Tuesday, 14 January 2014

5 Myths about Georgian Rugby


With Georgia now gradually getting more and more recognition and coverage for their consistent success over the past few years, here we expose 5 common misconceptions on the Lelos the media regularly report.

1. "Georgian backs are the worst"
This is a very common misconception, what's really more accurate when people say this is "Georgian backs don't make many breaks". The Lelos backs in general are indeed very limited, watching Georgia it doesn't take a genius to work out that the backline has for years barring a few exceptions normally devoid of much pace, explosiveness, flair or creativity.

However that ignores the entire picture, there's more than line breaks and wonder tries to backplay. In general (apart from that turnstile at 15 Merab Kvirikashvili) the defensive element of the Georgian backs in midfield and the wing is pretty solid with decent size, technique and bravery in the tackle. Yes the backline is unbalanced in favour of a bunch of Graeme Morrison/Sean Lamont-esque players like Davit Kacharava and Tamaz Mchedlidze, and the limited nature of it can be frustrating to watch, but despite being castigated as possibly the least desirable of the RWC the outside backs aren't pushovers for the opposition who will have to at least make some tackles and work hard to open them up.

And with talented youngster Merab Sharikadze having broken through and now Lasha Khmaladze has made the 10 position his own there are also signs that the backline possibly could be more balanced in the future. They'll probably always be forward dominated, but they could have a more passable attacking backline the same way Argentina at their best in 2006/07 played a forward dominated game with a few quality backs in Pichot, Hernández and Contepomi which elevated the rest of what was an average but competent backline.
(Video: Georgia's backs may not be the best attacking force but they prove their worth as brave defenders, here they played their role in holding out Samoa for 28 phases in November. Watch out for the centres, Sharikadze's hit at 0:19 and Kacharava securing the winning penalty at 3:55)
scrum1 300x184 Talking Rugby: The problems with the scrum
Georgia competed decently at
the RWC but their scrum did
not cause many problems.

2. "Georgia's main threat comes from the scrum"
This stereotype of the Georgian team derives from the shedload of props plying their trade in the French league. From this, people expect the Georgian scrum to be a powerhouse regardless of who the personnel in the front row actually is or what it has done. It's a very easy assumption to make though in fairness.

In reality, just like any other nation, in Georgia there is not an unlimited supply of scrum destroyers. It's still is a decent scrum by Tier 2 scrummaging standards (which are woeful), can dominate real awful scrums like the USA and can hold it's own mostly but it really isn't one that should worry Tier 1 sides, just last summer playing Argentina the Georgian scrum failed to get an advantage over props who had come off a severe munching from England.

One thing that might lift the scrum's fortunes from an okay level would be the return of their best scrummaging prop Giorgi Jgenti who still won't represent the team due to his dispute with the GRU. His absence along with selecting back rowers like Chkhaidze and Sutiashvili in the second row (a selection trait which fortunately seems like Haig may finally have stopped), and with one of the most lightweight hookers in world rugby has seen the scrum not be such a force over the past couple of years, last year it was clearly second best to the scrum power and dominance Romania possessed.

3. "Rugby Union is the national sport of Georgia"
This misconception is quite surprising given the initial poverty stricken image that the team was portrayed as when they made their World Cup debut in 2003. Back then there were reports of how they were "threadbare" and claims there was "only one proper scrum machine in the entire country and eight dedicated rugby pitches".

Rugby is indeed among the most popular sports in the country, Mamuka Gorgodze is a sporting icon there and crowd numbers are probably the healthiest of any Tier 2 nation (the 60,000 crowd against Russia is still the highest of any Tier 2 team in the professional era). However it is not quite "the national sport", a quick look at a Georgian sports site and it obvious that football leads the way in terms of coverage, with basketball and wrestling also popular.

Where the misconception probably stems from in terms of team sports, on a global scale rugby is perhaps the one Georgia is currently best at, their standing in world rugby terms is considerably higher than their rank of 53 with FIBA or 102 with FIFA.

