Friday Jul 8, 2016

Georgia: Are rugby's Tier 1.5 nation ready for another step up?

Georgia: Are rugby's Tier 1.5 nation ready for another step up?
27
Comments

We’re living in a fantastic time for rugby. We have our well-established nations playing the game at unprecedented standards after 20 years in the professional era and, at the other end of the spectrum, we’re seeing the game grow globally to every far reaching corner of the planet.

You only need to look at the list of World Rugby member nations to see how far rugby has come.

Somewhere in between these two bookends however, are a selection of countries whose national rugby teams are in possibly the most exciting time of their development.

These are the teams who are just below boiling point; floating in the ether between “emerging” and genuine world-class contenders. 

Take a look at positions 10 – 20 or thereabouts. You’ll find the likes of Japan, USA, and Canada. All nations that we’ve heard big things about and where we are finding major player prospects. Many considered ‘tier 2’ nations.

Sitting pretty above all of them however, is world rugby’s darkest horse: Georgia.

So what do we know about Georgian rugby? What do we even know about Georgia itself? Well, many are crediting Georgia’s (AKA The Lelos) success in rugby to – exactly that – Lelo.

Lelo is an old Georgian folk game played on a large field with a ball and full contact elements similar to rugby. It seems that this isn’t the sole explanation however; more likely the strong and unique foundation that Georgia have built upon.

Rugby may have always been prevalent in Georgia, but never really been able to take off because all of their best players had to play for associated Soviet Union teams. Some repressed national anger at Soviet oppression – now we’re talking.

Cutting the history lesson short, after it’s detachment from the Soviet Union, some help from the IRB, and with the opportunity to play for an independent side, Georgia now boasts rugby as it’s most popular team sport.

Despite a rich history – albeit tarnished by politics – leading up to this point, Georgian rugby’s most exciting era is upon us right now. The culmination of what we saw in the 2015 World Cup and the recent success of the Under-20 side is pointing to a bright future for the lelos.

Georgia U20s may have only won their first U20 World Championship match against Italy a few weeks ago, but let’s not forget that they won the lower-tier World U20 Trophy in 2015.

And from that winning performance, they brought their most effective weapon. The video below shows a level of scrum dominance not seen since the rise of Argentina and their meticulously planned 8-man shoves a few years back.

And whilst the youngsters have their whole careers ahead of them, the hard work of current senior players may well be giving them a higher platform to play on than they had previously thought possible.

Hark back to last year’s World Cup and one name will certainly stand out: Mamuka Gorgodze. Or, “Gorgodzilla” as he’s come to be affectionately known.

The Toulon wrecking ball is just one of many Georgian Players perfecting their art in the Top 14 for some of the world’s best clubs (a fine example of which is featured below). And this progress is becoming more and more evident every time the Georgian senior side come together.

Georgia play in the European Nations Cup – what many think of as the Six Nations ‘B’ – and have won it every time for the past six years straight, as well as three other times on top of that.

Are Georgia now too good to be pooled amongst the “tier 2” nations? Is it time for a new challenge?

A number of sources ranging from Head Coach Milton Haig to The Economist believe so. They believe that Georgia should be the latest addition to the Six Nations tournament.

Georgia do currently sit two places above Italy in the world rankings. Do you think that Georgia is ready for the 6N? Does World Rugby need to reconsider a “tier” system as the international game changes? Is this the birth of “Tier 1.5”? 

All questions that we don’t know the answers to. Please share your thoughts and opinions below.

Below is a video detailing Georgia’s success in the 2015 RWC and features a chat with Head Coach Milton Haig about his ambitions for the future.

  

Below Haig picks out three star Georgian players to watch out for in the upcoming years

27 Comments

  •  drg
    drg

    There is a big difference between getting Georgia some decent game time, arranging a new and improved tournament... perhaps a rugby "Euro" competition.... and restructuring a tournament such the 6 Nations so that a team which has been in the competition for over a decade now is ousted because "they're not good enough"... In fact that last sentence is hilarious when you consider some of the anti 6N comments above about it being an arrogant and exclusive competition.... What is more united - continuing to include a struggling Italy so that one day they will grow and be a big consistent competition? Or to kick them aside because they're not living up to the "legend of the 6N" where only the elite are allowed...?

