|Union||Georgian Rugby Union|
|Coach||Flag of Georgia (country) Malkhaz Cheishvili|
|Template:Ru-rt 3 – 16 Template:Country data Georgian SSR Georgia|
(12 September, 1989)
|Template:Ru-rt 98 – 3 Template:Country data CZE|
(8 April, 2002)
|Template:Ru-rt 84 – 6 Flag of Georgia (country) Georgia|
(12 October, 2003)
|Appearances||2 (First in 2003)|
|Best result||One Win, 2007|
The Georgia national rugby union team represents the former Soviet Caucasian republic of Georgia in rugby union. The team's nickname, The Lelos, comes from lelo, an indigenous 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).
Georgia is currently considered a second tier rugby union nation. The Lelos participate in the European Nations Cup, which is a second-level competition for European national teams. Famously the Georgians, lacking the resources of the major nations, made scrum machines from old Soviet tractors. Although rugby is extremely popular as a spectator sport in Georgia, participation numbers remain relatively low. There are only eight rugby pitches and six hundred adult players as of 2007. 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, who now coaches neighboring rivals Russia.
Rugby union is one of the most popular sports in Georgia. The Georgian national sevens team became the first national side from Georgia to compete in a major tournament, playing in the IRB Sevens World Cup in Argentina. However, the full national team would go onto qualify for the 2003 Rugby World Cup - playing against rugby powers such as South Africa and England. In 2006 the Lelos qualified for the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, they beat Portugal in Play off 28–14
There were unsuccessful attempts to introduce rugby union into Georgia in 1928 and also in 1940 and in 1948. It is thought that rugby was introduced to Georgia by Jacques Haspekian, a man from Marseille in France who taught the game to students in the late 1950s through to the mid 1960s.
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 April 9, 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 IRB 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 to the extent that it is now considered the country's most popular team sport, even ahead of football. Saurel went on to work with the 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 Nuku’Alofa before a 28–27 win in Tbilisi. This was not enough and Georgia failed to qualify.
During the European Nations Cup tournament of 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 2000/1 tournament, and thus finishing at the top of the table. They clinched the title by beating Romania away 31–20 on the final day.
Georgian first made an impact at Rugby Sevens by finishing a respectable 10th in the 2001 edition of the Sevens World Cup in Argentina. 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 2001-2002 tournament. When Georgia played Russia in the European Nations Cup 65,000 people crammed into the national stadium in Tbilisi.
World Cup yearsEdit
The two nations would contest another match at the same venue in October of 2002, 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. 45,000 turned out to the national stadium, with another one and a half million Georgians watching it on national television. Both nations kicked penalty goals in the first half, but Russia moved ahead with a 13–9 lead through a Konstantin Rachkov 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.
They 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 9–46 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.
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 held the Italians to 31–22. They lost all four of their matches but impressed against South Africa. Despite the sad financial state of their union, qualification has seen the sport's profile rise throughout Georgia.
The Barbarians beat Georgia 28–19 in Tbilisi on the 4th June 2006 in front of some 10,000 spectators. The Barbarians led 14–7 at half-time and the Lelos pulled back to 14-all early in the second half, but the Barbarians added two more tries before the Lelos got their third just before the end. Paliko Jimsheladze, playing as a fullback, became the first Georgian to win 50 caps. In recognition of this feat he was presented with a commemorative cap by Nodar Qipiani, the first captain of a Georgian national team. After the match the Barbarians presented £10,000 for the development of rugby union in Georgia.
In the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Georgia performed strongly, holding Argentina 6-3 at half time, and in the next match did even better, losing to Ireland 14-10, which included a disallowed try, three missed drop goals, and spent the last 5 minutes just metres from the Irish line, allowing Ireland to scrape through. Georgia secured its first World Cup win with a convincing 30-0 victory over Namibia. Georgia's final try in the match came in injury time with an interception by Davit Kacharava.
European Nations CupEdit
|1987||No qualifying tournament held.|
|1991 to 1999||Did not qualify.|
|2003||Qualified. Group stages.|
|2007||Qualified. Group stages.|
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- Diplomacy the key for Georgia (from BBC News)
- Georgia set for World Cup bow
- Barbarians beat Georgia in Tbilisi
- ↑ http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/team_guides/6924718.stm
- ↑ http://www.irb.com/unions/union=11000054/index.html
- ↑ When Georgia’s XV came of age. rwc2003.irb.com. Retrieved on 29 November, 2006.
- ↑ "Georgia's squad for the World Cup", planet-rugby.com, 2007-08-09. Retrieved on 2007-09-14.
- Template:Ka icon Georgia Rugby Union - Official Site
- Unofficial Georgian rugby union webpage
- Georgian rugby union news from Planet Rugby
- SOS kit aid
- World Cup Preview