Sport helps heal pain of Georgian star Kvirikashvili
Merab Kvirikashvili’s tragic story is one which shows how rugby can help heal even the biggest of wounds.
Next Saturday, the Georgian back plays against Wales at Principality Stadium 16 months after he was involved in a car crash which killed his wife Nutsa, the mother of his four children.
Nutsa, and three other passengers in another vehicle, lost their lives in the smash on the Kutaisi-Samtredia highway in July 2016.
The Georgian star and international team-mate Giorgi Lominadze survived, but the incident rocked the Eastern European country’s rugby community.
More than a year on, the sport has helped Kvirikashvili get back on track, and this weekend he will go head-tohead with Wales’s big names.
“It has been a very emotional time for Merab, a real roller coaster,” said Georgian head coach Milton Haig. “A few weeks after the accident I told him I thought rugby would help him to take his mind off things and give him something on which to focus.”
Losing his wife rocked Kvirikashvili, 33, to his core and he took time away from rugby to grieve. Last November he returned with the Lelos, starting a 28-22 defeat by Japan in Tbilisi and kicking two conversions and a penalty.
It was the beginning of the healing process, Kvirikashvili finding hope in rugby, a game well known for its ability to forge special bonds between those who take part.
Kvirikashvili has been a regular in the Georgian side since, playing eight times in 2017 to take his caps total to 106. Capable of playing at full-back or scrum-half, he is one of the most experienced campaigners in Haig’s side and is certain to start against Wales.
“I can’t imagine how you can get yourself through something like he’s been through and I don’t know how Merab has managed to keep going,” said Haig, who hopes Georgia can one day compete in the Six Nations. “But when he comes into camp with us I think it gives him a bit of relief. Maybe that’s why he has played so well for us in the last 12 months. Everyone shared in his grief and it just shows what the rugby family can do.”
Georgia will be underdogs against Warren Gatland’s side: Wales should win, but will face a real battle.
“We are playing against one of the most iconic teams in world rugby at one of the most iconic venues,” said Haig. “I spent a week with Wales in 2014 when they were preparing to play South Africa. I have never experienced anything quite like it coming into the ground. When it comes to so-called ‘David against Goliath’ games, we just tell our players their opponents only have two arms and two legs like us.”
With an ever-increasing clamour for Georgia to be included in an expanded Six Nations, Haig is pleased his men are getting more fixtures against tier one nations. “If we were able to knock over a top nation then it would add strength to the Georgian argument to be added to the Six Nations,” he said. “Until we can do that and take a major scalp, our claims are merely hot air.”
Game changer: Playing rugby has helped Merab Kvirikashvili cope with his wife’s death