Georgia are no strangers to the top table of rugby union, having been consistently knocking on the door of the Six Nations and always asking the question of when promotion and relegation could be added to allow them to compete with the other top European nations on a more regular basis.

For the moment, that door has remained firmly shut, but there are plenty who have been campaigning for the Lelos to be given a shot in Europe’s premier international competition due to their ability to play at a high standard and the fact that they have never finished below third in the Rugby Europe Championships, with them finishing as champions on 12 occasions between 2000 and 2023 (including in each of the last six years).

Having said that though, their record at the Rugby World Cup has not been as impressive, with them never managing to get out of their pool and only winning more than once on a single occasion, which came in 2015 when they defeated Tonga and Namibia but lost to New Zealand and Argentina.

Therefore, even though they do have the ability to consistently reach big tournaments, they aren’t quite able to match some of the best teams in the world just yet.

Head Coach

Since 2020, the Lelos have been under the stewardship of Levan Maisashvili, who has combined that role with his position as head coach of Tbilisi-based club side the Black Lion. He is someone that Georgian players and fans hold in very high regard, with him leading Georgia to victories over Italy and Wales last year, and the outpouring of emotion in 2021 when he was forced into hospital with a serious case of Covid-19 and put onto a ventilator with serious lung damage was clear for all to see.

He has stated that his aim for the 2023 World Cup is to win at least two of their pool matches, but that he expects his players to compete in all four, with him firmly of the belief that they are in a pool where anything is possible. That level of optimism will encourage the Lelos’ fans that their team will be up for the fight when the action gets underway, and the determination with which he has set out his targets further serves to increase Maisashvili’s popularity among the fans.

Attacking play

Georgia are notoriously a team who possess power in their forward pack, but they can play with grace and nimbleness when needed to too, with them having several players in their ranks who can change direction quickly and who can beat opponents in 1-v-1 duels.

In recent months, they have been focusing on finetuning different elements of their game and ensuring that they are as well-rounded tactically as they can be before they travel to France, and one thing that will really help them to deliver on their promise to win more than one game is their ability to work as a team. Cohesion has been a key word for Maisashvili in recent times, and it is clear that everything he has been doing with the players has been with an view to bringing the whole squad together and ensuring that they can work as one to achieve success.

Defensive play

That teamwork element also comes to fruition when breaking down Georgia’s defensive play too, with the Lelos again needing to work together to ensure that no gaps are left open once they lose the ball.

This is where they have fallen down at times in recent memory, with them sometimes looking lost when trying to contain opponents and hesitating momentarily, and, as was the case against Scotland in their last game, that can and does prove costly for them and leads to points being conceded far too easily.

They are in a favourable pool and do have a genuine chance of reaching the knockouts, such is the quality that they have in their squad, but they will need to play well in order to do so and that will involve being as watertight as possible and not making the same mistakes as they have been making in some of their more recent outings.

Key players

Whilst there are several players who could have a say in how they do, both in the forward pack and among the backs, the one who really binds everything together for the Lelos is scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze. He has always stood out for Georgia as someone who can make quick decisions and who can distribute well from breakdown situations, and the fact that he was awarded Man of the Match when his side beat Wales last November was a just reward for his efforts when it came to directing their play and ensuring that Wales never gained any momentum.

If Georgia are to recreate the positivity of that performance when they travel to France, then they will need Lobzhanidze to be in top form, and it could be worth watching to see how much of an influence he is able to have on their play and how hard opposing sides work to shut him down.

Tournament prediction

Pool C is a very open pool and there are multiple possibilities that could occur when it comes to looking at who could progress. Australia and Wales are the obvious favourites to reach the knockout stages, but neither is in particularly good form, and the fact that both have changed their head coaches since the turn of the year does open up the possibility of one or both of them making an early exit from the tournament.

Georgia would like to think that they can make it out of the pool at the expense of one of them, and the feeling among them and their fans will be that this is as good an opportunity to do so as they have ever had.

However, should they fail to finish in the pool’s top two, then meeting the target set by Maisashvili of winning a minimum of two matches would still allow them to leave with their heads held high.