Georgia will be banking on a unity forged in France to trouble Wales when they meet in the Rugby World Cup on Monday in Toyota.
Teamwork won’t be lacking. Just as well, considering Georgia faces the Six Nations Grand Slam champion.
Eight Georgians ply their trade in southwestern France for Brive in the Top 14 league, including four of the World Cup squad here in Japan.
Scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze and flanker Otari Giorgadze are among them.
“It is a small city, and all the Georgian players live just a few minutes from each other,” Giorgadze said.
They forge close links around their favorite cuisine — and it’s not French.
“I like to make the Ukrainian soup, Borsch. That is my specialty, I make it well, as well as a good steak,” Giorgadze said. “I make it for all the Georgian boys in Brive.”
Lobzhanidze gets to do the baking, but sometimes has to improvise with the ingredients.
“I cook khachapuri for them, which is like Georgian pizza,” Lobzhanidze said. “In Georgia we make the bread ourselves, but in France I just buy some pizza bread and add in the mozzarella, feta.”
Lobzhanidze seems to revel in responsibility.
The 22-year-old scrumhalf, who is a father, became the youngest player at a Rugby World Cup when he faced Tonga at 18 years, 340 days in 2015.
Now he has 45 test caps, and others are looking to him for leadership.
“I try to use my experience to act like a senior player,” he said.
Giorgadze’s all-action style has seen him draw comparisons with Georgia’s greatest player, forward Mamuka Gorgodze, also the team’s leading try scorer with 26.
“It’s very difficult to be compared to Mamuka, because he is such a great player and a true hero in Georgia,” Giorgadze said. “We will see in the future whether I can be.”
The 35-year-old Gorgodze came out of international retirement to play at his fourth World Cup after injuries hit the side in the warmups. The former captain was picked on the openside flank on Saturday for his first test since March 2017 against Romania.
He will come face to face with Alun Wyn Jones. The veteran lock will become the fourth Welshman to play at four Rugby World Cups when he leads the side out at Toyota Stadium.
It will be some occasion for him, since he joins Gareth Thomas (1995-2007), Stephen Jones (1999-2011) and Gethin Jenkins (2003-2015) in a select group; equals Gethin Jenkins’s record of 129 caps for Wales, and plays in a national record 14th World Cup game.
In picking his side on Saturday, Wales coach Warren Gatland retained 10 players from the starting XV which lost a warmup game against Ireland two weeks ago.
Wales: Liam Williams, George North, Jonathan Davies, Hadleigh Parkes, Josh Adams, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Aaron Wainwright, Alun Wyn Jones (captain) Jake Ball, Tom Francis, Ken Owens, Wyn Jones. Reserves: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Dillon Lewis, Aaron Shingler, Ross Moriarty, Tomos Williams, Rhys Patchell, Leigh Halfpenny.
Georgia: Soso Matiashvili, Miriani Modebadze, David Kacharava, Tamaz Mchedlidze, Giorgi Kveseladze, Tedo Abzhandadze, Vasil Lobzhanidze; Beka Gorgadze, Mamuka Gorgodze, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, Konstantine Mikautadze, Giorgi Nemsadze, Beka Gigashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Mikheil Nariashvili (captain). Reserves: 16. Jaba Bregvadze, Guram Gogichashvili, Levan Chilachava, Shalva Sutiashvili, Beka Saginadze, Otari Giorgadze,Gela Aprasidze, Lasha Khmaladze.
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