    Reply
  •  larry
    larry

    What you say is true about all the second tier European nations to be honest. There are always one or two "upstart" nations that emerge now and then, talk of moving into the 5N and now 6N, and then that nation goes on a losing streak and gets spanked by a few 6N teams, and that's that. It was Rumania, Portugal, Spain, and now it's Georgia. Italy, instead of Rumania, which had been the number one outside the 5N candidate in the 70's and 80's, got good enough in the 90's to move up to the 6N, and they've done poorly in that competition ever since being "promoted." Maybe Georgia is an outlier, and will be a consistently good rugby nation, with teams that constantly win in the European Cup. Give it a half decade more. If they can beat Italy consistently, then perhaps Italy could be relegated from the 6N. The distance from Western Europe is a concern for those wanting to travel to see matches. Otherwise, if Italy remains in the 6N, they must get better, or there will be calls for them to be relegated and replaced by a 2 tier nation: Rumania or Georgia could fill that void.

    Reply
  •  larry
    larry

    I remember back in the 80's there was talk of Rumania moving into the 5N. Then the sport went downhill there because of economic and political troubles in the 90's. Spain and Portugal were on their way up in the 90's and 00's, but they've levelled off in the quality of their play. Georgia is the new upstart nation in rugby. Maybe they will show some consistency. They can always play some of the 6N teams during the Northern Hemisphere season if they aren't directly I the competition themselves. Will Irish or Welsh fans travel to Georgia to see a match? That's a great question. Otherwise a stronger European Cup, with better play by the nations involved in that, would be a great way to promote the sport and compete with soccer in those nations. The winner can always arrange matches with the Home Nations and France and Italy. And regarding Italy, maybe they should take a step down and compete in that European Cup. France for decades played in both the 5N and what was the equivalent of the European Cup.

    Reply
  •  larry
    larry

    I totally agree. If anything the Six Nations can relegate the wooden spoon winner and bring up a second tier nation. Italy could be relegated and Georgia or another nation move up. But that does mess with tradition? I take what you say seriously, and that competition of the original 5N is very old and has created great games more often than not over the time, now more than a century, that it has existed. Italy has not done well in all the seasons they've been in the 6N. So, perhaps they just move down and involve themselves in the European Cup. Actually, France did play in that competition decades ago, as well as the 5N. One problem with those second tier nations is that soccer is always going to be more popular, and therefore there seems to be a lack of consistency in the quality of play, based on athletes who are attracted to the sport of rugby in those nations. They are up and down, and one nation in particular, even with people with size, never seems to get better at rugby: Germany. At one time, a decade or two ago, it was Portugal and Spain that seemed to have the same status that Georgia has now. Who knows if Georgia remains as consistently good in the future. Perhaps they will.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    Errr, rugby in the NH is incredibly wealthy, that is precisely why it's the retirement location for all the SH players in their twilight years - the fan base in France is absolutely massive and the tradition and following in the UK is extremely large.... So regardless of NH poor form it's still incredibly wealthy.

    Reply
  •  misterdavid
    misterdavid

    All the rambling arguing on this post seems to be about the Six Nations being reshaped, but I don't think that is the main point. At the moment Georgia can barely get a game against the Tier 1 nations, so we have no means of knowing exactly how good they are, and they have no great chance to stretch themselves and advance. I'm looking forward to the game against Scotland this Autumn.

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    The way I see it, someone has to come last. Unfortunately that is usually Italy. Now 7s is an olympic sport, the whole game will improve. By the next world cup the "1.5" tier teams will be ready to compete, but logistically within the current season structure there isn't room for an extended or additional international competition in the full size game. The way round it would be to have central contracts for internationals in the 1.5 tiers, your country is your full time team and you are loaned out to your club, but again I doubt it would go forwards, teams would be unwilling to lose their best for seasons at a time

    Reply
  •  moo
    moo

    Italy joined the NH tournament in 2000 off the back of "recent" wins against three of the other participants (two on the bounce vs Ireland) and a close performance against England. Georgia seem not to have been afforded the same opportunities. Hopefully, this will change post their fantastic performances in the Pacific Islands. Come on the European unions; give the game a chance!

    Reply
  •  georgian
    georgian

    Hey AMZ. Don`t flatter yourself. I was referring to Melkarth(Solovastru). Did you read his comments on Beemans latest blog? Now that is obsession with Georgians if I ever saw one. Georgian rugby will continue to develop nicely. If it bothers you that someone says something nice about Georgian rugby, that is your problem. Hatred and envy will get you nowhere.

    Reply
  •  amz
    amz

    Hey GeoRugby, calm down, it's not me :) You are obsessed with me or Romanian fans?

