Georgia national rugby union team
The Georgia national rugby union team (Georgian: საქართველოს მორაგბეთა ეროვნული ნაკრები) nicknamed The Lelos is administered by the Georgian Rugby Union. The team takes part in the annual Rugby Europe Championship (previously named European Nations Cup) and participates in the Rugby World Cup, which takes place every four years.
|Union||Georgia Rugby Union|
|Head coach||Milton Haig|
|Most caps||Merab Kvirikashvili (115)|
|Top scorer||Merab Kvirikashvili (838)|
|Top try scorer||Mamuka Gorgodze (26)|
|Home stadium||Mikheil Meskhi Stadium|
|World Rugby ranking|
|Current||12 (as of 21 May 2018)|
|Georgia 16–3 Zimbabwe|
(Kutaisi, Georgia; 12 September 1989)
|Georgia 98–3 Czech Republic|
(Tbilisi, Georgia; 8 April 2007)
|Georgia 6–84 England|
(Perth, Australia; 12 October 2003)
|Appearances||4 (First in 2003)|
|Best result||Pool stage, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015|
Georgia is currently considered a second tier rugby union nation and is one of the world's fastest growing rugby nations. The Lelos participate in the Rugby Europe Championship, winning the tournament in 2001, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 seasons. The bulk of the national squad are based in France, in both the Top 14 and lower divisions. This is a practice that was popularized by former national team coach, Claude Saurel, a Frenchman.
Rugby is one of the most popular sports in Georgia. The national team qualified for the Rugby World Cup four times, first in 2003 – playing against rugby powers such as England and South Africa. The Lelos recorded their first ever World Cup win in 2007 Rugby World Cup, where they beat Namibia 30–0. As of 6 February 2017, Georgia are ranked 12th in the world by World Rugby. Since 2013, Georgia has hosted the World Rugby Tbilisi Cup.
There were several unsuccessful attempts to introduce rugby union into Georgia, the earliest known being in 1928, with subsequent attempts also in 1940 and in 1948. Rugby was introduced to Georgia by Jacques Haspekian, an Armenian man from Marseilles in France who taught the game to students in the late 1950s through to the mid-1960s, although he then subsequently returned in France. He is still alive and living in Marseilles, he was interviewed on French radio on the occasion of Georgia playing France in the 2007 Rugby World Cup. The very first rugby session was held on October 15, 1959 in Tbilisi, at the racecourse, where 20 people attended the meeting. The first Georgian club formed was the GPI (Georgian Polytechnical Institute), now known as "Qochebi".
Rugby's popularity in Georgia might be explained by its resemblance to the traditional Georgian game named "Lelo" or "Lelo Burti" (meaning "Field Ball"). This game was played in Georgia from ancient times and is still played on occasions in rural areas. A field ("Lelo") was selected between two river creeks which represented a playing ground. Two teams, usually consisting of the male population of neighboring villages, would face each other. The number of players from each side was not set, but included any able men each village could summon. A large, heavy ball was placed in the middle of the field and the goal of the game was to carry it over the river creek of the opposing side.
The first teams appeared in 1959. The Georgia Rugby Union was founded in 1964, but until the late 1980s it was part of the Soviet Union's rugby federation. The rugby union connection between France and Georgia started as links were established by the then powerful French Communist Party and many other left-wing organisations. Georgia initially did not have its own team and its best players would play for the USSR team.
In 1988 Georgia produced their first national sevens side. In September 1989, Georgia got together with other FIRA countries to host a tour by Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's first match on the tour was in the wet against Georgia in Kutaisi, west of Tbilisi, which Georgia won 16–3. The next year Georgia went to Zimbabwe where they played two tests, losing the first in Bulawayo and winning the second 26–10 in Harare.
On 9 April 1991 Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union. Georgia was now a rugby union nation but getting matches was not easy: the old Soviet team continued under the name Commonwealth of Independent States. Georgia were limited to the odd game against Ukraine until they gained membership of the World Rugby in 1992.
