Travelling to Georgia – A Young Person’s Perspective

My name is Luke Jones, and I work in Newport, South Wales, which is twinned with Kutaisi in Georgia. When I was asked to write about my recent visit to Georgia, I jumped at the opportunity to share my experience of this beautiful nation in the South Caucasus.


Three Days In and Around Tbilisi


I visited Georgia in summer 2016 as part of a tour of the three Caucasian nations of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. I feel obliged as a British tourist to comment on the Georgian weather in August before going any further, and it will not surprise anyone from Newport to learn that my partner and I found Tbilisi in mid-August to be swelteringly hot. This in itself did not stop us seeing the best of this ancient, vivid, patchwork city, but it did leave us frustrated at just how easily the locals coped with it as we downed bottles of water compulsively (incidentally, the tap water in Tbilisi is perfectly safe to drink).

The first impression we had of Tbilisi and Georgia was of a confident and outward looking nation, one that is reaching out for links across the world, while still remaining true to its proud established traditions like the Georgian Orthodox Church. Arriving at Europe Square, we first caught a glimpse of the picturesque skyline of Tbilisi, which encapsulates this spirit of marrying old and new in one panorama, featuring the cable car to the citadel at Narikala Fortress; the Peace Bridge; and the Presidential Palace, facing the statue of Vakhtang I Gorgasali, 5th century founder of Tbilisi; and the uniquely Georgian tetra conch spires of the Sioni and Sameba Cathedrals.

Tbilisi is burgeoning in confidence and is increasingly receptive to tourists from around the world – we heard a far wider range of languages spoken in streets like Afkhazi Street than anywhere else in the Caucasus. This increase in visitors carries with it the inevitable benefits and drawbacks; however I am confident that Tbilisi will not lose any of its charm in the future as more and more tourists, for example from Western Europe and North America, choose to visit.


If there is one thing that does capture the essence of Tbilisi – and Georgia more widely – it is spirituality. Georgia is proud of being one of the first Christian nations in the world, and is equally proud of its beautiful and ancient alphabet, something students of grammar will be excited to learn has no genders and no capital letters. The plethora of individual yet interwoven churches in the city reminds the visitor of a time of relics, ritual and reverence. The Sioni Cathedral is a highlight, rebuilt by King David the Builder and legendary home of the cross of St Nino. This church is particularly beautiful at night, lit up like most of the city in a warm and confident yellow ochre. In Tbilisi, we also managed to visit a living mosque and peaceful synagogue, and were welcomed wherever we visited.

Initially when we decided to visit Georgia in 3 days, Gori was always going to be on the list of places to see. As a former student of modern history, I felt an urge to visit the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. However, after speaking to a Georgian online, the ancient city of Mtskheta was recommended to us instead, and I am glad that we did this as part of our whistle-stop 3 days. Mtskheta has it all – stunning views, tourist trading and haggling, and more spirituality. Particularly awe-inspiring were the views of two valleys, carved by wide rivers, winding towards us and meeting at the foot of the mountain topped by the Jvari Monastery, the 6th century church built around the wooden cross of St Nino, a World Heritage Site and place of pilgrimage in Georgia. Not only do rivers meet at Mtskheta, however; we also witnessed the meeting of countless families here, as wedding parties appeared to queue up to receive blessings or nuptials at the holy site. Never have I seen so many wedding dresses in one place on one day – Cardiff on a Saturday night, haven for hen parties, is as nothing by comparison. It was also here that we found that as well as spirituality and respect for custom and tradition, Georgians are not squeamish about heights, straddling walls that teeter over a rocky precipice, and taking photos of the views beyond, with zero qualms. We also learned that the frequent honking of car horns in the Caucasus are not done in anger – it is tradition to make as much noise and fanfare with beeping when a wedding party passes as possible.


If you’re visiting Tbilisi and Mtskheta over just a few days, or in a season where it’s just too hot to contemplate a marshrutka (minibus), then I would recommend taking in a hop-on hop-off tour which covers all of the above in one day. This comes with a free bottle of water – something I welcomed and polished off within seconds – and an interesting commentary in English, with enough time to get off the (air-conditioned) bus and explore sights on your own.

