Lobzhanidze sets new mark for youngest World Cup player
Vasil Lobzhanidze was 14 years old during the last World Cup in New Zealand, and claims barely to remember it. But today, at Kingsholm, he will step out with his Georgian team-mates against Tonga to become the youngest player in the history of the tournament.
Scrum-half Lobzhanidze does not turn 19 until next month and he will break the record currently held by the American centre Thretton Palamo, who was 19 when he played against South Africa in 2007.
But Georgia coach Milton Haig said that the teenager was in the side on merit, and would play a crucial role in a match both teams must realistically win to have any hope of progressing beyond the pool stage.
“It’s an endorsement from the coaches,” said Haig of Lobzhanidze’s selection. “It doesn’t matter how old you are; if you’re good enough, you’re good enough, and we certainly think he is.”
Lobzhanidze plays his rugby at Armazi Tbilisi, and played in all four matches of this year’s World Rugby Under-20 Trophy, which Georgia won. How was he feeling? “A little bit nervous,” he admitted. “Just a few years ago, I would not have imagined that I would play for the Georgian national team, let alone at a World Cup.” The Tonga captain Nili Latu is convinced it the forwards battle will be key. “We have worked really hard on matching their forward pack. Hopefully our backs will finish off the game for us.” The Tongans have three Gloucester players in the squad, with Sione Kalamafoni starting.