Georgia out to 'scare a few people' says Rowntree
Georgia will not win the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Of that we can be certain. But according to their English forwards coach Graham Rowntree, the Lelos intend to leave their mark on this year's edition.
"We want to scare a few people," the 48-year-old Rowntree told AFP.
"We want the opportunities to rise to the occasion, we want to prove ourselves at the top table.
"Georgia won two games in 2015 to ensure automatic qualification for this World Cup and we want to do the same this time.
"Obviously we have Wales and Australia in the pool so it's going to be difficult against them and that means we have to look at beating Uruguay and Fiji."
The Georgians open their campaign against the Welsh in Toyota City on September 23 and then go on to face Uruguay, whom they will back themselves to beat, and Fiji before facing the Wallabies in their final pool D game on October 11.
It is the game against Fiji in Higashiosaka on October 3, that looks like being the Lelos' own World Cup final.
"It won't be easy. Fiji beat the (New Zealand) Maoris in July -- that is going to be a huge one for us," says Rowntree.
If an appearance in the quarter-finals seems unlikely then the forward march of rugby in Georgia is set to take another big step forward.
Rowntree's appointment in September last year came as something of a surprise.
The former Leicester and England prop - he played in the 1995 and 1999 World Cups before missing out on the triumph of 2003 - has enjoyed a succesful high profile coaching career with England over a seven-year period as well as Harlequins and Leicester.
"Last September I had an inquiry to see if I might be interested and before I knew it I was sat with Milton Haig in a Richmond hotel and the rest is history."
Rowntree, coming off the back of England's disastous home campaign in 2015 when they failed to get out of the pool stage, was struck by Haig's vision.
"He's given so much structure to the game in Georgia, systems and structure. And belief.
"He moved his family to Tblisi, he's poured his life into it.
"The programme that Milton put in place seven years ago is very professional with all the science and conditioning that you will find at Tier 1 nations.
"I haven't sensed any drop off in professionalism coming here."
Rowntree has remained rooted in England, enabling frequent trips to France where Georgian props are as numerous as Fijian wingers in the Top 14.
"Rugby is their game," says Rowntree, who will join Irish province Munster as forwards coach as soon as Georgia's campaign in Japan comes to an end.
"The Georgians are built for rugby. It's a contact sport. They love wrestling as well. They love these hard, physical battles. It is easy to come in and work with them.
"And they are good people, they have great humility. It is a different environment to many I have worked in before, not that there was anything wrong with those environments.
"They are humble, hard-working, they will do anything you ask."
The rugby world has become used to the sight of solid slabs of Georgian prop, but Rowntree is most excited by the emergence of a young and dynamic back row.
"Beka Gorgadze had a terrific season with Bordeaux. He is an outstanding talent at number eight," he says.
"And then you have the other Beka (Saghinadze) plays for Aurillac on the flank along with Otar Giorgadze of Brive who is another who is elctric around the back of the scrum."
Gorgadze is 23 with the two flankers both just 20.
"It is now about improving themselves on the big stage."
The younger forwards will also have the reassuring presence of Mamuka Gorgodze alongside them after the 35-year-old, a star of the 2015 edition, came out of international retirement to fill the breach.
Rowntree and Haig will be hoping that Gorgodzilla will help the youngsters with the increase in intensity to be found on the World Cup stage.
"World Cups are about pressure, about dealing with expectations and getting the best out of yourself on the field.
"It is also important to enjoy. They don't come around very often and it is over very quickly.
"You have to make the most of it and enjoy it."