Every world cup there are players who you may not know a whole heap about going into the tournament, but by their actions on the pitch they announce themselves to the rugby world at large. Mamuka Gorgodze of Georgia and Montpellier is no neophyte to world rugby, having made an impression as part of the bruising Georgian team that put Ireland to the pin of their collar in Bordeaux during RWC07. However, Georgia are one of those teams that most people will see little enough of between world cups, unless they’re active fans of rugby esoterica.
Nevertheless, their performances in the last world cup and the increasing numbers of Georgians playing in both the Top 14 and the Pro D2 in France have marked them out as one of the fastest growing forces outside the traditional fields of world rugby. Their aptitude for the game owes a great deal to its similarities with the ancient Georgian sport of lelo burti, where the men of two villages battered each other half to death [there’s a bit about a ball and two rivers in the rules somewhere under the heading of ‘objective’], and indeed the national team are nicknamed “The Lelos” . They’re the reigning European Nations Cup champions, competing against the likes of Russia, Rumania, Spain and Portugal, where occasionally there’s great value to be had: check from about 1:45 onwards of this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gCCXd7t2eo&feature=related. Rugby is officially big news in Georgia, and has been for some time: 65,000 people paid their way into Paitchadze National Stadium in Tblisi back in 2002 to see themselves and Mother Russia go toe-to-toe in The Bout To Knock The Other Guy Out.
Gorgodze wasn’t part of that team, debuting a year later as an 18 year old. Since then, he has been the outstanding Georgian rugby player of his generation, and despite the fact that the Lelos don’t get many big fixtures, he already has proved himself to be a player and leader of the first rank. He’s coming into this world cup on the back of a massive season with Montpellier in the Top 14 – where the fans have labeled him ‘Gorgodzilla‘ – and he has been a monstrous force in a variety of positions: lock, openside, blindside and No8. Hard running, destructive tackling, deft offloads … the guy can do it all, but it’s not just what he does, it’s how he does it; there’s an aggression, a hard-nosedness and an unwillingness to ever be bettered or take a backward step in him that you just can’t coach.
He’s got the natural backrower’s instinct to try and put the frighteners on the opposition outhalf, whether it’s ‘le’ Jonny Wilkinson [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXBeK8B2NTM&feature=related] or some luckless Ruskie who didn’t know any better than to put himself in harm’s way [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpIkSVsebcU&feature=related]. It’s not much of a leap to imagine this chap as a big warlord sweeping down out of the Caucasus Mountains at the head of a bunch of bandits, terrifying villages and taking on the soldiers of the Tzar; rugby should be a piece of cake to him!
Gorgodze has been a huge success in the Top 14, earning the distinction of L’Équipe’s ‘Player of the Year 2010-2011’ for his exploits this season. His aggression, his power and his positional versatility make him a natural for the varied requirements of back five play in the pack, and he has put in some huge performances, not least this one against Racing Metro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aav3nMOVf8o&feature=related. Next year’s Top 14 clashes between RC Toulon and Montpellier will have real intrigue to them. Why? Bakkies Botha has joined Boudjellal’s Globetrotters, and the sight of himself and Gorgodze knocking the corners off each other is going to be worth the price of admission in its own right.
In the meantime, we’ll get to see him butt heads with the cream of English, Scottish and Argentine beef in RWC11. These lads won’t forget about him any time soon.