Equality between the goal posts: Romania vs Georgia 9-9
Georgia and Romania have
differences in their
style of play.
4. "Georgia and Romania play the same style"
Despite many portraying both as similar sides in style, that is lazy reporting from people who over simplify the sport as to you either play a forwards game of backs game. In reality not all teams who have their best players wearing single digits necessarily all play the same style, and the differences between Georgia's and their big ENC rivals Romania's is clear.

Whilst there are certain similarities such as both use the maul regularly as an attacking weapon, Georgia don't get as much profit from the scrum and rely more on ball retention and a strong ball carrying of the back row led by Gorgodze alongside Kolelishvili and Basilaia. More recently under Haig have tried spread the ball out wide more often as well and the wingers will get to touch the ball more often.

Romania meanwhile play a less possession but more territory orientated game meaning they kick a lot more, whilst using a dominant scrum and stout defence to put pressure on the opposition in their own half to create their points. Georgia's points come from more building pressure through phases, and more recently a touch of creativity from the midfield partnership of Khmaladze and Sharikadze.

5. "Georgia are not near the level of Italy"
Now the informed may already not believe this line, but there are plenty still ignorant of which sadly includes 6 Nations boss John Feehan ("I think there is a big gap between the bottom Six Nations side and the next-best team") and FIRA-AER boss Gilles Bizot ("Georgian rugby is not nearly as strong as Italian rugby ... there is a huge gap between the two nations").
Italy are better, but there isn’t
not a "big gap" as claimed by
6 Nations chief John Feehan.

In terms of matches played there have been very few matches, the only meeting being in 2003. That match was 20-19 at 68 minutes and saw the home side Italy pulling away to win 31-22, hardly a hugely convincing win and that was during a period before Georgia had an entire pack playing in the top French leagues and Romania were the top European team outside the 6 Nations.

Now more recently Italy are much improved, but as are Georgia who have become the 7th strongest European nation winning all but one of the ENC tournaments since 2007, and there is little in both their results that would suggest there is "a big gap".

In Italy's most recent matches with Tier 2 opposition in the past 2 years, they have not utterly blown out any of Fiji (who got a record haul of yellow cards and launched an official complaint about the ref), Tonga or Canada. The biggest win they got was against the USA by 20 points but even that was in the context of the Eagles getting 2 red cards at 44 and 65 minutes, and the score was 20-10 at the time of the second which was hardly a hammering.

Now Georgia are on a level of these sides, their most recent matches with Fiji, Canada and USA win or lose have all come down to the last play. And with the Georgians better ability at set piece and ability to keep the ball than the likes of Japan or Canada it makes them tricky to really thrash, combined with the fact Italy equally aren't known as the best attackers logic would suggest a match between the two would be a tight game favouring Italy but not with Georgia completely out of the reckoning of an upset, especially if played in Tbilisi where the Lelos get a good home advantage and recently beat Samoa (who had beaten Italy 39-10 in June).

And that is just at senior level, at junior level, the Georgian U18 side has actually played Italy and have beaten them and knocked them out of the top 6 in Europe for consecutive years.


  1. Very interesting analysis of Georgian rugby. Great job Beeman2!


  3. Very interesting. Thanks for posting!

  4. "only one proper scrum machine in the entire country and eight dedicated rugby pitches" this is wrong before 2003 there was no such thing as a scrum machine in Georgia and there still are not 8 rugby dedicated pitches now let alone back then... they played and many of them still play on football fields or rented arenas.

  5. Archil Taqtaqishvili16/7/14 11:38 pm

    Give us the right to playing a bot Italy and Scotland and you will see how to win them .. do not you remember when Italy 6 nations into dzalian a long time all game losing but has grown and evolved as it has always been a strong team to play against. We are Georgians, I can not take it is a great injustice. Prove this World chempinat what force Georgia .. we will win at least 2 games .. and then the World Cup qualifying win without . GEORGIA <3

  6. Archil Taqtaqishvili16/7/14 11:39 pm

    :* :* :* <3 <3