Is Georgia the secret weapon of Israeli rugby?

Georgia once again are Rugby-Europe champions. The mountainous and exotic country secured its seventh consecutive title, a triumph celebrated with great satisfaction also within Israeli rugby. Georgia is likely to play a significant role in the ten-year plan of the rugby union aimed at challenging for a spot in the World Cup and a place in the Olympic Games.

The strategic cooperation agreement signed in December 2023 may not have garnered many headlines, but it was a generous and rare expression of trust by the Georgians in Israel during a difficult period for the state and Israeli sports. And the agreement is not merely on paper. While Israeli national teams and clubs in all sports have to roam across Europe in search of temporary homes, Israeli rugby is spoiled. Next month, Army club from Georgia will be visiting for the regional league matches involving two Israeli teams and an additional team from Fiji.

Besides these upcoming fixtures, a senior coaching mentor will be mentoring the union’s technical director and hold training for 16 new Israeli World Rugby Level-2 certified coaches. A Georgian senior referee will also conducted sessions for Israeli referees and coaches. Incidentally, even prior to the formal agreement the Upper Galilee women’s team made use of these good relations by holding a training camp in Georgia.

Apart from practical matters, there is also inspiration: “The path that Georgia has taken in world rugby in recent years to the top of world rugby is impressive, and with their help, we hope to make a similar journey and raise the flag of Israel in the Rugby World Cup in 2031. We are only at the beginning of the road of cooperation with them,” said Israel Rugby Union chairman Offer Fabian.

“We have always looked to the Georgians with admiration,” said Israel national team coach Kevin Musikanth, “their ability as a country with a small population to maintain stability as a top-15 rugby nation and consistent participant in the World Cups is very impressive. We’ve learned a lot from the games against the Black Lion in the Rugby-Europe Super Cup, and we really hope that cooperation and friendship will only deepen. Hopefully, one day we’ll play alongside them in the World Cup.”


The Georgian triumph was indeed impressive. With a 36-10 win over Portugal in the final in Paris on Sunday. Georgia’s captain, Merab Sharikadze, was asked when he felt the victory was secure. “I think about five months ago,” Sharikadze replied, referring to the previous game between the two teams, hen Portugal surprised with an 18-18 draw in Toulouse in the World Cup. There was a feeling in some quarters of a changing of the guard in the second tier of European Rugby. Portugal was hailed by many as the World Cup surprise and was even invited to play world champions South Africa this coming summer. But the Georgians appointed Englishman Richard Cockerill as the national team coach and quickly restored their status.

The tournament that ended over the weekend indeed revealed significant progress from many teams. It began with a big surprise with Belgium’s victory over Portugal and went on with impressive advancements by teams like Germany and the Netherlands. However, when it came to the decisive stages, Georgia showed that it is a class apart. A crushing 43-5 victory over Romania in the semifinals, and a seventh consecutive championship win with the victory in the final.

Excellent kicking from fly-half Luka Matkava, well-known to Israeli rugby from the games between the Black Lions and Tel Aviv Heat, laid the foundation with a 12-3 half time lead. After halftime in was the exploits of wonderful wing Aka Tabutsadze, also a Black Lion player, with two tries that led to the impression margin of victory. Tabutsadze boasts an impressive record of 35 tries in 39 internationals.

The Georgians’ situation in world rugby is intriguing. There has long been a discussion British media and beyond about their possible integration into the Six Nations. This could either be as a seventh participant or future promotion and relegation tests into to the highest tier of rugby in the northern hemisphere.

The Georgian strength is to be seen in their squad, with over twenty players playing in France. Results of recent years are further proof. In 2022, they triumphed over Wales away and defeated Italy at home. In July, the team will embark on a pacific tour where they will play Japan, Fiji and Australia. In the autumn they are expected to face Italy again. The very impressive progress can also be seen in the younger team. In the last U20 World Championships, Georgia defeated both Italy and Argentina.”

Earlier in the day Spain won the bronze final for 3rd place, defeating Romania 40-33.


With no significant “British” history in the country, the Georgian success in rugby is unique. Its roots lie in an ancient local game called ‘Lelo Burti’, which is still played in Georgia and is believed to have originated as a celebration of Georgian warriors’ victories in the battlefield. “Lelos” is also the nickname of the national team.

Watch: tradition Lelo played in Georgia.