As well as spirituality, history plays a big role in any visit to Georgia. I would recommend the National Museum of Georgia for a walk-through of Georgian history with a particular focus on the ancient, but also a moving and intense exhibition about recent history. The former Parliament building and Opera House lie on a street with a fascinating variety of architectural styles and eras represented in stone (the Parliament of Georgia now sits in Kutaisi).

Chiming with full performance at 12noon and 7pm daily, the clock at the Gabriadze puppet theatre in the Old Town is a not-so historical gem that is nevertheless charming and cute, and definitely worth seeing. It looks like something straight out of Harry Potter, and it made me smile.

As young people visiting Georgia, we were pleased after a long day of sight-seeing to wander down some streets in the very centre of the capital, which were buzzing with a lively atmosphere, which seems to have carefully cultivated a sophisticated feel with a cosmopolitan array of bars and restaurants, with a few exceptions. This area is however a bit pricey for Georgia (still however only what you would expect to pay in Wales for a meal or a drink).


For homely and even more reasonably-priced Georgian cooking, I would recommend taking a walk up past the Rike park (be prepared to be out of breath, as the hills are challenging even for a valleys boy like me) and Avlabari metro station, to find some restaurants serving carb-tastic khachapuri, with delicious Georgian wine, sides, water and a dessert, for two people for less than £20. The Georgian wine is something special, with the red wine being the highlight, but the white wines being the novelty, arriving as they are a dark amber colour, due to the uniquely Georgian methods of fermenting grapes, where basically everything goes in to the pot (unsurprisingly, this adds to the strength of Georgian wines).

Getting around Tbilisi, and making connections to other parts of the country like Kutaisi, was an easy business, due to the friendliness and approachability of the locals, even the metro staff. When we left Georgia, we did so via an overnight train, and I was at first disappointed that I would be waving goodbye to Tbilisi after dark, missing the dramatic inner city scenery in full glory. However, even at night the scene is a magnificent one, with Mother Georgia on the horizon as we left and headed south standing as a reminder of Georgian hospitality. Holding out her sword in one hand for enemies, and a cup of wine in her other hand to toast visitors, she raised a strange mix of emotions in me: guilt for only being able to spend 3 days in Georgia, and hope and determination to revisit this dramatic, mountainous and ancient country once again in the future.


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Chair’s Annual Report 2015-16

The Chair’s Annual Report for the year 2015-16, showcasing a summary of the work the association has done this past year.

    ANNUAL REPORT 2015-2016

Please click the above link in order to view the annual report 2015-16 (file is in PDF format)

Thank you all for such a fantastic year and hope to have an even bigger and better one next year (2016-17)




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Following an invitation from the Mayor of Kutaisi early in 2015, Rosemary, Caroline and Derek, together with Madonna and KNIA members, spent over a year organising the visit; part of the celebrations for the 25th Anniversary of the signing of the Twinning Agreement.

The visiting group consisted of 16 people including the Bishop and Dean of Monmouth , the Artistic Director of Ballet Cymru, the East Area Commander of Gwent Constabulary, the Deputy Dean of USW, the Chair of Governors of Coleg Gwent and three senior academic staff, the Secretary of the Aneurin Bevan Health Trust and a senior Consultant Nurse, the Director of Newport YMCA , Sonia fisher chair of NKTA and NKTA executive members Rosemary, Caroline and Derek.

Individual group programmes were organised during which the visitors discussed matters of common interest and areas for future co-operation and this serious aspect of the visit ran alongside interesting visits and many opportunities to enjoy unrivalled Georgian hospitality and good company. During the visit Caroline was formally presented with the Honorary Citizenship of Kutaisi in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the twinning over the past quarter of a century and the NKTA wishes to congratulate Caroline for this well earned honour.

NKTA presented the city of Kutaisi with a commemorative plaque which was unveiled by Sonia and the Mayor of Kutaisi. The plaque is situated in Newport Street.

Some of our members enjoying the informal networking after the informative talk the Mayor of Kutaisi and Professor Madonna Megelishvil were both presented with certificates signed by the Mayor of Newport and the newly elected Leader of Newport City Council Debbie Wilcox thanking them for the invaluable contribution they have made to the twinning. The two Kutaisi youngsters who will visit Wales in October for the Wales v Georgia football match (funded by GOL and hosted by the NKTA) together with an accompanying adult, were selected by NKTA members from a short list prepared by KNIA members.

