Rugby union in Georgia

Rugby union in Georgia

Rugby union is a popular team sport played in Georgia. Rugby union is considered the second most popular sport in Georgia, after football (soccer).


There were several unsuccessful attempts to introduce rugby into Georgia, the earliest being in 1928, with subsequent attempts also in 1940 and in 1948. Rugby was introduced to Georgia by Jacques Haspekian, an Armenian man from Marseille in France who taught the game to students in the late 1950s through to the mid 1960s, although he then subsequently returned in France. He is still alive and living in Marseille, he was interviewed on French radio on the occasion of Georgia playing France in the 2007 Rugby World Cup. The very first rugby session was held on October 15, 1959 in Tbilisi, at the racecourse, where 20 people attended the meeting. The first Georgian club formed was the GPI (Georgian Polytechnical Institute), now known as "Qochebi".

In 1961, a three team domestic competition was formed, called the Tbilisi Championship. The following year the first match between a Georgian team and a Russian team took place, with Trud Moscow defeating the Georgian club. That year Georgia clubs also went on their first tours, going to Russia and Latvia. The following year the first Soviet Trade-Union tournament was held. In 1964 the Tbilissi Rugby Section became known as the Georgia Rugby Federation. From the mid 1960s, the Soviet Championship and the Soviet Cup were introduced for competitive club competition between Soviet rugby clubs, with the first competition being held in 1966. The Georgian clubs were formed as regional selections fed by student teams. The best players would go onto to make the USSR team.

A Moscow team won the first Soviet Championship, though Dymano from Tbilisi came in second place. In 1967 a French trade-union selection visited Georgia. It would not be until 1978, in the Soviet Cup (which was introduced in 1976) that a Georgian team would finish first, which was Locomotivi from Tbilissi. Georgian teams dominated the Soviet Championship and the Soviet Cup in the late 1980s with Kutaissi winning the championship in 1987 and 1988 and Aia Kutaissi winning in 1989 and 1990. In 1988 Georgia produced their first national sevens side.

The following year, Georgia played their first international match, against Zimbabwe, and won 16 to 3. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia formed their own national team (though a CIS team played in the early 1990s) and applied for International Rugby Football Board (now, International Rugby Board) membership. In 1993 the IFRB accepted Georgia as a federation member, making them the 52nd member.

In 1994 the Gumari were formed, being the Georgian Barbarians, and they went onto tour France. The following year saw the inauguration of the Sini competition. Their 1998 loss to Romania saw Georgia face Tonga in a repechage match to enter the 1999 Rugby World Cup in Wales. Georgia lost and thus did not make it to the World Cup. Though in 2001 they won the European Nations Cup, and became the 7th highest ranked team in Europe. They subsequently got through the qualifying stages for the next World Cup, and made it to Australia for the 2003 Rugby World Cup. They also qualified for the 2007 World Cup and went on to win their first World Cup match.

Governing body

The governing body for rugby union in Georgia is the Georgia Rugby Union. It was founded in 1961 and became an official affiliate to the International Rugby Board (IRB) in 1992.


The Georgia Championship is the domestic rugby union club competition in Georgia. Since most of the Georgian internationals play in France, it's quality level doesn't match the popularity of rugby union across the country. This explains why Georgian clubs are still absent from the major team competitions in Europe, both the Heineken Cup and the European Challenge Cup.


Rugby union is one of the most popular sports in Georgia. Rugby is especially popular in the south of the country where the game is more popular than football (soccer). The popularity of rugby union largely took off after the Georgia Rugby Union's inception into the IRB. This has seen rugby union become a major spectator sport. There are currently 2866 registered male players in Georgia according to the International Rugby Board. When Georgia played Russia in the European Nations Cup, 65,000 people crammed into the national stadium in Tbilisi and another 44,000 watched Georgia beat Russia 17-13.

National team

The Lelos (as they are nicknamed) are the national rugby union team of Georgia. The team's name comes from lelo, an indigenous Georgian sport with strong similarities to rugby. Lelo has been adopted as the Georgian word for "try". One standard cheer of Georgian rugby union fans is Lelo, Lelo, Sakartvelo (Try, Try, Georgia). The Lelos participate in the European Nations Cup, which is a second-level competition for European national teams. The majority of the national side are based in France, in the lower divisions, having been sent there to improve their rugby skills and facilitate their development by coach Claude Saurel.

World Cup

Prior to the 2003 Rugby World Cup, Georgia has failed to qualify for any previous tournaments, despite coming close in 1999 after losing a two legged repechage play-off against Tonga. On that occasion Georgia lost the first leg 37-6 in NukuOkinaalofa before recording a 28-27 win in Tbilisi. Georgia then bounced back to defeat Russia 17-13 to qualify for the subsequent 2003 Rugby World Cup. They lost all four of their matches but impressed against South Africa. Despite the poor financial state of the Georgia Rugby Union, qualification has seen the sport's profile enjoy a huge rise in popularity throughout Georgia.

Rising to the World Cup challenge

"I knew it would be physical but was surprised at their organisation and their fitness," Ireland second row Paul O'Connell said after his side escaped with a 14-10 victory over Georgia on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.

If the final whistle left Ireland counting their blessings - and their bruises - "it was a cause for massive celebration for the Georgian gladiators, who were cheered by the 33,000 crowd on a deserved lap of honour".

Georgia record first RWC win

Georgia recorded their first win in a rugby world cup with a 30-0 win over Namibia in their rain-affected Pool D match at Stade Felix-Bollaert.

The foundation for the three-tries-to-none victory was laid by Georgia's experienced forward pack who wore down their opponents at the breakdown.

Dominating territory and possession in the first half it took 37 minutes for Georgia to break Namibia's defensive line, hooker Akvsenti Giorgadze, in his 50th international, pushing his way over after good lead-up work from his forwards.

Two penalties and a conversion from the boot of fly half Merab Kvirikashvili contributed to Georgia's 13-0 lead at the break, the number 10 becoming Georgia's record point-scorer in rugby world cups.

Georgia's forward pack continued to dominate at the breakdown in the second stanza but Namibia's defence held strong. It was another Kvirikashvili penalty in the 68th minute that got the scoreboard ticking over again.

Wing Irakli Machkhaneli then raced 30m to score in the 70th minute after knocking the ball loose in a bonecrunching tackle.

Centre Davit Kacharava put the finishing touches on the win intercepting a pass and scooting 40m to score on the final whistle.

Namibia's RWC 2007 campaign was over with the Georgia honourable 7-64 defeat to hosts France on 30 September.

European Nations Cup

The European Nations Cup is a second-level competition for tier-two European nations. Initially started as a one-year competition, the championship is now decided over two years with each team playing each other on a home and away basis. Georgia have won the competition on two occasions, in 2001 and 2008.

The Antim Cup

The Antim Cup is contested between Georgia and Romania. The cup is contested each time Georgia and Romania meet in a senior international match other than World Cup matches or qualifiers. The holder retains the cup unless the challenger wins the match in normal time. It is named after the Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Antim Iverianul, who came from Georgia.

See also

*Georgia Rugby Union
*Georgia national rugby union team
*Georgia at the Rugby World Cup
*Rugby league in Georgia

External links

* [ Georgia Rugby Union] (official site)
* [ Unofficial Georgian rugby union webpage]
* [ Georgian rugby union news from Planet Rugby]

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