Having seen the under-18s create history back in March it is now the turn of Georgia’s under-20 side to make their mark on international rugby with a successful World Rugby U20 Trophy campaign.
In four previous Trophy appearances the under-20s have never finished higher than third, and improving on that record will take some doing with pre-tournament favourites Fiji, who suffered relegation from the Championship last year, in the same pool.
However Georgia’s under-18s proved anything is possible a month ago when they beat Ireland and Italy in a penalty shootout to reach their first-ever Rugby Europe Under-18 Championship final.
“The under-18s performance serves as a source of motivation for us and also increases the level of expectancy,” admitted Georgia under-20 head coach Ilia Maisuradze (pictured).
“The World Rugby U20 Trophy is a serious tournament made up of some strong teams, but we will do everything in our power to play to the best of our ability.
“I’ll refrain from predicting where we will finish because all of the participating teams are capable of making the final and rugby is a blend of skill, commitment and luck.
“But, rest assured, the Georgian under-20 team will be a force to be reckoned with.”
Georgia will meet Uruguay and host nation Portugal either side of their clash with Fiji. The junior Lelos defeated Portugal 44-14 in the final of the European Under-19 Championship back in October to qualify for this year’s Trophy in Lisbon.
“It’s hard to single out who our toughest opponent will be at this stage because we don’t have too much information on the strengths and weaknesses of the other teams,” said Maisuradze.
“Suffice to say, we have decent opposition at the tournament this year. We saw what Uruguay are capable of last year; they are a fast and determined team who beat the eventual champions Japan in their opening game.
“The whole world is well aware of the individual strengths of the Fijians and their ability to conjure something up out of nothing.
“As for Portugal, they are tough opponents with strong character and they always play until the last second of the game. So we will have a very interesting tournament!”
Homegrown success story
Georgia’s on-field performances are being underpinned by a successful domestic age-grade structure and national academy that has produced 10 of the current Lelos senior squad.
At the tender age of 18, young scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze was an influential member of Georgia's European Nations Cup Division 1A 2015 title win, and the Tbilisi-based player is included in the 26-strong party that travels to Portugal for the 12-24 May event.
“We run two kinds of age grade programmes in Georgia: the various age grade teams and Emerging Georgia and the National Academy,” explained Maisuradze.
“Players from under-15s up to under-20s prepare and train to age-specific programmes at the Shevardeni High Performance Unit in Tbilisi.
“The National Academy monitors the most talented under-15 players, and picks the best among them. These players also train at Shevardeni.
“We also have the development group, which is responsible for the training and preparation of Georgian age grade coaches.
“The progress is obvious,” continued Maisuradze. “More and more children and teenagers engage in rugby and our age grade teams regularly participate in international tournaments, which collectively has seen a gradual rise in the level of performance.”
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