The visit was hugely enjoyed by everyone, especially those visiting Kutaisi and Georgia for the first time. The possible outcomes from this visit are still being considered and discussed but undoubtedly the visit was an important milestone in the friendship between our two cities.

On behalf of NKTA, the chair would like to thank Rosemary, Caroline and Derek as well as the Mayor of Kutaisi and our KNIA friends for making this visit possible

Cake to help celebrate 25years of the twinning between the two cities.

Members of the Civic Visit receive gifts from the Kutaisi hosts

Dame Rosemary Butler and Her Excellency the British Ambassador to Georgia, Alexandra Hall


Chairs of NKTA and KNIA

The 25years of twinning friendship walk – the walk took place on Newport Street




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Talk given by Derek Pickup, Chair Bristol Twinning Association

On Wednesday 6th April at the YMCA, Newport’s Mayor, Cllr. Herbie Thomas and Mayoress, Jacqueline Mitchell together with members and guests of NKTA heard a fascinating talk given by Derek Pickup, Chair of Bristol Tbilisi Association.

He first explained how in 1947 Bristol had first twinned with Hanover and Bordeaux with successful links being established. Following the Cold War, Bristol was keen to twin with the Soviet Union and then in 1988 twinned with Tbilisi.

Derek Pickup addresses Mayor and NKTA members

At first it had been difficult to travel to and from Georgia and then civil war followed the referendum in 1991 where the overwhelming majority had been in favour of independence from the Soviet Union.

LtoR Mayor Cllr. Herbie Thomas, Mayoress Jacqueline; speaker, Derek Pickup BTA; Chair Sonia Fisher NKTA

He spoke of how his involvement began when he was an officer in Bristol City Council. A letter was received from the Environment Department in Tbilisi City Council asking for help. As a result, Derek went to London to see the Georgian Ambassador and successfully applied to the Know-How Fund for money for two

Mayor with Member Derek Butler R

projects. As one was for a civic delegation exchange Derek went first to check the arrangements. He stayed for a week and referred to the many banquets, which took place and the traditional toasts, which they included.

Bristol carried out environmental projects in Tbilisi. At all times the Georgians were very friendly and hospitable, with invitations into their homes. Eventually he went there on holiday with his wife. Personal friendships were forged, to the extent that he would be met by these friends on arrival at Tbilisi Airport.

Later, among other activities, the Bristol Tbilisi Association took aid into Georgia at the time of the Russian invasion and then Derek took the first group of businessmen to Tbilisi. Often such a visit would be filmed by Georgian TV for the whole stay. Finally he personally was honoured to be given the title of ‘First Guardian of the City of Tbilisi’.

He commented on the difference in the city since 1988, when it was firmly set in the Soviet era, and the present. Now Tbilisi feels like a developed West European city.

Derek Pickup with Stephen Marshall centre speaking with members of the Youth Exchange visit in 2014

Mayor and Mayoress with NKTA member Catherine Philpott









2018 will be the 30th anniversary of the twinning and this is to be marked by a group visit to Tbilisi.

Derek was thanked most warmly for his talk. References to the friendliness and hospitality of the Georgians certainly echoed experiences of NKTA members who have visited Georgia.

Members and guests including R to L Esther Keller, Secretary of the BTA; Derek Butler; Sylvia and Colin Mason.









In thanking Derek, Sonia Fisher expressed her hope for more links to be established between the two twinning associations.

Following the talk, everyone enjoyed refreshments of Georgian food and wine. Esther Keller (Secretary of the BTA) supplied delicious khachapuri, Georgia’s national dish

Enjoying Georgian wine with katchapuri

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Dr. Ana Chankvetadze PhD. MA

1 2Newport Kutaisi Twinning Association wishes to congratulate Ana Chankvetadze on gaining her doctorate last month from the Faculty of Arts at Kutaisi, Akaki Tsereteli State University. Her dissertation on ‘TIME’ IN MODERN ENGLISH AND GEORGIAN PHRASEOLOGY was based on English and Georgian Phraseology.

