Japan Test Kicks Off Potentially Historic Fortnight for Georgian Rugby
For several years now Georgian rugby has been on upward trajectory, a beacon of achievement for team sports in the country, and the Lelos could by the end of November break into the world’s top ten for the first time ever.
Currently 11th in the world rankings, Georgia begin a triple header of mouth-watering autumn tests as they host Japan at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in Tbilisi on Saturday 12 November, followed by the visit of Samoa a week later at the same venue and concluding with a trip to play Scotland at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park on the last Saturday of the month.
Georgia’s head coach Milton Haig, approaching the end of his fifth year in charge, has been proclaiming the mantra of “continuous improvement” as his Lelos look to build on the successes of the last fourteen months, including an historic third-placed finish in their World Cup pool in England and an unbeaten tour of the South Pacific this summer.
Indeed, Haig thinks the best could be yet to come and is in no doubt about the magnitude of the next few weeks.
“This could be the most important window we’ve ever had. We can break into the world’s top ten, something that’s never been done before. The World Cup last year and the success we achieved on tour in the Pacific earlier this year were great, but going into the top ten would be us breaking barriers. At the start of this year, one of the goals we set was to reach the top ten so we’ll do all we can to make that a reality,” said the New Zealander.
“After the World Cup, we had to ask ourselves what comes next. It was vital that we strived for continuous improvement and that’s been visible with the record winning margin over Romania and the unbeaten tour in the Pacific,” he added.
On that earlier mentioned theme of continuous improvement, Haig appreciates the steps being made by the GRU to improve the game and its facilities at the domestic level.
“We analyse ourselves in great depth, and have started using GPS which represents another step up for Georgian rugby. If we just kept doing the same things, we’d go backwards so we have to keep improving,” noted Haig.
The Georgians still carry a reputation for their fearsome forward play, but are less known for the more artistic elements of the game. However this, according to Haig, is starting to change.
“In the Georgian league it used to be fairly one-dimensional, with most teams relying on forward power but we are seeing more variety now, and more width. It can only be a good thing for Georgia to have a strong professional local platform,” added the Georgian head coach.
Hailing from the world’s leading rugby nation, New Zealand, it is not surprising that Haig often refers to his fellow countrymen for ways to improve rugby many thousands of miles away here in the Caucasus.
“Don’t reinvent the wheel, just copy it. You want to do as much as possible of what the best teams do. New Zealand have the best coaches and have put some great minds together. It is crucial to keep up with the trends in the game. Admittedly, we have a different profile in our squad to the top teams in the world so we can’t copy like for like but we still have some world-class athletes here,” said Haig.
Looking ahead to the home clashes with Japan and Samoa, both of whom Georgia have beaten under Haig already, the Kiwi anticipates two contrasting tasks.
“They (Japan) will have a full season under their belts and we are expecting them to be all about speed and movement of the ball. Samoa pose us with a different challenge as they can match us physically, and like to offload to their big ball-carriers. We will have to adapt accordingly to two different types of challenges.”
On Thursday afternoon, Haig announced his starting 15 for Japan:
- Mikheil Nairiashvili
- Jaba Bregvadze
- Levan Chilachava
- Kote Mikautadze
- Giorgi Nemsadze
- Mamuka Gorgodze
- Viktor Kolelishvili
- Beka Bitsadze
- Valeri Lobzhanidze
- Lasha Khmaladze
- Giorgi Aptsiauri
- Merab Sharikadze
- Davit Kacharava
- Tamaz Mchedlidze
- Merab Kvirikashvili