|Rugby World Cup 2019 warm-up Test: Georgia v Scotland|
|Venue: Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi Date: Saturday, 31 August Kick-off: 17:00 BST|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Sport Scotland website|
On Saturday, Scotland become the first Tier One nation to play a Test match in Georgia, an emerging force in global Rugby.
The Georgians have a hefty and raucous following, a monstrous pack, buckets of titles in Europe’s second-tier competition and the billions of a former prime minister behind them.
In 16 years, they have played just seven internationals against top-tier opposition outside of Rugby World Cup pool matches, so these back-to-back shots at Scotland are opportunities they lust after.
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They are bankrolled by a billionaire
Former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has provided much of the finance needed to fuel the rise of Georgian Rugby.
Forbes put his net worth at £4.062bn – a mere £1.47bn more than US President Donald Trump. He lives in a futuristic £41m house cut into the hills overlooking Tbilisi, where he reportedly keeps an art collection that includes at least one Picasso, a shark tank and an assortment of exotic animals.
Milton Haig, the Georgia head coach of seven years, says Ivanishvili is not a Rugby fanatic but sees in the sport an opportunity to inspire and showcase his nation’s people.
His investment has helped construct a high-performance base in Tbilisi that rivals the facilities on offer to any of the game’s behemoths. The Georgians have access to a 27-room hotel, a commercial kitchen, swimming pool, gym, floodlit artificial pitch and a 14x14m wrestling dojo.
Georgia are ranked above Italy
The World Rugby rankings formula is a vexing beast, but as a general guide to who is performing well, they are about the only objective measure available.
Georgia have been relentlessly successful against their second-tier opposition and have beaten Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Canada and United States since the last World Cup.
That has kept them ranked 12th, above Italy, who have been relentlessly awful in the Six Nations, and only a little way behind Argentina, who have mustered only three Rugby Championship victories since 2015.
Their Under-20s just beat Scotland
Georgia and Scotland were drawn in the same pool at the World Rugby Under-20 Championships in June.
Both had heavy defeats against New Zealand and South Africa, but the Georgians beat the Scots 17-12 to finish third in the group. They also got the better of Fiji, another side to shellac Scotland amid a wretched campaign.
At the heart of Georgia’s quest was fly-half Tedo Abzhandadze, who already has 10 caps for the senior team and has made himself Haig’s first-choice pivot.
“He’s got a huge future, probably the most natural 10 that I’ve been involved with for a long time – and that includes some of the New Zealanders I’ve coached,” Haig said.
But they have hit a Rugby ‘ceiling’
For years, Georgia have been clamouring for a spot in an expanded Six Nations, a franchise in the Pro14, or at the very least, more regular cracks at Tier One opponents.
At the moment, there is no prospect of the Six Nations opening its doors and there have been no recent discussions of any substance with the Pro14.
The “huge worry” for Haig is that his players can only improve so much while they continue to reign supreme in the second-tier championship.
“If I can’t get more Tier One Tests, I need to get my players into better competitions,” he said. “We’ve got players in the Top 14 in France and that’s OK, but we need to get more players playing at a higher level more consistently, so they understand how to deliver week in, week out, and to increase skillsets.
“We haven’t heard anything about that. But you get to a ceiling and, until you can break through it, it’s pretty hard to keep improving. That’s where we’re at.”