Rugby World Cup 2019: Fast-improving Georgia desperate to crack big time

In Tbilisi, two castles stand out on the mountain slopes surrounding Georgia’s capital city.

The crumbling fourth-century Narikala Fortress couldn’t be more opposite to the Willie Wonka-style castle that houses Georgia’s richest man, Bidzina Ivanshivili.

Mr Ivanshvili is a man of immense wealth from his days in metals and banking in Russia, but he now permanently resides in Tbilisi in his US$50 million residence.

Among his assets is a reported US$1 billion art collection, an in-home zoo, featuring zebras and sharks, and a passion for rugby.

Mr Ivanshvili has spent millions building new stadiums around Georgia, while in Tbilisi, the national team now uses purpose-built indoor and outdoor training facilities, an industrial kitchen with full-time chefs and tailor-made nutritional programme, and on-site accomodation for players and coaches.

It wasn’t always this way, though.

“In 2008, we were training, not on this pitch, but maybe in a carpark or something,” veteran prop Anton Peikrishvili remembers.

They are now seeing the results, too. Georgia’s ranking has steadily risen over the past decade and now they now sit 12th in the world, having languished around 20 for much of the early 2000s.

“We improve a little bit every game, but we need more big games against tier-one nations,” Peikrishvili says.

And that is the challenge Georgia now faces, if they’re to take their development to the next level.

Entry into the Six Nations has been mooted, but seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.

“It’s a private tournament, played every year," Georgian rugby journalist Luka Chochua says.

"Everyone is happy with it and no-one is going to fix what’s not broken.

That’s a worry for Kiwi coach Milton Haig, who’s overseen most of Georgia’s development, since moving there in 2012.

“We’ve had a massive spike in our progress in the last 7-8 years and now we’ve sort of plateaued a little bit,” Haig says.

They will hope to impress at the World Cup later this year and further push their case for more top-level matches, as the man in the Willie Wonka mansion tries to buy Georgia’s golden ticket into rugby’s elite.


Contact Newshub with your story tips: