THE DARK HORSE
Keep an eye out for Georgia being way better than you expect.
Georgia have been world rugby’s biggest improver since the last World Cup. They are coming to England with genuine hopes if causing a few upsets. MICHEL ESTIENNE reports.
THEY ARRIVE IN ENGLAND AS..?
Georgia have made quite considerable progress over the last couple of years. They easily won the European Nations Championship with nine wins and a draw, 32 tries and a 170 points goal-average. Since 2012 they have enjoyed a 19-game winning streak in that competition.
WHAT TYPE OF FOOTBALL WILL THEY PLAY?
After obtaining in 2009 the High Performance Nation status, Georgia have opened themselves to the world. They now play test matches in November. They have won twice against top 10 teams (Japan, Samoa), under Milton Haig’s rule. Benefiting from World Rugby’s Strategic Investment Programme, the Lelos have developed a more balanced rugby, not relying only on their powerful forwards anymore. Their confidence boosted, the Lelos play a more creative and expansive style, looking for spaces.
WILL THERE BE ONE PARTICULAR GAME THEY TARGET?
Their first game against Tonga in Gloucester might prove decisive. If they win, they can build momentum. If they have learned their lesson from their defeat against the Pacific side back in November (24-9), the Lelos may very well win.
In Tbilisi last year, they had been leading until Tonga scored three tries in the last 15 minutes. Since, the Georgians have gone to Cetniewo in Poland and used the Olympic training centre’s facilities, including cryotherapy rooms, in which temperatures can go as low as -160°. However enthusiastic they may be, the Lelos will definitely keep a cool head during this World Cup.
DO THEY HAVE ENOUGH PERSONNEL DEPTH?
The Lelos have always been short of backs. However, the creation two years ago of a federal program for young players (15-20) is beginning to yield interesting results and producing good backline players. Lobzanidze is a good example. Other players are slowly making their way to the top in the French Pro D2 such as Merab Sharikadze and Tamaz Mchelidze in Top 14.
POST TOURNAMENT HOPES..?
Getting invited to the Six Nations would be a great achievement. Over the last few years, this little Caucasian country has made every effort to join the restricted circle of the best European nations. Their performance during the World Cup will certainly help them.
GOOD SHOW: Georgia will be surprisingly entertaining.