Head of the Programme: Prof. Madonna Megrelishvili                                          Research Supervisor:  Dr. Maia Chkheidze Prof. Philological Sciences.                       Opponents: Dr.Tinatin Sinjiashvili Prof. Philological Sciences; Dr. Rusudan Gotsiridze, Prof. Pedagogical Sciences.


The defence of the dissertation took place on 20th February 2016 in the Faculty of Arts at Kutaisi, Akaki Tsereteli State University.



Ana came to Newport in Sept 2010-11 to take up a place at the University of Wales, Newport on the MA Degree course – Educational Leadership and Management, graduating in 2012.



5 2

L to R: Ass. Prof. Nino Demetradze; Ass. Prof. Irma Rusadze; Dr. Ana Chankvetadze; Ass. Prof. Keti Doghonadze; Ass. Prof.Nunuka Charkviani


She returned home to join the staff of the Kutaisi City Hall, Department of Foreign Relations and International as principal projects specialist with Head of Dept. David Megrelishvil, also a past UWN student.

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Catherine Philpott made a return visit to St Mary’s Primary School to talk to Yr 4 on image2Georgia and it’s people, especially of Kutaisi and the friendship groups that have grown through the Twinning Associations.
This Spring term the children are focusing on ‘The CITY of NEWPORT’, its rich industrial history and development throughout the ages.

Many questions were asked and the classes are looking forward to researching in depth all the aspects that Catherine touched upon such as landscape, architecture, dance, art and music.
A showcase of the year’s work will take place before the end of term.

NKTA would like to thank St Mary’s, especially teacher, Emma Wilkinson for giving them the opportunity to involve the wider community.

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2016 Georgian Christmas


Members & friends of NKTA

2016 STARTED WELL with the annual gathering of NKTA members hosted by Chair Sonia Fisher at her home.  It was to celebrate the Georgian Christmas Day that falls every year on 6th January. Many members joined her on this social occasion and once again, as in years past, they not only enjoyed good food but also admired her most remarkable Christmas decorations. Thank you Sonia for a wonderful evening.


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GEORGIAN STUDIES DAY 2015 University of Westminster on Thursday 5 th November 2015

The Studies Day begins

The Studies Day begins


Chair: Tamara Dragadze

HE Prof. Gachechiladz stated that 6% of GMP was generated by tourism. In 1991 the USSR was dissolved but borders remained as per Soviet republics. In 2012 there were 700,000 Russian tourists coming to Georgia drawn by the temperate climate and the Black Sea coastline but there had been the need to address security issues.

The Studies Day begins

The Studies Day begins

By 2014 it was easier to do business. There have been many improvements put in place in regards to human rights and democracy since 2012.

Today almost no one is afraid to walk out at night. There is less than 5% loss of property. Lack of safety is no longer an issue.

Georgia would like to see more tourists from UK even though there has been a 70% increase since 2013.

Question – Why there is a lack of direct flights from UK?
Prof. Gachechiladz replied there was a rumour that Easyjet is looking at providing a
service. He added that there is a new airport in Kutaisi with flights from Istanbul and other airports.

There are plans to develop small tourist companies to promote Georgia.
It was suggested, from the floor, that themed tourism was an idea, eg – wine tourism as next year the World Wine Conference will be held in Georgia.

1. Teona Chachua from Brand Development Department of Georgian National Tourist Administration. “ The Tourism Potential of Georgia”.
Ms. Chachua said that Georgia was unique – it was at the crossroads of Europe and Asia – the silk route to Turkey from the Far East. Lifestyle rated Georgia to be 4th out of the 10 safest countries in the world with police service controlling highways day & night.

Wine Making/ Food
Culture; Music
UNESCO heritage sites
Birthplace of European civilisation
European Heritage sites
Tbilisi’s History from 1st Century
Incorporation of different civilisations
Batumi – entertainment and leisure; botanical gardens; boulevards ​

2. Nino Pavliashvili of Tbilisi State University spoke on “Georgian Tourism and University Education”.
Ms. Pavliashvili said that there are now degree courses at various universities e.g Kutaisi Batumi for tourism, hotel and event management etc with currently 1,000 students enrolled.

