Georgia coach Richard Cockerill pleads for Six Nations inclusion

FILE - Georgia head coach Richard Cockerill. Photo: Daniel Leal/AFP

FILE - Georgia head coach Richard Cockerill. Photo: Daniel Leal/AFP

Published Mar 18, 2024


Georgia have outgrown Europe's second tier competition and need "stronger opposition", head coach Richard Cockerill said after Los Lelos won the Rugby Europe Championship for the eighth time in nine years.

Wing Akaki Tabutsadzew scored two tries as Georgia romped to a 36-10 victory over Portugal in the final at the Jean Bouin stadium in Paris on Sunday night.

That followed thumping victories over Romania (43-5) and Spain (38-3) as Georgia proved once again that they are a cut above the rest of the European Tier II nations.

Cockerill wants World Rugby to provide Georgia with more matches against Tier I nations and the best Tier II teams such as Fiji and Japan — and maybe even a place in the Six Nations.

"Effectively, we've won the games quite easily in the end — all the games," Cockerill told AFP.

"I don't know what competition we're able to join but certainly we need stronger opposition so we know where we're at."

Simply put, "we're too good for these teams."

'We can ask for more'

Georgia will have a particularly testing July, facing Fiji — who beat them narrowly 17-12 at last year's World Cup — and Japan, before finishing their summer series against Tier I Australia.

But if Georgia want to be invited into one of rugby's top competitions, they have to start winning those matches more regularly, according to flanker Beka Gorgadze.

That's what they did in 2022 when beating Italy and Wales for the first time.

"I said after 2022, as long as we get the results, we can ask for more," Gorgadze said.

"If we don't get the results, we can't ask for anything."

The World Cup in which Georgia failed to win any matches — even drawing 18-18 with Portugal — set them back.

And Gorgadze is worried that World Rugby's new Nations Championship, which is due to begin in 2026, will shut out Tier II teams from ever playing Tier I opponents.

Georgia will begin the new competition in the Challenger series and with promotion and relegation from the competition not due to begin until 2030, Los Lelos may find themselves unable to play any Tier I teams for years.

"With the new (Nations Championship) format from 2026 we'll have zero matches against Tier 1 teams and that will reduce our level," Gorgadze moaned.

Italy recently went seven years without winning a Six Nations match and there had been muted suggestions that they could be either replaced by Georgia, or a promotion and relegation system could be introduced.

But Italy have rebounded since those dark days of endless thrashings and have just enjoyed their best set of Six Nations results, beating Wales and Scotland and drawing away to France.

"We're not looking to replace anybody, we're looking to add to it," Cockerill said about the Six Nations.

"The reality is that Italy are better than us at the moment. The reality is that we've got a little bit of catching up to do but we need a way of being able to do that," said the former Leicester Tigers and Edinburgh coach.

Benetton example

One possibility would be to have a club team join the United Rugby Championship (URC).

Georgia's Black Lion played in the European Challenge Cup this season, beating Scarlets and earning a losing bonus point against Gloucester in an impressive debut in the competition.

"We need the opportunity like Italy have had in the last 20 years — whether it's at URC level or whether it's at Test level — for us to improve," said Cockerill.

"The Black Lion have acquitted themselves very well in Europe this year so we as a union would like to investigate potentially trying to get into the URC."

Cockerill pointed to the progress made by Benetton Treviso since two Italian sides joined what used to be called the Celtic League.

"We're probably 10 or 15 years behind that but the sooner we start the sooner we can start competing a bit better," said Cockerill.