Fly-half Lasha Khmaladze joined Lelos 12 years ago from the Georgia U20 team. Of the Georgian youth team that participated in the 2008 Trophy division tournament, Khmaladze went the farthest – he played 83 games for the main team of the country.
World Rugby became interested in the record holder’s path and recorded an interview with him:
“Lasha Khmaladze, the record holder for the number of matches played for the national team among players who have ever played in the Trophy division, shares his experience.
At the first Trophy tournament, held in 2008 in Chile, the Georgian youth team took third place, but Khmaladze still felt that the team could have achieved more. He was one of nine players of that team who later successfully defended the honor of “Lelos”.
The 32-year-old believes that the word “Georgia” could have been engraved on the Trophy Cup that year, rather than “Uruguay”, whose players the young “Lelos” lost in the semifinals of the tournament. Georgia managed to win the tournament seven years later. By this time Khmaladze was already an established player with extensive international experience:
“I remember the tournament in Chile very well. We had a well-balanced team, and at first everything worked out as well as possible. Our only competition was the Uruguay team, which we faced in the semifinals and lost. After that defeat, it felt like if we had met them ten times, we would have won nine games, but there’s nothing you can do about it, that’s what Rugby is. In that particular case, we gave in, and what we lost can never be returned.
For 12 years, Khmaladze tried on the lelos Rugby shirt 83 times (With) Tamuna Kulumbegashvili
One Rugby player can never win a match. Each team member should have the appropriate attitude, and you should not be nervous. I think everyone was too worried about the importance of the match that day, so we lost. Crucial matches require a special approach, and experiences can be directed in a different direction.”
Khmaladze scored four tries in Chile, and soon found himself in the main team of Georgia. His debut for Lelos came two months after the Chilean tournament, at the IRB Nations Cup, in a match against the “Developing team of South Africa”.
“After the 2007 World Cup, new coaches – Tim lane and Levan Tsabadze-came to the helm of Lelos, who attracted me to the extended squad in the winter. I trained for a period in the national team, after which I was returned to the club. I didn’t expect to be called up again so soon after that, but I took this chance and gradually gained a foothold in the Lelos team, “Khmaladze recalls.
In 12 years, he played in the national team’s Rugby League 83 times, which is a record among Rugby players who played in the Trophy division and got into the main national team. A participant of three world cups always remembers what role the U20 team played in his career.
“I have dreamed about this since childhood, but I did not even imagine that I would get so much joy from communicating with the guys. Emotions are so great that it is simply impossible to convey them in words. At all stages, we had to accept various challenges, which, accordingly, added experience. Each victory or defeat brought new knowledge, and it accumulated from game to game. I believe that international experience is important for every player, especially if it is obtained at an early age.”
Lasha Khmaladze’s international career started with the U20 Trophy division (With) Tamuna Kulumbegashvili
From the participants of the Trophy division and, subsequently ,the U20 world Cup, 47 players got into the national team of Georgia, and this tradition continues. Khmaladze welcomes this process, even if the young player becomes a competitor.
“The history of the Georgian national team does not begin with my generation. There was more than one great player before us, and each of them left their mark on the team and a certain tradition. All this taken together is passed from generation to generation, and so the semblance of a single, large family is created. We welcome any newcomer to the national team, whether they are from the U20 team, or have never played for any age-group team.
Which of the young ones should pay attention to
Fly-half Tedo Abzhandadze is a vivid example of how a young player joins the national team. Khmaladze believes that in the near future the Georgian national team will be strengthened by several more players from the U20 team:
“This is my personal opinion, but I see that the captain of the current U20 team, deme Tapladze, is good in defense and effective in attack. Sandro Svanidze, who knows how to create advantages, and Akaki Tabutsadze, who has a lot of work to do to get a foothold in Lelos, also stand out. These Rugby players do not lack motivation, and if they continue to work hard, they will achieve a lot.”
Khmaladze is still not going to finish his international career, and is aiming for the 2023 world Cup:
“I will give my all for the sake of the Georgian national team going to the next world Cup, and I hope to be a part of that team. At this stage, this is the goal of my life.”