French coach, Claude Saurel, first arrived in Georgia in 1997 with a brief to assess the standard of sport; he and his development team have helped boost the profile of the sport. Saurel went on to work with the Georgia national rugby sevens team, until he was appointed as the national coach in the summer of 1999.
Georgia's 1998 loss to Romania saw them play a two legged repechage play-off against Tonga to qualify for the 1999 World Cup. On that occasion Georgia lost the first leg 37–6 in Nukuʻalofa before a 28–27 win in Tbilisi. This was not enough and Georgia failed to qualify.
2000s: World Cup playEdit
After France and Italy dropped from the reborn European Nations Cup, Georgia became a major force in the tournament. In 2000, Georgia finished second in the competition, finishing behind Romania. The following year, Georgia improved upon this, winning all five of their matches during the 2000–01 tournament, and thus finishing at the top of the table. They clinched the title by beating Romania away 31–20 on the final day. Rugby union took off in the country, the travel and opportunities to land lucrative contracts in France made rugby union a glamorous pursuit in Georgia. Georgia placed second in the 2001–02 tournament. When Georgia played Russia in the European Nations Cup 65,000 people crammed into the national stadium in Tbilisi.
In October 2002 Georgia faced Russia, in what was at the time one of the most important clashes ever between the two national sides. The victorious nation would head to the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and the loser would be relegated to fight it out for a repechage position. Neither nation had ever been to a World Cup, though Georgia had come close in 1999. 50,000 spectators turned out to the national stadium. Both nations kicked penalty goals in the first half, but Russia moved ahead with a 13–9 lead through a try, but Georgia were able to score a try of their own just before half time, with Levan Tsabadze putting them in front 14–13 at the break. Georgia held on, winning 17–13, a victory which sparked celebrations throughout the capital. Three of the 75 French-based Georgian players were denied permission to play in the tournament and were suspended. Another five were sacked and arrived in Australia as free agents. In a warm-up game held in Asti the Georgians lost to Italians 31–22.
In the 2003 Rugby World Cup, Georgia were grouped into pool C alongside giants – South Africa and England. They suffered their heaviest ever defeat when beaten by England 84–6 in their opening game. In their second match, Samoa comfortably eased to a 46–9 victory. Although they performed well against the Springboks (losing 46–19) they were disappointingly defeated by Uruguay 24–12, in a match that they were expected to win. They lost all four of their matches but had impressed against South Africa. Despite the sad financial state of their union, qualification has seen the sport's profile rise throughout Georgia.
In the 2007 Rugby World Cup Georgia were drawn against Argentina, Ireland, Namibia and tournament hosts France in Pool D. The team recorded their first win in the rugby world cup with a 30–0 win over Namibia in their Pool D match at Stade Felix-Bollaert. The foundation for the victory was laid by Georgia's experienced forward pack who wore down their opponents at the breakdown. The 2007 world cup campaign is also well remembered for Georgians by brilliant display against Ireland, where Georgia narrowly lost the match 10–14. The tournament was over with 7–64 defeat to hosts France on 30 September.
At 2011 Rugby World Cup, Georgia's Pool B included England, Argentina and Scotland, as well as local rivals Romania. Despite the close nature of their pool, Georgia were impressive in all matches, including a tight match against Scotland which was lost 15–6, thus missing a bonus point narrowly and a 41–10 loss against England, which featured a man-of-the-match performance by flanker Mamuka Gorgodze. Georgia went on to record only their second ever Rugby World Cup win against Romania, winning 25–9 with another man-of-the-match performance by Mamuka Gorgodze. Georgia finished their campaign with a strong showing against Argentina, leading 7–5 at half time before conceding 20 unanswered points to lose 25–7. Thus Georgia finished their campaign with 1 win and 3 losses.
