Georgia, “small” rugby nation that is chomping at the bit

What is rare is expensive ? So this France-Georgia, Sunday November 14 in Bordeaux, the second meeting of this autumn tour, is worth its weight in gold. Before this meeting, the two rugby teams had only met on the meadow once. It was in September 2007, in Marseille, on the occasion of the World Cup at home of a XV of France who had packed his last group game by winning with nine tries (64-7).

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Suffice to say that the landmarks are not legion, and this is the great misfortune of these valiant Georgians. Guys who have built a great reputation for themselves, but in the European second division. “We have very few opportunities to face the best teams , deplores their coach, Levan Maisashvili. Once in the summer, once in the fall, and again not every year. We need to play big opponents more often to get used to the intensity of the matches. “

Rugby as a vector of national unity

This leitmotif has lasted since Georgia first appeared on the international scene at the turn of the century. France is not for nothing in this emergence. It is Claude Saurel, a former coach of Béziers who, in the mid-1990s, went to structure the high level in the country. Work rewarded by a first qualification for the 2003 World Cup. Since then, Georgia is of all editions.

The final momentum comes after the 2007 World Cup. “The Georgian government then decides to make a significant investment in rugby, to which very quickly comes the patronage of the richest man in the country, the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili” , says Yvonnick Le Lay, associate researcher at the Espaces et Societies laboratory at Rennes 2 University. The billionaire, a time prime minister (from 2012 to 2013), then president of the ruling Georgian Dream party, will not relax his efforts, with tens of millions of euros invested for the construction of numerous infrastructures through its Cartu foundation.

“Today, the government and the Georgian Rugby Federation (GRU), whose president is close to Bidzina Ivanishvili, are piloting a new plan to build around 100 stadiums across the country , continues Yvonnick Le Lay. This commitment is not neutral. Georgian rugby is known to be tough and combative, and the government maintains that identity. He also counts on rugby as a federator of the nation, in a country where the Azeri and Armenian communities – 20% of the population – do not yet communicate around this sport. Hence this development plan which must cover the entire territory. “

At the doorstep of the Six Nations Tournament

Communion internally, visibility externally. “There is also a desire to acquire a certain international recognition through rugby” , adds the researcher. Hence the interest in inflating your muscles. Except that Georgia may knock on the door of the rugby elite, nothing works for the moment. Even if the question regularly arises of the replacement of Italy by Georgia in the Six Nations Tournament. It would not be illegitimate. Georgia has won nine of the last ten editions of the European international championship, the Continental B Tournament. And in the World Rugby ranking, it points to 12e place, ahead of Italy ranked 14e.

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“But the leaders of the Six Nations Tournament remain deaf to these arguments for economic and commercial reasons, emphasizes Yvonnick Le Lay. The Georgian market is currently much less attractive than the Italian market. “ The Georgians are therefore reduced to picking up the crumbs, having been able to face major nations only less than 20 times in the last twenty years, excluding the world cups.

To advance its troops, Georgia is therefore relying on a new strategy. In addition to the fact that many players are getting tougher in the French championships, the GRU has just created a new team, Black Lion, which is playing this year in a new competition, the Super Cup, against small nations (Russia, Belgium, Portugal, etc.). But the ambition is to soon join the United Rugby Championship where the top clubs of Britain (except the English), Italy and South Africa compete. Georgia is pushing hard. History of making a little place in the sun.


The importance of the French industry

Launched in the 1990s, the Franco-Georgian partnership continues today largely through clubs which often draw on the Georgian pool. Eighteen of the 33 players of the “Lelos” workforce on this tour play in France, fourteen in Top 14 and four in Pro D2. In the elite, it is the Brive club which is the most concerned (five players). But like the Corrèze club, others are developing direct channels to recruit in Georgia, such as Montpellier un temps or Clermont. Dozens of players also play at the lower level, in Federal 1 and 2.


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