Sport helps heal pain of Geor­gian star Kvirikashvili

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - By Alex By­wa­ter

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

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