Georgia's out-half for tomorrow is a former Terenure College RFC man

21-year-old Tedo Abzhandadze had a spell with the Dublin club in the 2017/18 season.

THE MAN WHO will wear Georgia’s number 10 jersey against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow has been in Dublin before this weekend.

21-year-old Tedo Abzhandadze, one of the great talents of the Georgian game, had a stint with Terenure College RFC back in the 2017/18 season.

The four-month spell, in which he mainly played for the club’s U20 side, was arranged by the Georgian Rugby Union as they looked for the promising playmaker to take another step in his development.

DPGAEziWkAAoBz2 Terenure College RFC Abzhandadze played for the Dublin club during the 2017/18 season. Terenure College RFC

He has fond memories of the time, which was just one part of a development plan that resulted in him now playing his club rugby in France’s Top 14. 

“It was very good with Terenure,” said Abzhandadze this week ahead of the Autumn Nations Cup clash with Ireland. “It was a great experience, I really enjoyed being there. 

“I learned a lot in Terenure about controlling the game at 10.

“The lads were so good to me. After our first match against Clontarf, they brought me for beers after the game and we always had a very enjoyable time. After the games, if we won, the lads sang the Terenure song but I didn’t understand a word.”

The Kutaisi native, who played at last year’s World Cup in Japan, enjoyed staying with the Irish family who put him up and says he “loves the city of Dublin.”

Keen followers of U20s rugby might have first spotted Abzhandadze in 2017 when he played for the Georgia U20s despite being three years younger than many players at that level. Abzhandadze was at out-half in Georgia’s pool-stage defeat to an Ireland team that included Caelan Doris and Ronan Kelleher. 

The following year, Abzhandadze was among the try-scorers as Georgia pulled off a superb play-off win against Ireland, whose team included Doris, Harry Byrne, and James Hume.

2018 was also the year 18-times capped Abzhandadze got his senior Georgia debut, while his development continued with a move to Top 14 club Brive last year. 

His head coach at the French side is former Ireland and Lions lock Jeremy Davidson, while ex-Munster man James Coughlan is the club’s defence coach. The young out-half says the Irishmen “have been really good to work with.”

tedo-abzhandadze Tommy Dickson / INPHO Abzhandadze is a key man for Georgia. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Abzhandadze has played for the French outfit six times in the Challenge Cup, as well as three times in the Top 14 so far.

“I have the chance to play at the top level against top teams and top stars. It’s really good for me to get that experience and improve myself.”

There is now Irish influence in the Georgia set-up too, with Ulster men David Humphreys and Neil Doak having come on board for the Lelos‘ involvement in the Autumn Nations Cup.

“They have helped us a lot and our attack is getting better than it was before with David and Neil,” says Abzhandadze, while also pointing out that Georgia haven’t scored a point so far in their two games against England and Wales.

“It’s been hard because we’re playing against top teams. England was really tough, losing 40-0, but we worked hard and there was an improvement for the Wales game. I know it’s not good to lose 18-0 but we did improve.”

Abzhandadze underlines that this exposure to the leading nations is exactly what Georgia have been crying out for in recent years. The step-up in quality from the Rugby Europe Championship – the level below the Six Nations – has been huge. 

“Every single match at this level, we learn something. We have to take every opportunity to score points and now it’s another chance to learn more against Ireland. You can’t compare the difference in the level.

“Let’s say in the Rugby Europe Championship, the pressure is 30%, now we’re at 100% pressure. Every player is a professional and it’s so hard, you have to concentrate every single second because if you make a mistake, they score a try.  

tedo-abzhandadze-kicks-a-penalty James Crombie / INPHO Abzhandadze plays his club rugby for Brive in the Top 14. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“I really hope this continues in the future because we need it to improve our game. It’s our first time to play against England, Wales, Ireland all in three weekends – before you might get one match like that in your whole career with Georgia. Now we have lots of big games and I hope this will last into the future.”

Abzhandadze only turned 21 in June and is excited about this chance to play against an Ireland team he says are strong in “every area”. He hopes the best is ahead for himself and Georgian rugby.

“For me as a player, I want to just get more chances to play at the top level whether it’s in the Top 14 or the Premiership in the future.

“With Georgia, our aim is to get into the Six Nations and get into a World Cup knock-out game, so this is an important step.”

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