    Reply
  •  georgian
    georgian

    You are getting hysterical. Stop embarrassing yourself and the rest of Romanian fans. PR? You are the one doing PR and a pathetic one at that. Calm down a little.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    Benetton Rugby Treviso Rugby Calvisano Pretrarca Rugby Just 3 or should I continue? Regardless what difference does it make? Italy came onto the scene in 2000. In 1999 Scotland won the 5N but lost to England, in 2000 England won the 6N, Scotland beat England and Italy beat Scotland - they also lost all other matches, but the fact still remains, they fight for their place and they have had their successes as well as their downfalls and to simply say "yeh Italy had their time, not working, throw them on the heap" is everything that is wrong with the modern game. You're talking up the Georgian future as if it is a future for rugby, frankly it most certainly isn't. You're replacing one team with another. Georgian success for Italian demise is not a growing global rugby, in my opinion.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    To comment on your points: 1. I agree, Italy is not a home nation, however they were introduced and that is that, it is a decision that perhaps was incorrect but one which has to be lived with.... can't very well kick them out and go back to 5N now can we.... Second part of point 2, yes their record of play is not great, but they have had some wins against France, Scotland, Wales, sure their record is not great, but you can't exactly set up a relegation procedure where ONLY Italy is liable for relegation if they come last.... which brings me onto: 2. Unfair to just have Italy in there, so all teams must be liable and then: "Scotland get relegated" or indeed any other Nation, but Scotland being one of the first is precisely why a relegation set up would be a tragedy to rugby. I see it so many times on the news where people can comment - Calls for Scotland to be replaced by Georgia, or Italy etc, I personally see that as a negative influence on the game - yeh sure, the game might boom in Spain or Georgia, but I don't see that as a positive if it comes at the detrimental cost of another nation. "The 6N is the de facto NH/European championship. The top countries should compete" - Your opinion (and I'm sure others share it), but I personally don't. The 6N, imo, bears no resemblance, or relationship to the NH tournaments - especially if you look at the amount of SH players in the NH.... how players are mixed in amongst the different nations - English players in France, etc... the 6 Nations, in your description sounds like an extremely new and fluid competition....when in fact, as mentioned before all stemmed from the 1800's and is quite an incredible tournament for what it is. 4. So the reason to not include any nations of proud rugby heritage is because of a small population and low budgets?... If that is the case then all the more reason to have a water tight closed 6N, proves that tradition is lost, so we should treasure any shred of it!!

    Reply
  •  melkarth
    melkarth

    This article is all bull shit, simply a lame atempt of PR for georgian rugby they seem to invest some many in that lately....... It's simply a joke to consider georgia a revelation of the Tier2 , only cause they have a group of very good players that play at high level in France. Their national league it's semi-pro and at a very low level they only have a National Academy that produces young players that imediately go to France cause gruzini federation has a deal with the french board so their players be assimilated as players of the federation francaise. Without these deal not 10% of them would get a deal in France. And anyway 80% of those players are props and that make's impossible for georgia to dominate Tier1 and Tier2 top nations on other areas.This is why they are the only Tier2 nation that has no victories against Tier1 opposition. Not a single one, none.

    Reply
  •  finedisregard
    finedisregard

    Undermining what success? Quick, name three Italian clubs that have been around for more than 20 years.

    Reply
  •  finedisregard
    finedisregard

    @ DrG Great pts! 1. Italy is NOT a home nation. They never should have been admitted into the 5N. The reason they should be relegated is their record on the field of play. 2. I see what you mean about "yo yo". The possible tragedy with promotion/relegation would be Scotland going down and the game losing what popularity it has left. But would the trade be worth it if the game explodes in Spain or Russia? The 6N is the de facto NH/European championship. The top countries should compete. 3. The reason that Georgia has not beaten any Tier 1 teams is because they don't have the opportunity. If the the Georgians got to play 2 6N teams a year regularly in any fashion I'd be happy. 4. Although the Pacific Islands have a legitimate claim to some kind of regular play they have such small populations and lack of infrastructure nobody wants to play them. Hotels, stadiums, tv's, and even fans are not plentiful. The entire combined population of Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji is less than the city of Glasgow. Unfortunately to play these nations is to lose money. 5. I'm not Georgian at all but we imported three of these guys at my club. They're a revelation, and all with less than 5 years of experience. Rugby is so stale with really only a handful of viable teams. When we have the opportunity to really grow the game we must. These guys are naturally born for our sport, much like Polynesians.

