TBILISI, March 18 (The Conway Bulletin) — “We love rugby. We love Lelos!” a crowd of almost 30,000 roared when Georgia scored yet another try in the final minutes of this Georgia-Russia rugby match on Saturday.
The final score against Russia was a crushing 33-0 win. Georgia’s Lelos — named after lelo, a Georgian folk sport similar to rugby — haven’t lost to Russia’s Bears since 1993, a run of wins that their fans will gleefully tell you about.
Georgia has a strong rugby team and will play against New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and Namibia in this year’s World Cup in England.
Although the head coach of the Lelos, New Zealander Milton Haig, has said there is no difference who the opponent is, it is clear for the crowd that it matters. They want to see Georgia beat, smash even, the Russian team.
For the match against Russia, Tbilisi’s Mikheil Meskhi stadium was packed with Georgian fans, waiting for Georgia to crush Russia in front of their eyes. People also waved Ukrainian blue and yellow flags, underlining the anti-Russian feeling in the crowd.
On the rugby pitch, at least, Georgia and Ukraine can get their own back at Russia.
Last year Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and has been sponsoring rebels in the east of the country in an ongoing civil war. In 2008, Russia defeated Georgia in a small war which concreted its control over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“It’s solidarity,” explained a young Georgian fan, before joining the crowd shouting “Putin khuylo!” and “Abkhazia is ours!”. The Kremlin has tighten its grip over parts of Georgia this year but Georgian rugby fans can still relish in their superiority over Russia.
This story was first published in issue 223 of the weekly Conway Bulletin newspaper. It is fully independent and covers Central Asia and the South Caucasus. To sign up click here. For a free two-week trial, send your email to email@example.com