In the 2015 Rugby World Cup Georgia played against Tonga, Argentina, title holders New Zealand and the top African qualifier Namibia in Pool C. The group opener finished with Georgia's 17–10 victory against Tonga. It totally paid off for what the Lelos have worked so hard during RWC preparations. With this history-maker fixture, they won the third World Cup match in the history of Georgian Rugby. Georgia lost second match against Argentina 9–54, although in the first half finished 14–9 for the Pumas. In the third match Georgia were defeated by New Zealand 43–10 in Cardiff. Again in the first half The Lelos held very well against the mighty All Blacks, with score remaining 22–10 for the world champions. In the last match Georgia defeated Namibia 17–16, for the first time ever finished the group on third place with two wins and two defeats and secured their qualification for 2019 Rugby World Cup.
In 2016, Georgia once again cemented its claim to be the seventh best national rugby team in Europe, when they won the European Nations Cup for the sixth consecutive time, with 10 wins from 10 matches. In the 2016 mid-year internationals the Lelos traveled to the Pacific islands for the first time and finished the historic tour unbeaten with 19–19 draw against Samoa, 23–20 victory against Tonga and 14–3 victory against Fiji.
The team's nickname, The Lelos, comes from lelo burti, a traditional Georgian sport with strong similarities to rugby. Lelo has been adopted as the Georgian word for try (the highest-valued score in rugby). One standard cheer of Georgian rugby union fans is Lelo, Lelo, Sakartvelo (Try, Try, Georgia).
Men's World Rugby Rankings
|Top 30 rankings as of 15 April 2019|
|*Change from the previous week|
|Georgia's historical rankings|
|Source: World Rugby - Graph updated to 7 January 2019|
Georgia has won 139 of their 222 representative matches, a winning record of 62.61%. Since World Rankings were introduced by World Rugby in September 2003, Georgia have occupied below number ten the majority of the time.
Below is table of the representative rugby matches played by a Georgia national team at test level up until 10 March 2019.
|South Africa A||1||0||1||0||0.00%||17||31||−14|
|South Africa President's XV||1||0||1||0||0.00%||16||21||−5|
Georgia has competed in four Rugby World Cup tournaments. Their first appearance was in 2003 when they were placed in Pool C with England, South Africa, Uruguay and Samoa. In 2007 Georgia recorded their first win in the Rugby World Cup with a 30–0 win over Namibia in their Pool D match at Stade Bollaert-Delelis. The Lelos best performance was in 2015, where they finished third in a group for the first time. Georgia have to date won four World Cup matches and lost twelve.
|World Cup record||World Cup Qualification record|
|1987||Part of USSR: Not an independent country||-|
|1991||Part of USSR: Not an independent country||Part of USSR: Not an independent country|
|1995||Did not qualify||2||0||0||2||15||38|
|2019||Automatically qualified||Automatically qualified|
Rugby Europe ChampionshipEdit
Georgia compete annually in the Rugby Europe Championship (previously named European Nations Cup). They won the tournament ten times in 2001, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019
Results correct up until 18 March 2018
The Antim Cup is contested between Georgia and Romania each time the teams meet in a senior international match other than World Cup matches or qualifiers. The holder retains the cup unless the challenger wins the match, and there is no extra time in case of a draw. It is named after the Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Anthim the Iberian, who came from Georgia.
On 25 January head coach Milton Haig finalised a 30-man squad for the 2019 Rugby Europe Championship.
Caps updated: 16 March 2019
Ilia Zedginidze – Played as a Number 8 and was a lineout specialist. A member of their inaugural World Cup side in 2003, he captained Georgia in the 2007 tournament, but was forced out of the squad because of an injury. This injury ultimately led to him announcing his retirement from international rugby, after gaining 48 caps. He returned to the squad in late 2008, playing against Scotland A and taking part in the 2009 European Nations Cup, where he scored a game-saving try against Portugal on 14 February 2009.
