Over the next month, Georgia will play all four Home Unions – Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales – as they look to cement their position as one of the rising forces in the world game.

Friday’s match against Scotland at Murrayfield serves as a warm-up to an intense Autumn Nations Cup campaign in which the Lelos, ranked 12th, face England, Wales and Ireland – all sides in the top seven of the World Rugby Men’s Rankings – on consecutive weekends in November.

A further ‘finals day’ fixture against an as yet unknown opponent will take place on 6 December.

Outside influences

To enhance their chances of success, World Rugby have invested in the Lelos’ backroom staff to support head coach Levan Maisashvili.

Former Ulster and Gloucester director of rugby David Humphreys has come on board as a high performance consultant and is joined by fellow Ulsterman, Neil Doak, who until recently was an assistant coach in the English Premiership with Worcester Warriors.

Meanwhile, former France hooker Sebastian Bruno will take charge of the forwards, and Calvin Morris, who previously worked as a strength and conditioning coach for Georgia at the Rugby World Cup 2015, will be a high performance advisor for the duration of the tournament.

A prolific point-scoring fly-half in his day, Humphreys graced the international stage 72 times as an Ireland player, from 1996 to 2005, and was a key member of the Ulster team that won the European Cup in 1999. But this will be his first taste of test rugby in a coaching capacity.

“I got a call from World Rugby to see whether I’d be interested in supporting Georgia through the Autumn Nations Cup, and I was hugely honoured to be asked and excited to get back into the rugby world. It is a unique opportunity for me, albeit for a short period of time," Humphreys said.

“To get international experience is one thing but it’s also a good introduction to see how a tier two country is preparing to play in a huge competition like this one with some of the best teams in the world.

 “As they (Georgia) say themselves, this type of opportunity only really comes around every four years at a World Cup and they are very excited by it.”

Home run

Georgia played England and Scotland in quick succession at Rugby World Cup 2011, but it wasn’t until 2014 that their paths next crossed with Ireland, and a further three years followed before they completed the Home Unions 'full set' with a first-ever test against Wales in Cardiff.  

Condensing six years’ worth of fixtures into just under six weeks makes for a daunting task, Humphreys admits.

“It is a massive opportunity but equally it is a massive challenge,” the 49-year-old from Belfast said.

“It is not something Georgia were expecting but to get the opportunity due to Japan’s unavailability provides them with a chance to show they have taken a step forward, even from the World Cup.

“Georgia has a very strong record against tier two nations, but their aspirations are way beyond that now with the World Cup or whatever may come, longer-term, in the northern hemisphere around the Six Nations.”

Attacking edge

Finding a cutting edge in attack against well-organised defences is a work-on for Georgia if they are to take their game to the next level.

In their last two fixtures against England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, the Lelos have managed just four tries combined.

Humphreys is confident Doak can help develop exciting young talents such as Tedo Abzhandadze and Gela Aprasidze and bring about improvements in this area.

"They have a defence coach and a good set-piece, what they need to find for this competition is a little bit of an edge to their attack,” Humphreys said.

"That is what Neil has done for many years and I have no doubt the Georgian players will enjoy the different approach that he brings to coaching.”

“It is about making small improvements, it is not about going from where Georgia have been to an expectation around winning all these games. 

“There is an opportunity to get some really good rugby development which will hopefully hold Georgia in good stead for the future.”

Higher aspirations

With a supportive government and good structures in place, the future of Georgian rugby looks positive, whatever the outcome in the Autumn Nations Cup.

“It is difficult from a timing point of view because a lot of the players haven’t played rugby since before lockdown in March, and it’s a huge ask for them to come in off the lack of match time and perform at the level they’d like to,” Humphreys said.

“Obviously, some of their French players have had game time, and some of the players who are based in Georgia have trained hard during the summer and they are in great physical condition, but there is a very big difference between being fit and being match fit and match hardened.

“For Georgia, this is not a case of judging them on the results that come out of the next few weeks, because there has only been a short preparation.

“In the current sporting climate, I just think everyone is delighted to have this opportunity to get out and play for their country again, against countries they get to test themselves against on a very irregular basis.”

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