Georgia and Portugal alter rugby’s tectonic plates

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By Creative Media News

Forget England’s dramatic draw with the All Blacks and Ireland and France’s weekend ascension to the top of the World Rugby rankings.

Instead, raise a glass of Portuguese or Georgian wine to commemorate two momentous results that have rekindled worries about the future architecture of international soccer beyond Europe.

Even in microcosm, the significance of Portugal’s last-gasp penalty in Dubai, which gained them the final spot at the men’s World Cup next year at the cost of the United States, was significant.

Georgia and portugal alter rugby's tectonic plates
Georgia and portugal alter rugby's tectonic plates

So too was how Georgia defeated Wales, with a last titanic scrum from the Lelos securing a 13-12 victory in Cardiff. When you combine the two, it appears that the global rugby tectonic plates are shifting.

Which makes this the ideal week for representatives of all the main unions to discuss the global calendar and, more especially, the finer details of the months-old national league plans.

If the ‘new’ tournament – effectively a consolidation of the July and August windows – is to become a reality, a crucial meeting will take place on Thursday, and the clock will start ticking. Starting in 2026, the Six Nations teams will join Australia, Argentina, Fiji, New Zealand, South Africa, and Japan in a 12-team tournament that will be played in non-World Cup and Lions tour years.

Georgia and portugal
Georgia and portugal alter rugby's tectonic plates

The European teams would play three matches against three different opponents throughout the summer before hosting the remaining three southern nations in the fall. A potential “final” in November between the two pool winners would then ensue.

Nevertheless, the devil is in the details. Before the year 2030, there should be no relegation or promotion from the 12-team “elite,” according to a plan that has garnered backing from influential sources. The argument is ostensible that the competition requires time to establish itself commercially and that promoted teams need time to become competitive.

This makes absolutely no sense if you’re from Georgia. If they can win in Wales and also defeat Italy 28-19 in Tbilisi in July, can it be said that they are inadequate? Or, instead, unworthy of admittance to the Six Nations? When asked if his team was knocking on the door to the Six Nations, their coach Levan Maisashvili told, “I think we have knocked the door down now.”

Given that Maisashvili was in a coma and on the brink of death after getting Covid-19 in South Africa a year ago, the Georgian story is moving on multiple levels. This may not be the ideal time in history to share a territorial border with Russia, but their rugby development is becoming increasingly evident.

Lyon’s 20-year-old Davit Niniashvili is one of the most promising young players in Europe, and referee Nika Amashukeli is also deservingly ascending the ranks of officials.

Georgia’s first two matches of 2023, however, will be against Germany and the Netherlands in the Rugby Europe tournament, the level below the Six Nations. Their potential to carry that momentum into the World Cup will be hampered if they are unable to capitalize on their historic victory against opponents of comparable quality.

If you feel this is unjust, you are correct. However, consider the following circumstance. On the opening weekend at the Stade de France, Georgia’s formidable scrum stunned a sluggish Australian team.

Given the Wallabies’ loss to Italy in Florence earlier this month, it is no longer possible to view the outcome as absolutely inevitable. Suddenly, the Lelos would only need two victories over lower-ranked Fiji and Portugal to reach their final pool game in the first place. And their opponents in that crucial match in Nantes? Who else except their new buddies in Wales?

In other words, it is not inconceivable that Georgia may advance undefeated to the quarterfinals of the world’s premier event while being a second-tier rugby nation for at least the next seven years. Which is nonsensical at best. For his part, Maisashvili is tired of rehashing the same old issues.

“Every year we begin with the Rugby Europe competition — there is a significant distinction.” It’s a joke… rugby is comprised of more than 10 nations. Against Wales, we were without eight injured players and a 19-year-old tighthead. Forty minutes passed without Wales scoring. It is also evident that rugby’s traditional divisions are rapidly diminishing.

Anyone who witnessed the incredibly skilled performance of Portugal’s fullback Nuno Sousa Guedes against the United States is aware that talent is not exclusive to more established unions.

How about how Italy attacked the Wallabies? The breakthrough player award handed to Ange Capuozzo was the most deserving of all the accolades bestowed by World Rugby over the weekend.

We have not even addressed the proud World Cup qualifiers Chile and Uruguay, Spain, or a potentially strengthened United States as they strive to be competitive at their 2031 World Cup. When the top rugby officials convene this week, they must choose the many above the few.

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