    Reply
  •  guy
    guy

    I have to agree with DrG (and others): 6 Nations is about a) history and b) business. a) Scotland vs England seems to be the oldest international rugby fixture. The Calcutta Cup layed the foundations for the development of the Home Nations, 5 Nations and 6 Nations. No chance in hell the organisation or either England or Scotland are going to risk one of both teams getting relegated. Or any of the home nattions or France. A lot of people seem to be okay with Georgia swapping places with Italy but that's quite hypocritical to me. b) Any new country added to the tournament must have a positive influence on the revenue of the tournament as a business. I guess that's why Argentina was let into the Rugby Championship (huge potential market) and not one of the pacific nations. The same applies here: if the organizers see possibillities of growing revenue, new nations will be added. But then to me it seems more likely to become the 7 Nations instead of the introduction of a promotion/relegation system. With al do respect: I love the way Georgia are developping as a rugby nation but and I guess Georgians are a very, very proud people. But there is no reason to act all superior to other nations that have not been developping as well.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    6 Nations is about tradition, so if Scotland is kicked out, Calcutta cup gets pushed aside... England France is a massively anticipated match with the historic rivalry between the two countries stemming far beyond rugby - ofcourse this is not exactly a big deal, but for the French to beat England it's wonderful, and for the English to beat the French again is great... Same applies for Celtic teams against England etc... So yeh, Italy doesn't have a huge about of history or tradition - other than being on the wrong side during the war - for some of it.... so I guess you're suggesting that the rest of the tradition be considered and only Italy relegated? OR perhaps we ignore all that tradition? UEFA supercup? Um, wendyball? How is that even applicable, unless you're suggesting Georgia are just extremely passionate and will support regardless of their understand of the game (admirable and not unlike other countries)... But regardless, fan travel to Georgia? I see it less likely than other fan travel. Perhaps Georgia will be lucrative, but as lucrative as the current nations? I don't think so.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    You missed the point about Argentina. My point is WHY Argentina and not Samoa? or Tonga, or Fiji? All nations that have a massive proud rugby history and have been fighting for recognition in 15's for many many years whilst having tiny populations.... so why not them? And with yo yo competition, I'm talking about no team being able to maintain a continuing growth. If Italy gets relegated then their game will suffer, interest will lessen and their sport will suffer, Georgia may come in and perhaps lose overall...and if Italy is really as poor as everyone state then the tournaments Georgia are part of will then have a "best of a bad bunch" feel, so one team that is not as good as Georgia will get promoted and Georgia will get demoted.... then the next year, it will swap and so on, so forth... I don't understand why people feel the need to add a relegation set up to the 6N which has been a home nation tournament since it's conception... that is what makes the tournament as massive as it is... I don't understand why it shouldn't be it's own "exclusive tournament"... why didn't the tri nations just introduce relegation and remove the lowest team and replace it with Arg each time? Or are we suggesting that perhaps because italy was last to join, they should be the only team to be relegated? As said before, money should be invested to grow their own tournaments with bragging rights all coming out during the autumn/summer internationals and world cups...

    Reply
  •  finedisregard
    finedisregard

    If by "yo-yo competition" you mean the best playing the best in the region then, yes that is the very point. I think that the 6N wooden spoon should be relegated and the European Nations Cup Champ should ascend. Tradition in the 5N lost it's argument once they let the Italians in. There is no grand tradition of Italian rugby. Letting the Argies into the Tri-Nations was the right move for similar reasons. Argentina has beaten Australia and (due to their inclusion) South Africa too. The reason that Georgia is the focus (Romania was for a period too in the 80's) is because they have made some serious waves and produced outstanding players with very little money, infrastructure, or regular competition. Again, look at the results from the Pacific Tour. Georgia has won the 6N B or come in second every year for the past 10 years. They're knocking on the door. What do they have to do to be let in? Levan below is 100% correct. Next time England or Ireland really want a warm up before they leave Europe come to Tblisi. See what happens.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    Of course money matters - Pro rugby is more a business nowadays than it is a sport. Just look at any international match and it'll tell you exactly that. Photographers and cameramen all around the pitch - their equipment worth a fortune. Cameras mounted on tracks to race up and down the pitch - again a fortune. Overhead cable cameras giving you a further angle - fortune. Officials - 1 referee, 2 touch judges, a fourth official supposedly sitting in an expensive tv laden truck outside watching every angle, all with microphones all with contact etc. Commentators sitting their with their mics, watching the game and telling the thousands of viewers at home whats happening... I'd also rightly or wrongly assume there are other commentators from other countries??? Then you have stadium staff - groundsmen, security, ticket collectors, vendors of food and drink, most of the big stadiums have a merchandise shop filled with expensive host team gear as well as the retail staff milling about flogging it. Bloke connected to a big speaker telling the crowd the substitutions and the like. Lighting, firework displays, pre game shows, half time shows.... We've not even blown the starting whistle yet or tossed a bloody coin and already the budget is astronomical! World rugby is better off developing a new competition for these lower tiered international teams and pushing for fixtures with the 6N teams and the rugby championship teams and then these smaller teams will have their own revenue generating competitions which will fuel all their own rugby development and then they'll get to make their own statements every 4 years in the RWC or in any friendly internationals...

