Vasil Lobzhanidze says it is “an incredible feeling” to have played 50 matches for Georgia at the tender age of 23 years and 110 days, making him the youngest player in the history of test rugby to achieve the half-century milestone.
The scrum-half took the mantle from George North when he ran out to play in Georgia’s opening match of the Rugby Europe Championship 2020 against Romania, on 1 February, a 41-13 win at the Dinamo Arena in Tbilisi.
Lobzhanidze is in esteemed company as other greats of the game to have previously held the honour include Italian superstar Sergio Parisse and Rugby World Cup winners Joe Roff and Jonny Wilkinson.
“When you are among those players who you were watching on TV and who pretty much gave you the reason and motivation to start playing rugby, of course, the feeling is incredible,” he said.
“Any chance you have to wear the national jersey, especially on your 50th cap, comes with great joy but also a huge responsibility as well.”
#YOUNGESTOFTHEMALL The youngest ever player to appear at @rugbyworldcup Vasil Lobzganidze became the youngest ever player to receive 50 international caps (23 years and 110 days old - Georgia vs Romania | 1/2/20 Dinamo Arena) #გილოცავთვასკა #რაგბიჩვენითამაშია pic.twitter.com/UtNygA67mu— Georgian Rugby Union (@GeorgianRugby) February 3, 2020
Back where it all began
Lobzhanidze’s test rugby career began back in February 2015 with a 64-8 win against Germany in front of a crowd of just over 3,000 in Heusenstamm. Since then, he has played in 51 out of a possible 56 tests.
His Rugby World Cup bow followed seven months later against Tonga when all the eyes were on him. In Gloucester that day, he became the youngest player in the history of the tournament, aged just 18 years and 340 days.
Lobzhanidze admits the tournament passed him by in a blur. “During RWC 2015, I did not fully realise what was happening to me – I was only 18 and in a world of wonder. Lots has changed since then, both for me and for the national team as well. I am playing for Brive for four years already. They signed me after the World Cup.”
After a difficult start to his overseas adventure, Lobzhanidze now feels more at home and hopes the experience of playing in ProD2 alongside some of his Lelos team-mates will benefit the national team.
“I did not get much game time in Brive during the first two seasons, as I was not speaking French at that time, which is vital for players in my position.
“Now, for the last two seasons, I have been given more game time, thus I am getting more experience, which I am using in the national team as well.”
While Georgia impressed at RWC 2015, finishing third in their pool to directly qualify for the next tournament for the first time, Lobzhanidze admits Japan 2019 was a bit of a comedown.
In what was Milton Haig’s swansong as Lelos head coach, Australia, Wales and Fiji proved too strong for them in a difficult pool. Only Uruguay were beaten.
“Well, it’s a bit difficult to speak about our performance in Japan … we did not reach our goal there.”
#RugbyEurope #Championship #REC2020 is back this week-end !— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) February 18, 2020
Round 3 will offer crucial games for @RugbyRomania facing #Spain @ferugby and @russiarugby hosting the undefeated @PortugalRugby team).
Details and ranking on https://t.co/Gk97LpXcp8 pic.twitter.com/J9Qf0QQBmZ
A return to form
Looking ahead, Lobzhanidze says the Lelos don’t just want to win a triple grand slam of Rugby Europe Championship titles, they want to do it in style.
Kicking off their title defence with victories against Romania and Spain (23-10) means they have now won their last 12 games in the competition.
“We’ve played quite good rugby, the kind we wanted to do during the Rugby World Cup.
“Romania was the better of the two performances. Against Spain, we had a great first half (in which they scored all their points) but we kind of laid back in the second half and struggled to keep up with the pace. We had to defend a lot more as a result and conceded lots of penalties.
“Our goal is not just to win the tournament with a grand slam, but to win it with some great and improved performances.”
Continued improvement is something Lobzhanidze strives for and, by the time the next Rugby World Cup comes around in his adopted home country of France, the Tbilisi-born player hopes to be “at the peaks of his powers.”
“I’ll be 26/27 by then,” he points out. And closing in on a century of caps, no doubt.