Georgia: Sixth successive REC title puts pressure back on Six Nations, and the Rugby World Cup could amplify it
Georgia continues to press for a place in the Six Nations after securing a sixth successive Rugby Europe Championship (REC) title, backing up their win over Wales last year.
The Georgians were clear favourites ahead of the tournament, and despite a nervy final against Portugal, they delivered on their tag.
Rugby Europe Championship dominance
While many were recovering from Ireland‘s Grand Slam-winning Six Nations finale against England, Georgia were lacing up their boots, looking to secure yet another REC title on Sunday.
It’s not uncharted waters for the Lelos, who had won five titles before the clash with Portugal, and since 2011, just one team has managed to pry the title away from the Georgians – Romania in 2017.
Even a revamped and expanded tournament this year, with eight countries now represented, culminating in a grand final, could not stop Levan Maisashvili’s side.
In fact, the 27-point margin of victory was Georgia’s lowest of the tournament, dispatching Germany (75-12), Netherlands (8-40), Spain (3-41), and Romania (31-7) en route to the final.
After breezing through the opening stages with extreme ease, Lelos did have a shaky first half. They led just 12-11 at half-time, but they turned on the style in the second half, scoring four tries in the final 40 to claim a 38-11 win victory – extending their unbeaten run to 29 matches in the competition.
🔥 29 match REC unbeaten run!
🏆 6 successive titles!
🇬🇪 @GeorgianRugby continue to dominate the Rugby Europe Championship.pic.twitter.com/pPOaE0Gr0c
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) March 22, 2023
The last time they tasted defeat in the REC was back in 2017, losing 8-7 to Romania.
The win also elevated Georgia up to a record-equalling 11th place on the World Rugby rankings, and they are now within touching distance of the top 10.
Georgia’s dominance in the Rugby Europe Championship led to calls for their inclusion in the Six Nations, replacing Italy.
However, with the Italians finally breaking their 36-game winless run in the Six Nations – defeating Wales 22-21 last year – it has quietened the calls somewhat. In fact, this year, the calls were almost non-existent. This despite the Georgians claiming a historic maiden victory over Italy less than 12 months ago – they then backed that up with a maiden win over Wales in November.
Forcing the issue
Does regularly beating every team in the REC year-on-year do anything for their development? If not, what else can Georgia do to prove their credentials and not only force the Six Nations’ hand or World Rugby’s?
Well, 2023 could be the year for Lelos to do just that. Right now is probably the golden age of Georgian rugby. Not only do they have a vintage front-row that can challenge the best in the world in scrums, but they also have talented young backline players – some of which are criminally underrated.
Lelos have a challenging pool stage at the Rugby World Cup, drawn with Australia, Fiji, Portugal and Wales.
Knocking one of the heavyweights in Wales or Australia out of the tournament could go a long way in forcing World Rugby’s and the Six Nations’ hands and a far cry from the side that got hammered 84-6 by England at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
History at the World Cups
With the exception of 2019, Georgia have improved with each Rugby World Cup tournament they have attended, and with a vastly similar pool in 2023, they will undoubtedly look to cause an upset or two.
They recorded their first victory in the tournament over Namibia in 2007, beating the Africans 30-0, while they also ran Ireland close.
In 2011, they notched up a second victory, defeating Romania and again put in solid displays, ultimately in vain against Argentina and Scotland.
Four years later, Georgia secured automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup after their highest-ever placing following wins over Tonga and Namibia, and again brave performances against Argentina and New Zealand.
The talent to create history
They have the pack that can challenge any tier-one team’s scrum. The likes of Guram Gogichashvili, Guram Papidze, Nika Abuladze, Beka Gigashvili and others are world-class in their own right.
Elsewhere in the pack, Beka Saghinadze had an outstanding REC by topping the tackle count, landing an impressive 11 dominant tackles, and averaging a turnover a game.
Outside of the pack, influential scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze showed his worth once again marshalling the troops around the park and has subsequently been nominated for player of the tournament.
Fellow nominees include the superb centre and captain Merab Sharikadze who is just as brilliant in attack as he is in defence. He scored two tries this REC, assisted three more and made all of his tackles in the tournament.
Many will know of Lyon superstar Davit Niniashvili, and while he, too, proved his worth and quality at full-back, winger Akaki Tabutsadze stole the limelight, dotting down eight times in five games.
These players, plus the likes of Giorgi Kveseladze, Gela Aprasidze, Tornike Jalagonia and others, mean that Georgia are heading into the World Cup with real superstars and a healthy mix of youth and experience.
Several of these players also ply their trade in France, while a number are from the Rugby Europe Super Cup team, the Black Lions. This means they will head into the tournament with knowledge of the grounds and some of their opposition players while still having a bit of cohesion.
With rugby chiefs planning a new global Test rugby format that could only see Georgia included from 2030, Lelos have a perfect opportunity to press their claim in 2023 for a seat at the table with the tier-one teams.
READ MORE: Six Nations awards 2023: Plenty of praise for Ireland and France but not for Wales