It’s easy to see why Georgia have come calling for the Leinster loosehead. This interview first appeared in the April edition of Rugby World magazine
Rugby was basically inevitable. For all the love young Vakhtang housed for Liverpool and the round ball in those heady days, there was no getting away from it – he was a young Georgian lad, in Dublin, and his father, Nikola, was a capped back-rower. And although he was a central midfielder, he was bulking up. He would become a different kind of set-piece threat.
Today Vakh Abdaladze is a loosehead for Leinster and last November he earned his first cap for his homeland of Georgia, coming off the bench against Uruguay. A special moment for his family.
You may be wondering how the prop ended up in Ireland as a kid anyway. He does.
“I’ve never really sat down and chatted to the parents about the ins and outs,” he says. “But I kind of put two and two together. At that stage Georgia wouldn’t have been as developed as Ireland and at the time there was a bit of struggle there. So the family decided to move over to Ireland in around ‘01 or ‘02.
“The Celtic Tiger was booming – this was way before ‘08 and the global recession! But they wanted potentially a better opportunity and as my grandfather had passed away close to then, my father would have been the only man in the family. I would have been five or six at the time.”
Sport, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, was a gateway into the new community. At home, Abdaladze explains, there were tales of his dad’s exploits as well. The senior man only got a few caps and had a shortened career due to back injuries, but his son explains: “There’s very funny tales which he still tells to this day. Because they would have only recently turned pro, so they were travelling to games in Romania, Netherlands. They have quite a few stories as a new professional era was coming in.
“I’ve never fact-checked this but there was one story of when they were playing in Romania and in their accommodation they must have had training or something and they were hanging their kits off the balcony – and all the kit got robbed. So they had to play Romania wearing a local club’s kit.”
A good tale, whatever the authenticity. And legends like that help build the desire to represent the Lelos. Because Abdeladze was an Ireland U20 player and he had fought through the Leinster age grades from the club system rather than the schools one – though whether or not that is more impressive or par for the course, it’s lost on him anyway. He just kept playing his game.
There have been some hard days coming through injuries and at Leinster there is one of the most competitive classes of athletes you’ll find in the sport.
Vakh Abdaladze on Georgia
That’s home for him now. But he also answered the calling of his native land. So what can he tell us about his recent experiences?
“It’s definitely a massive honour and a privilege to be given the opportunity to come in here,” he says of being in Georgia’s camp.
“The standard is ridiculously high and it’s a step up in itself and yeah, constant challenges. And it’s helping me grow my game.
“You get a different sense of play styles. Like, the scrum is an obvious one. It’s a constant battle and I’m learning a lot here. They’re some of the best scrummagers in the world, so that’s a learning curve. And that’s not to take away from lads at Leinster. You’re talking about Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Church (Cian Healy) – they’re world-class scrummagers. But you come up against different challenges, which is in my favour, to develop my arsenal even more.”
Abdaladze is a note-taker. He doesn’t like the idea of just training and moving on, hoping some of it is absorbed. He studies. He has one-on-one chats. He’s crushing tape. And the feedback is interesting because it is clear there’s a different mindset around set-piece for some of the key men.
What he needs to learn to do, though, is savour these moments.
“I’ve had two pretty bad injuries and my most recent one I was out for almost two years. And to be honest, even to get back to this level… Look, I probably criticise myself more than I should. Friends are always telling me to pat myself on the back.
“I should be proud to get to this level considering where I was starting off from when I got back from injury. So when the call came to come here, I jumped on it. My decision was definitely more influenced by family as well. