so I think things are OK in Georgian youth rugby and it is in good hands.


“In fact, the future looks brighter than ever.”


It's hard to argue with that statement after a recent poll run by the website for the oldest Georgian sports newspaper Lelo asking what the number one sport in the country was came back with a convincing 50.4 per cent response for rugby. Next best was football with 30 per cent.

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