3. Giorgi Kalandaze gave an overview of “ Adventure Tourism in Georgian”.
Ski Resorts – Gudauri at 3000 meters was only 50 minutes journey from Tbilisi.
Mestia, another beautiful resort at 1800 meters with ski lifts will be opening next year. Bakuriani is a suitable ski resort for beginners.

Adventure Holidays – 4 X 4 drives; para-gliding; mountain biking; walking.

Many articles on travel to Georgia appear online. International hotel chains have now
been built throughout the country including Radisson, Marriot, Hilton etc. and although
there are many direct flights to Georgia there are still none from the UK at present. Apart
from the tourist numbers from Russia there was a 7% rise in visitors overall.

Most visitors come from neighbouring countries travelling by car or train.
UK numbers are increasing, 7,000 UK visitors in 2013 and 15,000 in 2014.

Marketing. The use of CNN, Euronews and world travel market/international exhibitions.
Stephen raised concerns at this point that it was not overly clear what audience they were
targeting. When asked they said everyone was advised. Steve highlighted that CNN and
Euronews were not sources generally viewed in the UK, especially by young people. More
needs to be undertaken online through social media and videos. They replied that this was
being done but mainly using Georgia as a brand name and not by different packages,
eg back packers, wine tasters etc. effectively enough.

4 Jonathan Djanogly MP for Huntington spoke of his experience visiting Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi saying that Georgians were looking to the west rather than the east for trade and work.He had been to Georgia as part of the UK parliamentary Georgian all-party committee. He referred to Adventure Tourism including walking in the national parks of the Caucasus region, camping & skiing. He hoped that more British would start to visit Georgia – the new destination in Europe.

5 Helen Farrell spoke on “ Sustainable Tourism” .
Ms. Farrell talked about community participants as being the core of any development.
It was rural Georgia that tourists were being drawn to; being so attractive it was the very
reason they wanted to visit. But the rural communities will have to be prepared to embrace
such development of tourism but this won’t happen overnight. It was important that the development of hotels and facilities did not change the face of Georgia.

6 Alistair Watson – An athlete who had completed a marathon in Tbilisi gave his personal reflections as a sportsman in Georgia supported by a delightful power point presentation. Only one marathon is staged in Georgia but even this could be promoted in other countries.​

7 Go Barefoot Travel & Original Travel Co – an interesting presentation reinforcing many points that had already been made about tourism in Georgia.
Go Barefoot is an interesting project looking at having trails/walks through the Caucasus mountains with Tbilisi excursions. This project is in the early stages and being led by a UK

8 Peter Naysmith walker, bookseller, guide, photographer gave a “ Georgia in Pictures” presentation.

9 Michael Bloom – personal reflections as a tourist in Georgia. Married to a Georgian he regards himself as an honorary Georgian. He shared his holiday photographs of a recent trip.

10 Jason Osborne – reported on the Georgian Film Festival.
There are more films being produced in Georgia which is very much welcomed.

Centre Sonia Fisher, Chair NKTA with L Cllr. Derek Pickup, Chair Bristol Twinning Association and R Representative of Newcastle Twinning

Centre Sonia Fisher, Chair NKTA with L Cllr. Derek Pickup, Chair Bristol Twinning Association and R Representative of Newcastle Twinning

For the first time Bristol and Newport were joined by Newcastle who have links with manytowns and cities around the world who share their name of Newcastle, includingAKHALTSIKHE a small city in Georgia’s southwestern region.

BRISTOL reported on their past successful year holding a trade fair in the centre of Bristol and also funding a Georgian street artist to come to Bristol. The artist was asked to paint some pictures on canvas which were auctioned and enough money was raised to cover his expenses.

NEWPORT Sonia Fisher and Stephen Marshall gave a joint presentation of NKTA’s
activities over the past year that included:

  • Reception given by the Mayor of Newport for members of the Georgian Rugby team who were training in Newport during the Rugby World Cup.
  • Visit made to Tbilisi and Kutaisi by Dame Rosemary Butler AM, Derek Butler &
    Caroline McLachlan.
  • NKTA’s support of the Tbilisi Flood Appeal.

