Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Should Georgia drop their record point scorer Merab Kvirikashvili?


Over his 11 year international career Merab Kvirikashvili has broken Georgian point scoring records and won popularity with fans, however he also remains an enigma and frustratingly gaffe prone. Should Milton Haig keep picking him?

Kvirikashvili was originally a scrum half who made his debut as a 19 year old in 2003 (the youngest player at that World Cup), but with the scrum half position blocked by Irakli Abuseridze his chances were limited to mostly bench appearances. It was in 2007 when he converted to fly half and established his position in the team nudging out veteran Pavle Jimsheladze.

Now the Georgian points record holder with 526, he scored the match winning penalty against Samoa last November and was voted 3rd for Georgian Sports Personality of the Year for 2013. Considering that you might think he was one of the Lelos best players, but then think again.

There is obvious talent to be seen in Kvirikashvili. He has been known to slot penalties off a few steps from within his own half or from the hardest of angles or nail punt kicks with precision into the corner and when the game is unstructured can offer a bit of attacking play.

Problem is these instances are entangled with a litany of bloopers and errors, costly ones as well. Just in recent memory, in the World Cup match against England Kvirikashvili pretty much single handedly wrecked a decent Georgian performance.

It sounds harsh but it's true, Georgia created several penalties only for him to miss 5 of them, 3 of which were from in front of the posts, if he had got them there was a good chance that Georgia would have gone at least into half time in the lead and at the very least the final scoreline been a bit fairer to their performance. That was just kicks though, in open play he wasn't much better, running backline moves in his own 22 that went to his teammates' feet, and was an open target for England's backs to beat the gainline in attack with him missing 50% of his tackles.

(Video: Kvirikashvili against England in 2011 has got to be one of
his worst performances of his career)

But in the same game, he also effortlessly launched one of "the sweetest kicks you'll see". Pin point precision right into the corner. There was little else he did well that much, but that just sums up Kvirikashvili, it's not as though he's an utterly talentless dud, we've seen he's capable at moments and that is what has kept in the team so long. But what's so frustrating is he has never produced it consistently throughout a game.

Now 30 years old, a veteran of 3 World Cups and with 75 caps, he is still making a long list of these blunders mixed in with the odd superb moment it seems unlikely at this stage that he'll change. But the question is, do Georgia gain more than they lose?

The answer is that they probably don't. For a start there are certain things he's never been especially good at. When former Baby Blacks backs coach Milton Haig was appointed coach in 2012 to improve Georgia's backplay, Kvirikashvili could not adapt and simply did not have the ability to conduct a structured attacking backline.

Haig selected him for a year, but after the first match of 2013 against Belgium where Kvirikashvili presided over what was one of the most miserable Georgian performances in recent memory, he was dropped. In hindsight, it should have been done earlier as having Lasha Khmaladze now firmly positioned at 10 has seen Haig have more of a creative base to build his project with the backline. Georgia now longer are guaranteed to go backwards or lose the ball when spreading it wide now, and have in fact started executing some backline moves.

Kvirikashvili still has a role in the side though, now though as a 15 mainly in the side for his kicking game. However the other thing Kvirikashvili has never been good at is defence, and that is despite the Georgian backline being by and large relatively solid in this area.

Kvirikashvili has had some of the most strange defensive blunders seen, and surely most be owner of some of the worst pieces of defending in Georgia's history. Against Fiji in 2012 (the match Georgia went into with three of their weakest defenders Kvirikashvili, Todua and Kiasashvili), he went storming out of the line only to launch what looked like a football style slide tackle on a phantom player. Metuisela Talebula went steaming through the gap left and it led to a Fiji try (see video below).

(Video: Kvirikashvili's odd bit of defence vs Fiji in 2012)

That only Georgian defensive blunder that rivals that in bizarreness also is owned by Kvirikashvili, who against the USA as last line of defence had a big slow American prop running at him and just appeared to run past him. In both games mentioned, Georgia lost by less than 5 points. Kvirikashvili just isn't solid or reliable in open play at the back, nor fly half.

Still, all teams need a good goal kicker, and often lesser players can be accommodated if they excel in this category, and Kvirikashvili has got some of the hardest kicks possible in his career. However he is pretty unpredictable in this regard as well. Best example was against the USA, smashing over a hard kick from his own half, only to cancel out the points gained doing that by then missing the easy one. His punt kicking is a similar story to his goal kicking.

(Video: A clip that sums Kvirikashvili up, slots the penalty from
his own half and misses the easy one)

Unfortunately for Kvirikashvili, the only thing he is reliable for is a dozen errors a game, his error to superb ratio is simply not good enough, and ahead of the 2015 World Cup Haig really ought to be thinking about what other options he has in the problem position of 15.

Another thing though that perhaps keeps Kvirikashvili in the team for longer is his popularity. He was voted 3rd in the Georgian Sports Personality of the Year contest for 2013, which was in fact a minor embarrassment for the rugby knowledge of those whose voted for him, as it's hard to believe Georgia don't have a load of better sports men or women. He's not even anywhere near 3rd best just in the Georgian team, let alone 3rd best of any sports man or woman of every sport in the country.
Ronan O'Gara got
several winning
kicks and records.
To many, this
glossed over his
major flaws.

