Mamuka Gorgodze would do anything to have one last chance to bring the curtain down on his stellar career on the pitch, such is his love of rugby.

Now officially retired for the second time – he answered an injury SOS to appear at the last Rugby World Cup in Japan – no-one can say Gorgodze’s well-earned rest is not long overdue.

The imposing back-row enjoyed a 16-year international career, from 2003-19, represented his country in 75 tests and appeared at four Rugby World Cups before deciding to call it a day.

But he was denied a fairytale farewell with club side Toulon this season, initially due to injury and then COVID-19.

Feeling the love

“Of course, I feel sad about that, it is not the end I imagined. But it does not matter much. I have already received a lot of warmth and applause throughout my career, and I still feel that warmth and love, even today,” the 35-year-old said.

Picking out highlights from a career of such longevity is no easy task but one game will always be special for the man they call ‘Gorgodzilla’ for his towering strength – Georgia’s 17-10 win over Tonga at Rugby World Cup 2015.

Gorgodze was the defensive rock on which many Tongan attacks floundered that day in Gloucester, and he also weighed in with a try in a victory which sparked wild celebrations among the Lelos players.

It was the first time Georgia had beaten a side ranked higher than them in the World Men’s Rugby Rankings at a Rugby World Cup and set them on the road to a potential first quarter-final appearance.

“Although Georgia had a history of wins in previous World Cups, we had never defeated an opposition as strong as Tonga at a World Cup before,” he told World Rugby.

“I am a team player, not an individual player and my strongest emotions are associated with that particular game, as the team had such great success that day.

“Only we believed we would beat Tonga and with this belief, we won.”

Best of the best

While Gorgodze cites the Tonga victory as a career high, Toulon’s Top 14 final defeat to Racing 92 at Barcelona’s Nou Camp in 2016 is one game he wishes he could play all over again.

To experience the unadulterated joy of Kingsholm, though, will stay with him forever, as will the time he was named man-of-the-match against the All Blacks at the same tournament.

“We played against the All Blacks at the iconic Millennium Stadium, we lost the game by a 30-point difference, during which I was chosen as man of the match among so many world-class stars of the game, which was obviously a huge honour.”

The former Montpellier man says he only looks back positively on his time in rugby.

“Everything concerning rugby, even the tiresome training sessions, gave me an absolute pleasure … even that rush of adrenaline and pressure that appears ahead of the kick-off of any game, and each and every moment and second spent on the pitch. And, of course, that feeling on the final whistle of a successful game.”

The biggest honour

Gorgodze now plans to return home to Georgia once the lockdown restrictions are lifted in France and carve out his post-rugby career there.

As a role model for future generations of Lelos players, Gorgodze is without peers but he insists he is no different from any other player selected to play for their country.

“Everybody must do their all for the country, do more than their maximum,” he said.

“It probably feels the same as for any rugby player who plays for its country, there is nothing bigger, and I wouldn’t say I am better than anybody else in this respect.”