Saturday, 13 June 2015

Oxford University centre Matt Janney emerges as surprise Georgian World Cup contender

Oxford University rugby player Matthew Janney has emerged as an unlikely World Cup bolter - for Georgia, that is.

Born and raised in England, Janney started playing rugby at the age of six for the famous Richmond club. A scrum half early on, he moved to the centres where he remains to this day. The story of the Janney family began in 1921, when an ancestor emigrated to England. "I knew from childhood through my grandmother that we come from somewhere in Eastern Europe, presumably Russia. She could not say exactly where. My grandfather was no longer alive. With age, I've become more interested in my origins. My uncle spent lots of time looking for information in different archives and finally found out that my grandfather was a native of Tbilisi, and his original surname was Janashvili."

Some time ago, Matthew contacted the Georgian Rugby Union (GRU) and expressed a desire to come to Georgia and play for his ancestral homeland. With the aid of the GRU, he sought approval from rugby's international governing body, World Rugby, to represent Georgia.

Despite initially being refused on the grounds of incomplete documentation, he was undeterred. Hiring a lawyer, Janney spent a year working with the GRU to collect all necessary documents needed to prove his eligibility for Georgia, and was given clearance by World Rugby.

It was an initial attempt to prove his eligibility for another Eastern European nation that lead him to Georgia. Janney notes, "once I played for Oxford against Russia. We lost, but I was named Man of the Match. After the game, my coach told his Russian counterpart that my grandfather came from Russia (at the time I did not know precisely that my roots were Georgian). We tried to find archival documents, to clarify my background, and that's when it became clear that my family were actually Georgian in origin. From that moment I was thinking of only one thing - to play for the country of my ancestors. "

Janney landed in Georgia this week and participated in training with the national team. He has been named in the Georgian sevens squad to play in Lyon, France next weekend in the second stage of the European Grand Prix.

"Well, we'll see him in Lyon. This will allow us to better assess his capabilities. He was at the national training centre all week and left us with a very good impression.

Before he's viewed as a candidate for the fifteens team, he must work his way up. Playing sevens will serve the purpose of capping him for Georgia and giving us a look at him. Let's see how he does there," said Georgian fifteens coach Milton Haig.

To Janney, pulling on the Georgian jersey both carries responsibility and fulfils a dream. "I think I was very lucky. I appreciate immensely the opportunity to wear the uniform of Georgia. Whether it's the national team in sevens or fifteens - it is for me not only a transition to a higher level of rugby, but also a return to my roots and a restored connection with my ancestors."

Article translated from Original can be viewed here (

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