The only explanation towards is that a few of the Georgian public seem to have got "O'Gara syndrome". Ireland's record capped fly half won a legion of loyal fans and is generously considered a legend in home country, mainly through his famous match winning kicks his pack created for him. They've allowed his minutes of glory gloss over the fact he was an utter defensive liability who had to be babysitted by his teammates the whole game and got exposed by the best teams, his attacking play was largely forgettable and his kicking had some off days in the big games.

It's a similar sort of story for Kvirikashvili. He is best remembered by some for the match winning kicks he got against USA in 2010 and Samoa last November, a match where his simpler missed kick and botched drop goal attempt is forgotten, along with the errors in open play. Even just this weekend against Russia, he was awarded man of the match, despite a paucity of reasons as to why.

Fortunately, this undeserved praise hasn't inflated his ego the way it did to O'Gara, he seems a perfectly honest and nice man. But Haig needs to have a cold hard look at the reality of his situation, and not allow reputation and fans dictate him the same way it did to Declan Kidney who gave O'Gara for years far too many caps which led to both men's international careers ending with indignity.

And these are the cold hard inescapable truths. Does he now and again produce an absolute pearler of a kick? Yes. Does he miss kicks that top class kickers should get? Yes. Did he miss 3 drop goals and a penalty during what was nearly Georgia's biggest ever win against Ireland in 2007? Yes. Did he completely ruin Georgia's effort against England in 2011? Yes. Did he play a big role in Georgia losing to USA in a match they were clearly the better team? Yes. Has Georgia's back play improved considerably both in attack and defence since he was ousted from fly half? Yes. Is he still a liability for some sort of blunder? Yes. And is he getting past the stage where aged 30 with 75 caps where he is likely to improve? Yes.

Beka Tsiklauri
Should he wear
the 15 jersey?
It may seem over critical to one of the most popular figures in Georgian rugby, but going into a big game, Kvirikashvili simply cannot be relied upon to deliver. Heading into a World Cup, can Haig really trust Kvirikashvili? With the success or failure of the tournament on the line, does Haig really want Kvirikashvili possibly standing as last man in defence marking a Tongan or All Black on the rampage?

There is not a wealth of options at 15 for Georgia with it being one of their weakest positions, Revaz Gigauri and Irakli Kiasashvili both also struggled when they started there and that is another reason why Kvirikashvili keeps getting picked. But an option like Beka Tsiklauri or possibly Beka Urjukashvili. They may not be a great deal better, but both are at a stage of their careers where there is more potential to improve and could develop into a more solid options in time for the World Cup. Either that or Haig will just have to cross his fingers and hope Kvirikashvili can for once summon the skilful side of himself for an entire match, and his weaknesses remain hidden.


  1. Correct on the missed kicks vs Ireland in the RWC07 though if you're going to be balanced, his fantastic punting in that game was a key reason Georgia got territorial dominance and were able to pressure Ireland so much. He had two really good breaks vs Russia last weekend but also had a charge down which lead to Russia's sole try, and a truly bizarre knee-kick to try and deal with a Russian chip behind the Georgian backline defence. He also missed touch from a penalty but luckily the Russian player knocked on anyway! And despite these errors he somehow still got MOM in front of Basalaia, Koleishvili, and the vet prop whose name I've just forgotten who all put in far better all-round performances. If he makes the RWC he better earn that nice MOM Tissot watch he got!

  2. Ziraqashvili is the name, plays for Clermont Auvergne

    P.s. thanks for interesting analysis

  3. ultravioletu25/2/14 10:25 am

    The blog "The east terrace" named O'Gara "the most influential british and iros lion of all times" (of course, tongue in cheek): http://www.espnscrum.com/lions-tour-2013/rugby/story/170062.html


  4. I actually watched that Ireland game again recently. Whilst there was one booming kick over the head of Horgan, I felt the scrum halves both played a bigger role in the kicking game, which was as you say very successful.

    I made sure to mention that he is capable of some superb moments though, even in that terrible England performance. Those moments show that he's got talent, just his defensive frailties and his ratio of producing them to the errors that's the problem.

    At 15 I would rather have someone consistently unspectacular but solid, than someone who fluctuates throughout the game. In those crucial moments, I would rather a safe player, even though Kvirikashvili is probably the more talented.

  5. O'Gara was truly the worst Lion in my memory, and his reputation has been hit worldwide for his performances there. Yet the Irish still blindly adore him.

  6. More accurately it's Munstermen who adore ROG. He's got plenty of critics elsewhere in Ireland.

  7. Let me just say this! when it comes to tier 2 even the most prestigious newspapers publish stereotypical and outdated info on the web. you actually discuss this topic better(more in depth) than most Georgian newspapers. let alone the foreign ones. Keep going! Someone should let you publish for their newspaper since they won't find anyone more knowledgeable about Tier 2 rugby no matter how long they look!!!

  8. Thanks a lot. The fact that most of the media just stereotypical and outdated comment on teams outside Tier 1 (stuff like Georgia are just a scrum + Gorgodze, and Japan are still as bad as they were when they were losing by 100pts) was exactly my main motive for starting this site.

  9. In my humble opinion Kvirikashvili should be moved to scrum-half.I care less if he is too inconsistent with kicking,he still has a decent percentage.His major liability at full back is his defence.He will not be able to stop any decent Tongan or Argentian full backs or wingers let alone guys like Israel Dagg.This is of course only my opinion