Having been stuck on 99 caps for the best part of three years, Lasha Malaguradze finally won his 100th cap for Georgia on Saturday.

In doing so, Malaguradze joins David Kacharava, Merab Kvirikashvili, Alexander Todua and Giorgi Chkhaidze in the Lelos’ select centurions club.

“It is a great honour to represent your country 100 times on the international stage, to have such a long time spent with several generations of Georgian rugby players is precious,” he said.

“I think that I’m lucky to have this opportunity to play for the national team of Georgia.

“It is not an opportunity given to everybody and it comes with great happiness for me personally.

“But I think that it is harder to keep your place in the team rather than to just get a chance to get there. It requires a huge work and commitment.”

Malaguradze, 36, won his first cap against Portugal in 2008, coming on as a replacement for Kvirikashvili – the first Georgia player to reach three figures in February 2017 – in a 31-3 win in Tbilisi.

Kacharava was on the pitch when Malaguradze made his test bow and the childhood friends have played together many times since as mainstays of the Lelos midfield.

“We grew together from the very beginning. When we first met I was seven years old,” he said.

“Then, when we got into the national team, we were room-mates for all the camps as well as being together on the field many times.”

Patience rewarded

With current captain Merab Sharikadze almost assured of his place at inside centre for a while now, Malaguradze has had to work hard to get in the team.

But he couldn’t have imagined that one month short of three years would pass between his 99th cap, against Portugal, and his 100th against Germany.

The three-figure milestone match was due to be against Russia in the 2020 Rugby Europe Championship but COVID-19 intervened.

While frustrated to be on the sidelines, Malaguradze says he never felt left out in the cold.

“When I was set to play my 100th game, the pandemic has just hit us and there started a long period without any rugby. I’m so glad that I have finally had this opportunity to play my 100th game,” he said.

“It's always difficult when you’re not in a team and it continues to exist without you; however, this was only manifested in the fact that I could not get on the field. Outside of the field I still felt like a member of the team, because I am in constant contact with my friends and teammates.”

In his 15-year international career, Malaguradze has appeared in three Rugby World Cups (2011, 2015 and 2019) and says the win over Tonga in Gloucester in 2015 is his career highlight … after his debut.

“This was the most important match of my life, to play for the national team,” he said.

“I was very nervous as I got on the pitch from the bench and I was thinking to myself I must do my best out there. Finally, I was glad to have a good debut.”

Malaguradze comes from a rugby family – his father was his first coach – and he is delighted to have seen how the sport has grown in Georgia during his time in the national team.

“Georgian rugby has moved forward a lot since I started playing rugby.

“When I was taking my first steps we didn’t even have a normal field to train on. That was a tough time.

“But today, the new generation is lucky to have such a high-quality infrastructure, which really reflects on the results of the national team and on the age-level (teams), too.

“Today rugby is a professional sport in Georgia."

Photo credit: Levan Verdzeuli