Georgia's Lelos eye seat at rugby's top table

Merab Sharikadze, the captain of Georgia. scores a try during the Rugby Europe International Championship round 4 match between Georgia and Germany at Aia Arena on March 10, 2019 in Kutaisi, Georgia.
Merab Sharikadze, the captain of Georgia. scores a try during the Rugby Europe International Championship round 4 match between Georgia and Germany at Aia Arena on March 10, 2019 in Kutaisi, Georgia.
Image: Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images

As a tier-two nation, Georgia is hoping the Rugby World Cup in Japan will bring it closer to its cherished dream of being part of rugby's top table.

"Our global aim is to improve our ability to compete with the best teams in the world," head coach Milton Haig told AFP, adding Georgia wants a seat "with the others at the top table".

Georgia's Rugby Union President Gocha Svanidze said it was the country's "destiny" to be among rugby's elite and "this year's tournament will be a step in that direction."

Georgia has competed in four World Cups since 2003, winning four matches and losing 12.

The country claimed its first World Cup win in 2007, beating Namibia 30-0, and had its best performance in 2015 when they finished third in a group for the first time and clinched an automatic spot in Japan.

Experienced centre Merab Sharikadze said his team's "minimum programme" at this year's World Cup is to do as well as they did four years ago.

"We hope to beat Fiji and Uruguay and repeat our achievement at the previous World Cup," Sharikadze told AFP.

Haig says the objective is "automatic qualification to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France".

Twelfth in the world rankings, Georgia's team - known as the Lelos - are named after an ancient village game seen in the country as an indigenous variant of modern-day rugby, which is now the country's most popular sport.

The side from the tiny Black Sea nation of 3.7 million people have played in the Rugby Europe's Championship, a level below the Six Nations, since 2000, winning the tournament 11 times.

Mamuka Gorgodze was a shock inclusion in the squad heading to Japan.

The 35-year-old loose forward, who plays for Toulon in the French Top 14, had announced the end of his international career in 2017 but is now set to feature at his fourth World Cup

Scotland's 44-10 hammering of Georgia on August 31 in Tbilisi, marked the first time a tier one country had played a game in the ex-Soviet state.

Impressive results in Japan will encourage other nations to follow suit.

- AFP

 

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