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    Fine disregard... Do you want a yoyo competition? You've seen how well Italy has developed - or not developed greatly in the competition... What happens if Georgia joins, gets smashed, Italy joins, get smashed, Georgia joins, get smashed.... and so on... boring and useless for each countries development. Why all this rush to include other nations in other competitions, in fact, why has Argentina joined the tri nations??? Samoa, Fiji, Tonga etc have been a force many years before Argentina decided to get involved, why weren't they given their shot? I'm all for developing these other nations, but these competitions have been around many many years and within those competitions comes bragging rights and the excitement of undoing the loss in a previous year, or continuing the win. If anything, why is everyone so focused on Georgia. If you look at the rankings, Argentina sits just above Fiji, if Argentina come in last place in the next rugby championship, shouldn't Fiji be promoted and Arg relegated?

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    I agree with Krip in the sense that the 6N should not start introducing qualifying rules. If Georgia are to be allowed in, then it should be called the 7N. Rugby teams go through their ups and downs, and I know what ifs are incredibly blurry, however what if it is a qualifying tournament, who else wants a look in? 6 Nations WAS the 5N, which was England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France.... 5N WAS the home nations, which for the purpose of this argument is the England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland... It could even be argued that it might have been a good platform for the Barbarians to be formed off - seeing how the individuals in those nations performed etc (at a long reach anyway)... So sure it's grown, but it's never become a qualifying tournament... Anyway, back to the what if's... if Georgia want in, what about other "tier 1.5" nations... Can any of the fans of the teams in the current 6N imagine if their team was not in the competition? 6N consisting of Poland, Georgia, Germany, Romania, USA and Canada (idk, I made it up..)... Calcutta cup will gather dust until Eng v Sco have a 'friendly'... the Celts as a group of teams will grow weary not being able to have a decent crack at the English... The French and the English won't be able to get their annual crunch... I personally think the argument that it will grow rugby globally is a farce, I believe it will cause massive destruction and disruption. Perhaps it's good when Tier 1 nations get a shake up, however removing them from competitions is detrimental to their own continued development. And then as I said, if it's not a qualifying tournament, who will be next to join? Georgia? Then Romania? Then who else? All of a sudden you'll have a effectively a European RWC... I think some people are right in suggesting that Georgia and other nations have their own competition which the IRB can invest in and promote. Then who knows? Winners of 6N vs ___ or interim tours etc...

    Reply
  •  finedisregard
    finedisregard

    Good points! I'd like to see Scotland or Italy tour the South Pacific undefeated. What I'd really like is to see the Georgians get some warm up games with 6N sides before they tour. They might raise some eyebrows.

    Reply
  •  finedisregard
    finedisregard

    The French against Italian fascists? Right. Italy has no business being in the 6N. Italy is a very recent and under-performing member of the 6 Nations. They joined an 106 year old tournament just 16 years ago and have never distinguished themselves. In 16 years Italy has taken the wooden spoon 11 times and never finished higher than 4th out of 6. Italy does not have a history of strong rugby clubs or attendance at matches. Italy has suited up about 5 world class players ever and to my knowledge they all learned their rugby in Argentina. If you want to talk the Euro vs the Lari, the nightlife culture of Rome vs Tblisi, or "brands" then that is one thing. If money and branding is the issue why not accept Germany into the 6N? If you want the best countries in Europe to play against each other then goodbye Italy, hello Georgia. Is the 6N a closed off boys club or competition?

    Reply
  •  finedisregard
    finedisregard

    Georgia is really doing something and without much help monetarily. As long as there are three Laris to the Euro I think that Italy will remain in the 6N. Georgia is better than Italy but it it's money that matters.

    Reply
  •  welshosprey
    welshosprey

    They've got one of the best sets of forwards in the game when it comes to set piece, but maybe lacking a few cutting edge backs to be a top 10 contender. I'd definitely like to see them get a chance in the six nations. They should have a test series against Italy or something to enhance their claims.

    Reply

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Georgia: Are rugby's Tier 1.5 nation ready for another step up? | RugbyDump - Rugby News & Videos