Soviet era[ edit ] There were several unsuccessful attempts to introduce a rugby union into Georgia, the earliest known being in , with subsequent attempts also in and in Rugby was introduced to Georgia by Jacques Haspekian , an Armenian man from Marseilles in France who taught the game to students in the late s through to the mids, although he then subsequently returned in France.
He is still alive and living in Marseilles, he was interviewed on French radio on the occasion of Georgia playing France in the Rugby World Cup.
The very first rugby session was held on October 15, in Tbilisi , at the racecourse, where 20 people attended the meeting. Rugby's popularity in Georgia might be explained by its resemblance to the traditional Georgian game named "Lelo" or "Lelo Burti" meaning "Field Ball".
This game was played in Georgia from ancient times and is still played on occasions in rural areas. A field "Lelo" was selected between two river creeks which represented a playing ground.
Two teams, usually consisting of the male population of neighboring villages, would face each other. The number of players from each side was not set, but included any able men each village could summon. A large, heavy ball was placed in the middle of the field and the goal of the game was to carry it over the river creek of the opposing side.
The first teams appeared in The Georgia Rugby Union was founded in , but until the late s it was part of the Soviet Union's rugby federation. The rugby union connection between France and Georgia started as links were established by the then powerful French Communist Party and many other left-wing organisations.
Georgia initially did not have its own team and its best players would play for the USSR team. In Georgia produced their first national sevens side. Zimbabwe's first match on the tour was in the wet against Georgia in Kutaisi , west of Tbilisi , which Georgia won 16—3.
The next year Georgia went to Zimbabwe where they played two tests, losing the first in Bulawayo and winning the second 26—10 in Harare. Georgia was now a rugby union nation but getting matches was not easy: the old Soviet team continued under the name Commonwealth of Independent States.
Georgia were limited to the odd game against Ukraine until they gained membership of the World Rugby in French coach, Claude Saurel , first arrived in Georgia in with a brief to assess the standard of sport; he and his development team have helped boost the profile of the sport.
Saurel went on to work with the Georgia national rugby sevens team , until he was appointed as the national coach in the summer of Georgia's loss to Romania saw them play a two legged repechage play-off against Tonga to qualify for the World Cup.
This was not enough and Georgia failed to qualify. In , Georgia finished second in the competition, finishing behind Romania. The following year, Georgia improved upon this, winning all five of their matches during the —01 tournament, and thus finishing at the top of the table.
They clinched the title by beating Romania away 31—20 on the final day. Rugby union took off in the country, the travel and opportunities to land lucrative contracts in France made rugby union a glamorous pursuit in Georgia. Georgia placed second in the —02 tournament. Georgian first made an impact at Rugby Sevens by finishing a respectable 10th in the edition of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Argentina.
In October Georgia faced Russia, in what was at the time one of the most important clashes ever between the two national sides.
The victorious nation would head to the Rugby World Cup , and the loser would be relegated to fight it out for a repechage position.
Neither nation had ever been to a World Cup, though Georgia had come close in Both nations kicked penalty goals in the first half, but Russia moved ahead with a 13—9 lead through a try, but Georgia were able to score a try of their own just before half time, with Levan Tsabadze putting them in front 14—13 at the break.
Georgia held on, winning 17—13, a victory which sparked celebrations throughout the capital. Another five were sacked and arrived in Australia as free agents. In a warm-up game held in Asti the Georgians lost to Italians 31— They suffered their heaviest ever defeat when beaten by England 84—6 in their opening game.
In their second match, Samoa comfortably eased to a 46—9 victory. Although they performed well against the Springboks losing 46—19 they were disappointingly defeated by Uruguay 24—12, in a match that they were expected to win.
They lost all four of their matches but had impressed against South Africa. Despite the sad financial state of their union, qualification has seen the sport's profile rise throughout Georgia.
Lineout for Georgia during their loss to Ireland in the World Cup. The team recorded their first win in the rugby world cup with a 30—0 win over Namibia in their Pool D match at Stade Felix-Bollaert.
The foundation for the victory was laid by Georgia's experienced forward pack who wore down their opponents at the breakdown. The world cup campaign is also well remembered for Georgians by brilliant display against Ireland, where Georgia narrowly lost the match 10— The tournament was over with 7—64 defeat to hosts France on 30 September.
Despite the close nature of their pool, Georgia were impressive in all matches, including a tight match against Scotland which was lost 15—6, thus missing a bonus point narrowly and a 41—10 loss against England, which featured a man-of-the-match performance by flanker Mamuka Gorgodze.
Georgia went on to record only their second ever Rugby World Cup win against Romania, winning 25—9 with another man-of-the-match performance by Mamuka Gorgodze.
Georgia finished their campaign with a strong showing against Argentina, leading 7—5 at half time before conceding 20 unanswered points to lose 25—7. Thus Georgia finished their campaign with 1 win and 3 losses.
The group opener finished with Georgia's 17—10 victory against Tonga. It totally paid off for what the Lelos have worked so hard during RWC preparations. With this history-maker fixture, they won the third World Cup match in the history of Georgian Rugby.
Georgia lost second match against Argentina 9—54, although in the first half finished 14—9 for the Pumas. In the third match Georgia were defeated by New Zealand 43—10 in Cardiff. Again in the first half The Lelos held very well against the mighty All Blacks, with score remaining 22—10 for the world champions.
In the last match Georgia defeated Namibia 17—16, for the first time ever finished the group on third place with two wins and two defeats and secured their qualification for Rugby World Cup. In , Georgia once again cemented its claim to be the seventh best national rugby team in Europe, when they won the European Nations Cup for the sixth consecutive time, with 10 wins from 10 matches.
In the mid-year internationals the Lelos traveled to the Pacific islands for the first time and finished the historic tour unbeaten with 19—19 draw against Samoa, 23—20 victory against Tonga and 14—3 victory against Fiji.
Lelo[ edit ] The team's nickname, The Lelos, comes from lelo burti , a traditional Georgian sport with strong similarities to rugby. Lelo has been adopted as the Georgian word for try the highest-valued score in rugby.