During the day, the gentle waves of the Black Sea splash on the coast of Batumi. At night, the second largest city of Georgia comes alive. An explosion took place at the site on Sunday evening.
Georgia’s 28-19 victory over Italy was their first win against a tier one nation and sent a message to rugby administrators that Lelos Levan Maisashvili belongs at the highest level.
It was a moment in the history of Georgian rugby. The rhythmic beat of dance music from Batumi’s beachside nightclubs played non-stop throughout the weekend as the rugby-mad population celebrated in style.
Georgia’s stunning 28-19 win over Italy was their first win against one of rugby’s elite nations
GEORGIA 28-19 ITALY
Georgia is trying to: Todua 10, Abzhandade 14, 36
Cons: Teda Abzhandade 15, 37
Handles: Abzhandadze 56, 78, Aprasidze 71
Italy Try: Menancello 21
Cons: Alan 22
Handles: Alan 28, 33, 52, 73
Judge: Brendan Pickerill (New Zealand)
Star man: Teda Abzhandade (Georgia)
The tunes were still playing at dawn on Monday. Fireworks illuminated the night sky. The Georgia team and administrators were determined to enjoy every moment. In one of these nightclubs, Maisashvili players danced all night.
President Sasso Tkemaladze reveled in the moment, hugging and kissing everyone in sight between sips of the country’s famous wine. Georgian great Mamuka Gargodze was among the crowd.
Dubbed the “Las Vegas of the Black Sea”, Batumi has changed over the past decade with its development and new modern high-rise buildings fueled by cash and tourism money.
It was the right place for Georgian rugby’s next big step. As in Batumi, head coach Maisashvili and his team have ambitious plans.
“I never want to change this feeling,” Maisashvili said. “I don’t think this result will change much in terms of whether Georgia should join the Six Nations.
“I absolutely do not think they will open the door on the back of one result. Just give us more opportunities to play against tier one countries, not just once a year. This is not enough. That would be my message to World Rugby.
“Georgia and the Six Nations. Now this is a burning question. For some time, there has been a heated debate about whether the country deserves to participate in the championship.
This discussion has already moved to another level after an amazing weekend in Batumi. Many already believe a promotion-relegation battle is due between the bottom-ranked team in the Six Nations and the best team in rugby Europe a level below.
Giorgi Kveseladze was one of a host of star performers for Georgia in their win over Italy
Such a scenario would combine Italy with Georgia in most years. When the two sides met at a close-to-capacity Adjarabet Arena, the home side more than proved themselves right. They deserved to win. Senior Georgian rugby figures have told Sportsmail they think it is too early for them to join the Six Nations.
It’s still a rugby country. But it happens quickly. Georgia’s victory over Italy was an extraordinary event in rugby. Yak Maisashvili, who was welcomed at the post-match press conference, rightly pointed out that Georgia needed more games against top tier countries to help them progress.
The match in Italy was a great opportunity to make a statement. How delivered. On the field, Georgia mixed flair with power as their supporters supported them all the way. The passion for rugby here is unquestionable.
“We are going to celebrate 100 percent,” said Georgia captain Merab Sharikadze.
“I would call it one word – unity. There was great unity on the pitch between all the players and staff and with the crowd. All of Georgia was together for this victory.”
Georgia players continued to celebrate in the locker room after the historic victory
This was not Italy’s reserve team, and it must be remembered that the “squad azura” beat Wales in Cardiff in March. Nevertheless, they were well beaten by Georgia. Defenders Davit Niniashvili and Ted Abzhandadze had games to remember, and the home side’s set was excellent to a man.
On the sidelines, the stadium announcer had the match of his life. Pumping up the feverish atmosphere in his cap, he shouted, hoarse with excitement, and the crowd responded. If Ajarabet Arena had a roof, it would probably come off after the final whistle, such were the holidays.
“I am so happy and excited to witness the day that Georgian rugby has been waiting for,” said Tkemaladze, whose emotions were clearly visible at the post-match party.
“It is a great honor for us to host a tier one team from the Six Nations. This is an important factor for the development and promotion of rugby in Georgia and a great opportunity for the whole world to see the spirit and passion of Georgian fans.”
Georgia doesn’t necessarily want to replace Italy in the Six Nations. In time, they would like to take part in an expanded championship that could also include South Africa in the coming years. These are questions for the future.
But now it’s Georgia’s time. Those in the corridors of power at World Rugby should take note of the results in Italy and realize their abilities. How much better would Georgia be if they were given more matches against the best?
Rugby is already the country’s national sport, but its popularity continues to grow. Georgia’s home games regularly draw crowds of 50,000 in Tbilisi. It was their first match in the party capital of Batumi and the passion and fervor of the event was astounding.
Players lift Georgia coach Levan Maisashvili into the air as the crowd celebrates
The decision to hold games across the country paid off. The match was also streamed live online with over 13,000 viewers as Georgia sealed victory in the final stages.
“When I started my coaching career in Georgia, we had nothing. Just nothing,” said Maisashvili, who was smiling from ear to ear after the final whistle. This is certainly a man who now knows how to enjoy life after spending a month in a coma last summer after contracting Covid-19.
Maisashvili was given one percent to survive, but he rose from his deathbed and is now breathing new life into his team.
He continued: “We played on a terrible pitch and had no facilities. Now we have good conditions thanks to our rugby supporters.
“Our former Prime Minister Bidina Ivanishvili spent a lot of money to improve Georgian rugby. He still does. The government still helps us.
“They have a goal of building 100 rugby pitches. This is great for a small country like us. We are starting to play rugby in all areas of the country and step by step we will have more players to choose from which will improve our quality. We still have a lot of room for improvement.”
Ivanishvili, a billionaire businessman, philanthropist and politician, has invested more than 100 million euros in Georgian rugby since 2010. Current Prime Minister Iraklii Garibashvili was at the Italy match. Expectations were high and the team had a notable win.
Georgia’s rugby-obsessed population celebrated the match all weekend in Batumi
It’s hard to shake the feeling that the Six Nations would benefit from Georgia’s inclusion. Trips to Tbilisi or Batumi would undoubtedly be popular with travel enthusiasts and cheaper than trips to Paris or Rome.
“The decision about who should be in the Six Nations has nothing to do with us,” Italy coach Kieran Crowley said. “Georgia deserved to win – they played better than us.
“I congratulate them. It’s great for gaming. I told the players in the dressing room that Georgia’s celebration was the same as we did in Cardiff against Wales.
“This result is great for the rugby community in Georgia. It was noisy, like, a wonderful case of rugby. Just look at this press conference. There should be 10 cameras.
“It’s the biggest press conference I’ve had since coaching Italy.”
Wales got their first win in South Africa on Saturday, same with Ireland in New Zealand. Maybe there was something in the water this weekend.”