The American writer Richard Bach once wrote: “That’s what learning is, after all; not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it, and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way is winning.” These golden words might be very true in the case of the Georgia national rugby team, nicknamed ‘The Lelos’ and representing Georgia in the men’s annual Rugby Europe Championship and Rugby World Cup, which takes place every four years.
I don’t feel embarrassed at all to state aloud, as well as in black-and-white, that the Georgian Lelos lost to the Australian Wallabies, albeit the score was somewhat embarrassing, I will admit – 35 to 15. This happened in France, on September 9. What a day! I was right there, at the Stade de France, the national stadium of France, located north of Paris, whose seating capacity of 80,698 makes it the sixth-largest stadium in Europe.
The day was very warm and humid, which did not bother us at all, with such an outstanding sporting event in store for us. I was well equipped with moral preparedness for any possible outcome, but in my heart of hearts I still nursed the hope to win. The arena was packed full, with way more Australian fans than those rooting for Georgia, but this was OK too. What was not quite OK, though, is that we gave the adversary the chance to get the upper hand, having started the first half very weakly and without any vestige of rugby discipline. The Australian rugby players deserve more respect, caution and thought on our part. They are, after all, a Tier One team. We were almost totally deprived of the ball from the very beginning of the match. Defense would never be able to endure the tension for long with that much passivity and indifference. The Wallabies rushed forward too far into the score, and there was no way to catch up. There did come a chance or two to turn the tables on our rivals, but even that chance was not used to the fullest extent – several absolutely realistic chances were lost to score a try. But let’s pick up courage, we have not yet used all our sporting power, and there is still time until the next game, the incipient clash with the Portuguese on September 23.
There are not many countries in the world who have a team deserving of participation in the Rugby World Cup only 20 national teams won the bid to compete in it this year, the ongoing tenth men’s quadrennial world championship taking place in France from 8 September to 28 October. Among them was our little Georgia, and, losing or winning, we will still take away something very important: experience, publicity, and further chances to stay and shine in the big rugby global family. No other Georgian sports team has done as much as our rugby knights to make the world conscious that we are here to be recognized as a nation. Suffice to mention that Georgia’s participation in the Rugby World Cup has greatly contributed to the French budget, and that should count: 80,000 tickets at an average price of 50 Euros would make four million. How about that? Jokes aside, the Georgian rugby idea, its realization and its potential for good, seems to be shocking for any analyst that gives serious thought to this very promising Georgian phenomenon. It was said a thousand times, and I am ready to reiterate, that Rugby is in our blood via our gorgeous old-timer Lelo, the rugby-related ballgame, played in this land since time immemorial.
Returning from the Stade de France, a little saddened and slightly frustrated, two things chilled me pleasantly to my bones. One was the behavior of the crowd when walking to the metro station: all of us kept an affordable solid distance from one another, not disturbing the fellow-walker even for an instant. That’s how Europe marches to its destination! The second one was a totally unexpected patriotic French song, sung by the passengers in the metro car for the delightful reason that France had defeated New Zealand a couple days before, and because Australia, their western brother, had won the game that day. This was the sign of solidarity and the sense of spontaneity of personal liberty. Europe, again and again!
And last but not least, before the match, the Georgian National Rugby Union, headed by Joseph (Soso) Tkemaladze and The Georgian Wine Agency, represented by its deputy head David Tkemaladze, sponsored a reception for local and visiting rugby fans and lovers at the Berlioz Hall of International Paris Le Grand. The program, led by your obedient servant, included the majestic group of folk singing, the legendary ‘Georgian Voices’. The event once again corroborated that Georgian rugby is ready and poised to gloriously remain on the world rugby map forever.