A youthful Emerging Ireland team, led by flanker Rhys Ruddock, will make their debut at the IRB Tbilisi Cup – a new annual tournament on the international calendar – as they take on host nation Georgia. The match will be streamed live on the IRB website.
IRB TBILISI CUP: Friday, June 8
GEORGIA v EMERGING IRELAND, Avchala Stadium, Tbilisi, 7pm local time/4pm Irish time (IRB live stream)
Team News: The Emerging Ireland team and replacements have been named for Friday’s IRB Tbilisi Cup opener against tournament hosts Georgia.
The new annual tournament is part of the IRB’s ongoing strategy of increasing the competition schedule for tier two nations.
Emerging Ireland captain Rhys Ruddock, out-half Ian Keatley and prop Michael Bent are the three senior capped players named in the starting line-up to face Georgia.
Niall Morris, who won the Aviva Premiership with Leicester Tigers recently, features in the back-three alongside full-back David Kearney and Connacht’s Tiernan O’Halloran.
Belfast Harlequins and Ulster duo Michael Allen and Michael Heaney team up with Eoin Griffin and Keatley at centre and half-back respectively.
Jack McGrath, who started for Leinster in their Amlin Challenge Cup final win last month, combines with Bent and Ulster’s Rob Herring in the front row.
The second row starters will be Lewis Stevenson and David Foley with the latter’s Munster colleague, Ian Nagle, providing back-up, while Leinster pair Ruddock and Dominic Ryan link up with versatile Ulsterman Robbie Diack in the back row.
Noel Reid, who replaced the injured Cathal Marsh in the touring party, is one of four Leinster players among the replacements with Ulster front rowers Niall Annett and Ricky Lutton also hoping to be called upon.
The Emerging Ireland side will be battling it out against some of the strongest developing nations in world rugby, Georgia, South Africa President’s XV and Uruguay, in the coming days.
The matches will be played in the Georgian capital with the teams competing in a round robin format.
In squad news, Ulster youngster Peter Nelson has been drafted into the squad to replace Andrew Conway who picked up a calf injury in training.
Meanwhile, the Georgian side, coached by New Zealander Milton Haig, are in the midst of their qualifying campaign for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
They have won four and drawn one of their World Cup qualifying matches in 2013, including away victories over Belgium and Russia, to finish top of European Nations Cup Division 1A. After the completion of next year’s European Nations Cup, the top two sides will progress to England 2015.
For their Tbilisi Cup opener, the Georgians will be captained by winger Irakli Machkhaneli who has played in 63 Test matches since making his debut back in 2002.
The hosts will be strong up front with Irakli Mirtskhulava, Revaz Belkania and Levan Chilachava looking to set a solid platform for the back-line to play off.
Ten of their starting line-up play their club rugby in France, including Clermont Auvergne flanker Viktor Kolelishvili and Toulon duo Kote Mikautadze and Levan Chilachava in the front five.
Stade Rodez’s Davit Kacharava, with 61 caps to his name, skipper Machkhaneli and number 8 Giorgi Chkhaidze are the lone survivors from Georgia’s 14-10 defeat to Ireland at the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France.
GEORGIA: Beka Tsiklauri (Lokomotiv Tbilisi); Irakli Machkhaneli (Armazi) (capt), Davit Kacharava (Stade Rodez), Merab Sharikadze (Hartpury College), Tamaz Mchedlidze (Stade Montois); Lasha Malaguradze (Stade Bagnérais), Giorgi Begadze (Batumi); Irakli Mirtskhulava (Tarbes), Revaz Belkania (Lelo Tbilisi), Levan Chilachava (Toulon), Vakhtang Maisuradze (Albi), Kote Mikautadze (Toulon), Shalva Sutiashvili (Massy), Viktor Kolelishvili (Clermont Auvergne), Giorgi Chkhaidze (Tarbes).
Replacements: Giorgi Tetrashvili (Albi), Simon Maisuradze (Stade Bagnérais), Giorgi Nemsadze (Tarbes), Givi Berishvili (Lokomotiv Tbilisi), Vazha Khutsishvili (Kharebi), Aleksandre Todua (Albi), Tedore Zibzibadze (Périgueux).
EMERGING IRELAND: David Kearney (Lansdowne/Leinster); Niall Morris (Leicester Tigers/Exile), Eoin Griffin (Galwegians/Connacht), Michael Allen (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Tiernan O’Halloran (Galwegians/Connacht); Ian Keatley (Young Munster/Munster), Michael Heaney (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster); Jack McGrath (St. Mary’s College/Leinster), Rob Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster), Michael Bent (Leinster), Lewis Stevenson (Malone/Ulster), David Foley (UL Bohemians/Munster), Rhys Ruddock (St. Mary’s College/Leinster) (capt), Dominic Ryan (Lansdowne/Leinster), Robbie Diack (Malone/Ulster).
Replacements: Niall Annett (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Richard Lutton (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster), Ian Nagle (Cork Constitution/Munster), Jordi Murphy (Lansdowne/Leinster), John Cooney (Lansdowne/Leinster), Noel Reid (Clontarf/Leinster). Brendan Macken (Blackrock College/Leinster).
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Ucha Narimanidze, Gia Amirkhanashvili (both Georgia)
Pre-Match Quotes: Allen Clarke (Emerging Ireland head coach) – “The squad has gelled together and prepared well, it’s a young side and there is huge potential there. The Georgian side are very physical and we have to match that.
“We are using this tournament to blood a lot of young players. The Tbilisi Cup for us is about experience and exposure. The majority of this squad will have their eye on the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups.”
Milton Haig (Georgia head coach) – “The competition has four very good teams participating and there will be no easy matches, especially with the short turnarounds between games, which adds another challenge to the players and coaches.
“Our squad has a good blend of youth and experience and the tournament will give all of the players a chance to showcase their skills in front of the selectors.”
Emerging Ireland Tbilisi Cup Fixtures –
Friday, June 7: Georgia v Emerging Ireland, Avchala Stadium, 7pm local time/4pm Irish time
Tuesday, June 11: Emerging Ireland v South Africa President’s XV, Avchala Stadium, 5pm local time/2pm Irish time
Sunday, June 16: Uruguay v Emerging Ireland, Avchala Stadium, 4pm local time/1pm Irish time
Ireland v Georgia Test Meetings –
1998: Rugby World Cup qualifier: Ireland 70 Georgia 0, Lansdowne Road
2002: Rugby World Cup qualifier: Ireland 63 Georgia 14, Lansdowne Road
2007: Rugby World Cup Pool D: Ireland 14 Georgia 10, Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux