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Teen star Abzhandadze on verge of World Cup double
As he looks forward to participating in his third tournament, Georgia fly-half Tedo Abzhandadze says the World Rugby U20 Championship has played a massive part in helping him fulfil his dream of playing for the Lelos.
With their capacity to produce big, strong forwards, traditionally Georgia have unashamedly played to their strengths – the scrum and maul – since their arrival on the international scene just over a quarter of a century ago.
While nothing has changed in that respect with the Lelos continuing to pose a fearsome threat upfront, the emergence of young and exciting half-backs in recent years points to a future where they can hurt the opposition in a number of ways.
Vasil Lobzhanidze, the youngest player to appear at a Rugby World Cup aged just 18 years and 340 days, started the ball rolling at the last tournament in England and has been followed into the test arena by fellow scrum-half Gela Aprasidze and now fly-half Tedo Abzhandadze.
U20 | We checked on #JuniorLelos at their training camp as boys are in the final phase of preparations for #WorldRugbyU20 Argentina 2019— Georgian Rugby Union (@GeorgianRugby) May 15, 2019
Check out more photos here 📸 👉 https://t.co/eOmdSPBaxn pic.twitter.com/tv590RQoNz
Abzhandadze is about to appear in his third World Rugby U20 Championship and has already won seven senior caps, kicking 12 points on debut against Samoa last November and winning the Rugby Europe Championship title earlier this year.
Emulating Lobzhanidze and appearing at an U20 Championship and Rugby World Cup a few months apart is now a very real prospect given the glowing appraisal provided by Lelos head coach Milton Haig.
“He is a natural rugby player, which means he is instinctive and understands the game really well for a young player,” said Haig. “He has taken the transition to senior international rugby in his stride without being fazed at all. We think he has the ability to be truly world-class.”
Haig has hinted that Abzhandadze, who will captain the Junior Lelos in Argentina, is not the only player from the current U20 squad under consideration for Japan 2019.
“Tedo is already a senior international and we are very keen to see if anybody else has what it takes to compete for a place in the squad for RWC 2019,” he added.
Apart from the 17-hour flight from Georgia to Argentina, Abzhandadze is massively looking forward to signing off at this level in style.
“I was very young at my first tournament, in Georgia. I was just 17 and did really know what was awaiting me.
“For the second tournament (in France) I was already experienced and let’s say, I was already a grown-up,” he said jokingly, “and I prepared for it accordingly. As a result, I believe that the quality of my play was much more improved in comparison to the previous tournament.
“Now, I am looking forward to my third World Rugby U20 Championship and of course I am demanding more from myself and I hope that I will meet my expectations.
“The U20s is the second biggest thing after the senior Rugby World Cup. Participating in it has played a massive role in my development and growth as a player. The tournament made me see, realise and learn what is necessary in order to become a professional, to be competitive, both from the physical and tactical point of view and win against the teams that are higher up and stronger.”
Abzhandadze featured in every match at the 2017 and 2018 editions of the U20 Championship and will be key to the Junior Lelos’ chances of improving on last year’s best-ever finish of ninth.
A stirring 24-22 comeback win against Japan saw them avoid the relegation play-off before Scotland were beaten in an equally entertaining match, 39-31.
“Even though we had some outstanding games and wins before – against Argentina in front of a home crowd in 2017, a very close game against South Africa and a win against Ireland in 2018 – the game against Japan was the tensest and the most memorable of the lot,” he said.
“A lot of things were dependent on that game, during which we were behind nearly all of the time, but we managed to step up in the last 10 minutes and managed to win that game against very, very strong Japan team.”
Having been pooled with previous winners New Zealand and South Africa and Scotland, Georgia have it all to do to give Abzhandadze the perfect send-off.
“We have the third group match (against Scotland) on 12 June, and if we were to win that game and qualify for the semi-final, it would be the best (20th) birthday present for me,” the medical student said.
“Our main objective still would be to retain our place at the World Rugby U20 Championship but, nevertheless, we will put all our efforts to improve the last year’s result.”
Photo: Georgian Rugby Union