Facing the best:
Georgia’s rugby team set for busy 2016 calendar

Georgia will face Tonga after beating them at last year's Rugby World Cup. Photo by Martin Seras Lima.
Agenda.ge, 24 Mar 2016 - 14:07, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgia's national rugby team is taking advantage of a new calendar of test games that allows the Lelos to play against high-level opponents.

For the first time in recent years Georgia will hold a summer test series, established in response to calls for more regular opportunities for Georgia to face ‘tier one’ and other ‘tier two’ nations.

Yesterday the Georgian Rugby Union announced the Lelos would hold a busy schedule of matches against Samoa, Tonga and Fiji - all in space of two weeks this June.

Georgia defeated Tonga in their first pool stage match at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo by Martin Seras Lima.

In June the Georgian side will travel to the Pacific Islands to take on Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

The Lelos' match against Samoa will be held on June 11, followed by the test against Tonga on June 18, then a June 25 game against Fiji.

For Georgia these three games will be the first opportunity to take on world-class opponents since last year's Rugby World Cup in England.

Fiji are currently ranked 11th, ranked one spot higher than Georgia in the official World Rugby rankings, while Tonga (13) and Samoa (15) are ranked in the same range in the list.

Georgia climbed to its highest-ever 12th spot in the rankings last week.

In the past Georgia have played against Samoa, Tonga and Fiji however these games were rare occasions.

Georgia faced Tonga four times since 1999, with the latest game won by the Lelos at the 2015 World Cup pool stage. Results of the four games stand with both teams winning two games each.

There have been two matches between the Lelos and Samoa. The first game was held at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, which was when Georgia debuted at the global tournament.

Georgia was crowned European Nations Cup champions for the ninth time after beating Romania in Tbilisi on Saturday. Photo from Georgian Rugby Union/Facebook.

Samoa celebrated a victory in the 2003 clash with a final score of 46-9. However Georgia's progress was outlined 10 years later when the Lelos beat Samoa 16-15 in Tbilisi in November 2013.

Only one match has been played between Georgia and Fiji – in 2012 the Fijian side travelled to Tbilisi and defeated hosts Georgia 24-19.

Later in the year the Lelos will hold further test matches with teams ranked in the Top 10. The Georgian team will face Japan, Samoa and Scotland in November 2016.

The need for Georgia to play more challenging teams has been raised many times in the past but the issue was thrust into the spotlight following Georgia’s result at last year’s Rugby World Cup. Georgia finished third in its pool and secured automatic qualification to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Calls for more opportunities for fast improving teams like Georgia and Romania against leading rugby nations were voiced by Georgia's coach Milton Haig as well as reporters and Rugby Europe president Octavian Morariu during and after the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Georgia also underlined its recent dominance of the European Nations Cup tournament by triumphing in Tbilisi with a victory against Romania on Saturday.