Malkhaz Urjukashvili – Moved to France, where he has been playing. He is one of the best players and scorers for Georgia, holding currently 65 caps for his National Team, with 18 tries and 300 points. His first match was a 29–15 win over Croatia, in Tbilisi, at 12 October 1997, aged only 17 years old. This made him one of the youngest players ever to be capped at international rugby level. He was present at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, playing three matches and scoring 9 points. In the game against England, he kicked a long range penalty that registered as Georgia's first Rugby World Cup points (England eventually won the game 84–6). He was called once again for the 2007 Rugby World Cup, playing in all the four matches and scoring one conversion. He continued to be a valuable player in the 2011 Rugby World Cup qualification, the third Georgia gained in a row.
Mamuka Gorgodze – Switched to rugby from basketball aged 17. His first club was Lelo in the Georgian Top League, he was soon selected for the Georgia national team and made his debut in 2003 against Spain, at the age of just 18 and not long after he started playing rugby. However he wasn't selected for Georgia's first appearance at the 2003 Rugby World Cup later that year.
In 2004 he became a regular fixture for the Georgia side. He was a regular in the Georgia side though and was selected for the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Gorgodze started three of Georgia's four matches at the World Cup, and was one of Georgia's star players.
Gorgodze changed position for Georgia to the back row. Gorgodze became a revelation at flanker during this season, and halfway through the season French newspaper L'Équipe commented that he improved his technique and became a mobile and unstoppable player. Gorgodze played a big role in Montpellier finishing the 2010–11 Top 14 season as runners up. At the end of the season L'Équipe named him as the best foreigner in the league.
Individual all-time recordsEdit
|10||3 players on 12 tries|
Most matches as captainEdit
Most points in a matchEdit
|1||Soso Matiashvili||Full Back||34||2||6||4||0||Canada||Tbilisi||11/10/2017|
|2||Merab Kvirikashvili||Full Back||32||2||11||0||0||Germany||Tbilisi||06/02/2010|
|3||Merab Kvirikashvili||Full Back||24||1||2||5||0||Portugal||Lisbon||08/02/2014|
|Merab Kvirikashvili||Fly-half||23||1||9||0||0||Czech Republic||Tbilisi||07/04/2007|
|7||Malkhaz Urjukashvili||Fly-half||20||0||7||2||0||Czech Republic||Kutaisi||12/06/2005|
|9||Malkhaz Urjukashvili||Full Back||19||1||4||2||0||Spain||Tbilisi||28/10/2006|
|10||4 players on 18 points|
Most tries in a matchEdit
|Mamuka Gorgodze||Number 8||15||3||0||0||0||Czech Republic||Kutaisi||12/06/2005|
|David Dadunashvili||Hooker||15||3||0||0||0||Czech Republic||Tbilisi||07/04/2007|
|Malkhaz Urjukashvili||Centre||15||3||0||0||0||Czech Republic||Tbilisi||07/04/2007|
|Mamuka Gorgodze||Number 8||15||3||0||0||0||Spain||Tbilisi||26/04/2008|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Georgia national rugby union team.|
- "Georgia v Russia". ESPN scrum. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- "When Georgia's XV came of age". International Rugby Board. Archived from the original on 7 May 2006. Retrieved 29 November 2006.
- "Men's World Rankings". World Rugby. Retrieved 27 February 2019.
- "Rugby Union – ESPN Scrum – Statsguru – Test matches – Team records". ESPN scrum. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- Lopez, Julien. "Gorgodze percute, tamponne, caramélise, retourne. En plus, il franchit". Le Rugbynistère (in French). Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- "Rugby Union | Georgia | Most matches | ESPN Scrum". ESPN scrum. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- "Rugby Union | Georgia | Most individual tries | ESPN Scrum". ESPN scrum. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- "Rugby Union | Georgia | Most individual points | ESPN Scrum". ESPN scrum. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- "Rugby Union | Georgia | Most matches as a captain | ESPN Scrum". ESPN scrum. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- "Rugby Union | Georgia | Most individual points in a match | ESPN Scrum". ESPN scrum. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- "Rugby Union | Georgia | Most individual tries in a match | ESPN Scrum". ESPN scrum. Retrieved 10 February 2017.