Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Georgian National Rugby Team
Head of Strength and Conditioning at AIA Kutaisi Rugby Football Club
My good friend and fellow Kutaisi rugby coach Dimitri Pularia and I will never forget our visit to Newport in November 2017. We were invited as guests of Newport RFC and were warmly and generously hosted by Club Director Dennis Bennett and club members. The programme included the Wales v Georgia match, training sessions and club matches, a tour of the club’s museum where we saw exhibits gifted over many years by AIA Kutaisi and a comprehensive guided tour of Newport’s Sports Village. The visit also included a visit to Newport Civic Centre where we were welcomed by the Mayor of Newport and NKTA members.
I had the good fortune to visit Llanelli with the national team last November when Georgia played Wales in the Autumn Nations Cup. Sadly, Covid restrictions prevented me from meeting my Newport friends in person. However, I have family links with Wales as my brother Giorgi Nemsadze, the national team’s ex-lock, represented the Ospreys for two seasons before retiring from the game last year. Like all Georgian rugby enthusiasts we follow the Six Nations Championship closely and I was pleased with Wales’s success in the Championship earlier this year.
AIA Kutaisi would be very happy to host Newport RFC on a tour of Georgia and arrange games against AIA and other leading clubs. The experience of playing against Wales’s top clubs is invaluable as Georgia progresses towards being one of the world’s senior rugby nations.
Georgia has much in common with Wales; our geographical size, our many ancient castles and churches, our magnificent mountains and rivers, our newly restored national status and our passion for rugby.
GEORGIA’S NATIONAL RUGBY TEAM and AIA KUTAISI RFC
Two Success Stories
This June the final of the European Cup, Europe’s second tier rugby
championship, was played between Georgia and the Netherlands and
Georgia won, as it has almost every year since 2011, proving yet again that
the team is more than ready to take its place in the Six Nations Championship. Georgia presently has a world rating of 12th, above such strong national teams as Italy, Romania, Tonga, and Samoa.
A few weeks later my team, AIA Kutaisi RFC, won the Georgian Rugby
Championship. The final was a tough match against Batumi RFC but we
deserved to win and celebrated the victory in style (picture above).
The following day I, as it’s Strength and Conditioning Coach, accompanied
our national team when it flew to Johannesburg. The South African tour took
place at the height of the Covid epidemic and unfortunately, after just one
international match, it was cancelled due to illness.
It’s been an eventful summer. But now both the national team and AIA are
preparing for the start of the new rugby season.
Rugby is now one of the fastest growing sports in Georgia and to meet the
demand the government is committed to building one hundred new stadiums
throughout the country. Soon the sight of rugby posts will be as familiar in
Georgian towns and villages as it is in Wales.
MY INTRODUCTION TO GEORGIA, ITS PEOPLE AND ITS RUGBY
Although a keen member of Newport RFC, in June 2015 I had the good fortune to visit Tbilisi with my other rugby club, Crawshays Welsh RFC.
Before the visit Georgia was to me a place of mystery; just a name on the map although I knew it had once been part of the Soviet Union. The trip gave me plenty of opportunity to meet the local people, in the hotel, at rugby matches and at receptions laid on for us by the British Embassy and the Georgian Rugby Union, and I was constantly surprised at the number of people who spoke English and their delight in striking up a conversation.
Every Georgian I met was friendly and I was struck by the incredibly warm welcome
they extended to visitors and their pride in their country. The visit left such a lasting impression on me that on my return I joined the Newport Kutaisi Twinning Association
and, soon after, I helped host the visit to Newport by the Mayor of Kutaisi and, later,
Kutaisi RFC’s coaching team of Davit Nemadze and Dimitri Pularia. Since then I have
remained in contact with Davit and Dimitri and hope to meet them again before long.
LELO BURTI: HOW GEORGIA TOOK TO RUGBY
Rugby’s popularity in Georgia might be explained by its resemblance to a traditional Georgian game named
lelo burti (field ball
) in which two teams from neighbouring villages would face each other on a field (lelo`) between two river
creeks and the aim of the game was to carry a large, heavy ball over the creek of the opposing side. No limit was placed
on the number of players and the game was often extremely rowdy. Each team employed as many able men as were
Several attempts were made to introduce modern-day rugby union to Georgia in the early 20th Century and it is claimed
a French/Armenian named Jacques Haspekian taught the game to his Georgian students from the late 1950s through to the 1960s. Twenty people attended a meeting to discuss the formation of a club in Tbilisi in October 1959 and the result was the setting up of the GBI (Georgian Polytechnic Institute) RFC, a club now known as Qochebi.
However, a prominent Welsh club helped sow the seeds of rugby’s popularity in Georgia. In 1957, Llanelli RFC sent a team to the Third International Youth Games in Moscow. At that time the Soviet Union did not have a national team but Llanelli played Romania twice. The first game, a 6-6 draw, was marred by what Soviet newspapers described as “appalling violence”. One player on each side was ordered off and this resulted in a “ten minute argument” in which “fists were raised”.
One Russian paper wrote that “some of the Welshmen ought to have been at a boxing tournament” but Llanelli’s then chairman Handel Rogers said the criticism had been grossly exaggerated and that “both teams had thoroughly enjoyed the encounter”. The huge publicity in the Soviet Union resulting from Llanelli’s matches came just as the game’s popularity was about to explode in Georgia. Between 1958 and 1962 ten clubs were set up there and the Tbilisi Championship was established. The Georgian national team was founded in 1964.and sixty years later there are rugby clubs all over Georgia.