DURBAN - It was the inimitable Eddie Jones who once said that “babies in Georgia are born with beards,” when asked about the scrumming challenge posed by the eastern European team.
That was when Jones was coaching Japan and his tongue-in-cheek chirp was a compliment to Georgia, with Jones adding: “They have a massive scrum, the biggest, ugliest pack in the world.”
It is also why Jones invited the Georgian pack to scrum against his England men during a break in the 2018 Six Nations but he got more than be bargained for and a video of the Georgians scrumming the Red Rose pack backwards at a rate of knots went viral on social media.
If this doesn’t convince you of their toughness, consider that Soviet Russia dictator Joseph Stalin was a born-and-bred Georgian, and he certainly took no prisoners...
Also, the Georgian team is nicknamed the “Lelos” after a medieval game from those parts (still played) where rival villages fight over a weighted ball — there are no rules and it appears to be a gladiatorial mixture of wrestling, shot put and boxing.
But lets separate fact from fiction regarding the Springboks’ opposition on Friday night at Loftus Versfeld.
Jones is spot on about the strength of the Georgian pack — it is their pride and joy — but the truth is they don’t have a heck of a lot of finesse to add to their scrumming strength.
And that is why Gerogia is what we could call an “in-between” team in the world rugby pecking order. They dominate the second tier of the rankings but are not quite good enough to dine at the top table.
There has been a clamour to substitute Italy with Georgia in the Six Nations — given Italy’s lamentable record in the competition, especially over the last three years— but would Georgia fare any better?
They are currently 12th on the World Rugby ladder, with Fiji just above them and just after them are Tonga, Samoa and Italy.
Georgia have won the Rugby Europe Championship 12 times, smashing the likes of Spain and Romania every year, but they have never come close to landing a top-tier scalp, although to be fair to them, they don’t often get the opportunities outside World Cups, which they have been part of each occasion since 2003.
To give you an idea of where Georgia sit in the world order, they are unbeaten against Samoa (three wins and a draw) and have beaten Tonga four times and lost once; and they have beaten Uruguay three times. Not quite as impressive is their three wins and two losses to the USA and their four wins and two losses to Canada, and three losses and a win against Fiji.
And this brings us to their game against the world champions... As expected, their team named by coach Levan Maisashvili has a strong forward pack littered with professionals from the first and second divisions of French rugby.
There are representatives from Stade Francais, Brive, Biarritz, Racing 92, Auvergne and Aurillac, plus a Gloucester player at outside centre.
To reiterate, the Lelos will give the Boks a tough workout upfront but will end up outclassed.
Georgia – 15. David Niniashvili (6 caps, 20 points), 14. Akaki Tabutsadze (12 caps, 55 points), 13. Giorgi Kveseladze (34 caps, 25 points), 12. Merab Sharikadze (კაპ. 77 caps, 60 points), 11. Demur Tapladze (9 caps, 5 points), 10. Tedo Abzhandadze (25 caps, 162 points), 9. Vasil Lobzhanidze (58 caps, 50 points), 8 Tornike Jalagonia (9 caps, 10 points), 7 Beka Saginadze (21 caps, 15 points), 6 Giorgi Tsutskiridze (21 caps, 15 points), 5 Kote Mikautadze (67 caps, 10 points), 4 David Gigauri (11 caps, 5 points), 3 Giorgi Melikidze (28 caps, 15 points), 2 Jaba Bregvadze (66 caps, 25 points), 1 Guram Gogichashvili (22 caps, 10 points).
Subs: 16. Giorgi Chkoidze (16 caps, 5 points), 17. Nikoloz Khatiashvili (5 caps), 18. Luka Japaridze (uncapped), 19. Nodar Cheishvili (31 caps), 20. Giorgi Javakhia (6 caps, 5 points); 21. Gela Aprasidze (34 caps, 24 points), 22. Giorgi Babunashvili (3 caps, 9 points); 23. Ilia Spanderashvili (1 caps).