    Right -Nestani Nebulishvili, resident of Kutaisi on a visit to London.

    Right – Nestani Nebulishvili, resident of Kutaisi on a visit to London.

  • St Mary’s School Newport – work on All Things Georgian.
  • Growth and development of NKTA Facebook Page exchanging up to the minute
    news of both cities.
  • Launch of new NKTA website

There followed a wine reception where there was the opportunity for Sonia and Stephen to
meet and speak with the Ambassador, delegates & friends. Appreciation was expressed
for the continuing friendship with Georgia especially with the city of Kutaisi.

Stephen Marshall commented:
Overall a really good event – very interesting and informative on how Georgia is focusing on making itself the place to go, more so now than ever. The country of Georgia is becoming well known by many due to sport such as the Rugby World Cup and football.

Display of Georgian illuminated script and alphabet

Display of Georgian illuminated script and alphabet

Display of Georgian illuminated script and alphabet

Display of Georgian illuminated script and alphabet










For fuller accounts and pictures of all NKTA’s 2015 activities see below
under Latest News.

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News of David Megrelishvili MSc.

David was one of NKTA’s postgraduate students who came to Newport from Kutaisi in 2004 to start his MBS studies at the University of Wales, Newport – as it was known then.

He wDavid_Megrelishvilias hugely popular, making many friends in both Newport & Caerleon. He gained his Masters Degree in 2007 but continued on working gaining experience in the business world – hotel and hospitality.

Finally in 2011 David returned to his home city of Kutaisi where he found employment in the Civil Service. He is making good use of his excellent English representing dignitaries both home and abroad. Here you will see he is with a Georgian delegation in the deep south of the USA.

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Meeting with members of the Georgian Rugby Team

MEMBERS of the GEORGIAN RUGBY TEAM met the Mayor, Councillor Herbie Thomas & Mayoress Ms Jackie Thomas of Newport on Monday 28th September ahead of their historic Rugby World Cup clash against New Zealand later that week.


Mayor & Mayoress centre with NKTA members L-R Vika Tegelbeckers; Vera Brown; Sonia Fisher; Catherine Philpott & Derek Butler meeting members of the team


Lock Giorgi Begadze and from Kutaisi, prop Irakli Nariashvili, wing Giorgi Pruidze & Giorgi Nemsadze with Newport’s Mayor

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe Lelos had been training at Newport High School and staying at the Celtic Manor Resort Hotel in preparation for their first ever tussle against the mighty All Blacks at the Millennium Stadium.

The reception at the Mayor’s parlour in Newport’s Civic Centre was very significant because of Newport and Kutaisi’s very special twinning relationship.

Lock Giorgi Begadze and from Kutaisi, prop Irakli Nariashvili, wing Giorgi Pruidze & Giorgi Nemsadze were all in attendance alongside assistant coach Michael Bradley to meet, not only the Mayor and Mayoress, but the Association’s Chair Sonia Fisher, Vera Brown, Derek Butler, Vika Tegelbeckers and Catherine Philpott.

In a lively meeting, both parties discussed Georgia’s growing stature in world rugby and the pride both cities shared in being twinned with each other.

Presents were exchanged, with the Georgians presenting the Mayor with a team tie and plaque.

Assistant coach Mr Bradley, who won 40 caps for Ireland as a player, said: “For all the people of Kutaisi, it’s fantastic to have connections all over the world. Keep it up and keep supporting Georgian rugby.”

The Mayor of Newport said that he had learnt much from meeting members of the team and had found out a little more about Georgian rugby that he hadn’t previously known. ‘As Kutaisi is our twinned city, we do not miss any match of the Georgian team; we support them and glad that our friends from Kutaisi are with us today. This day is memorable and will become part of our history.

The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff can hold 75,000 fans. I have information that 5,000 fans have arrived from New Zealand. I assure you that the other 70,000 people will support the Georgian team!’.  Chair, Sonia Fisher, added: “Sport is a wonderful way of crossing boundaries and making friends.”

Later in the week the team went on to play a very commendable match with New Zealand who won by 43-10. Headlines in the press declared All Blacks stutter to unconvincing win……’ Telegraph. The good quality of rugby played by the Georgian team was widely recognized by the pundits.



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