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Merab Sharikadze: Georgia Captain Aims for Black Lion Upsets

Georgia captain Merab Sharikadze has a turn of phrase which he repeats on loop.

“Nothing is impossible,” he said. “Everything depends on the priorities.”

One could be forgiven for thinking he is talking about the events in Cardiff in November 2022, when the Georgia side he led shocked the rugby world by defeating Wayne Pivac’s Wales at the Principality Stadium.

However, the centre prefers to focus on his nation’s future and the potential growth of Georgian rugby, rather than past successes.

On Friday, his club side Black Lion travel to Scarlets having made their European bow at home in a 15-10 defeat by Gloucester last weekend.

Black Lion and South African side Cheetahs are in the Challenge Cup by invitation. The presence of both teams reflects the evolving landscape of rugby, as the game expands beyond its traditional borders.

Six years have passed since South African sides joined the United Rugby Championship (URC) – then known as the Pro14 – and their integration into the northern hemisphere landscape has gathered pace.

“It might seem impossible for us to join, but South African teams are joining,” said Sharikadze.

“As long as we show the good quality of rugby and some other stuff at some stage, we might join that competition [URC].”

Black Lion were formed in 2021 and are owned by the Georgian Rugby Union. Their coach, Levan Maisashvili, masterminded the national team’s historic victory over Wales, but left after a disappointing World Cup in France.

“After that win everybody knew we could beat any team and everybody was preparing to face us quite precisely; that made our mission in the World Cup much harder,” said Sharikadze.

Georgia may no longer fly under the radar at international level but, as the Black Lion team, Sharikadze believes the Georgians can revert to underdog status.

“Most people would have been surprised we didn’t lose by a bigger margin [last weekend] because it was the very first game for us in the Challenge Cup,” he said.

“Obviously, the teams are world class and they know their rugby. For us it’s mainly to pick up experience as much as possible, get used to high-quality rugby at club level.”

Friday’s encounter in Llanelli will be Black Lion’s first away game at this level, and an opportunity for Sharikadze to reacquaint himself with some familiar international faces.

“They play international rugby for a reason. It’s going to be a tough challenge, but one we look forward to,” he added.

On-field success might be a tough ask this season, but for Sharikadze there is a greater, long-term goal.

“It’s a step in the right direction in my opinion, we are going on the best possible path,” he said.

“I’d like to see Georgia considered as a tier-one international nation. At club level I’d love to see a Georgian team in the URC.”

And are those targets realistic?

“As I said, everything is possible – as long as everybody would want it,” he added. “But somehow we still have to prove ourselves.”

Source: BBC News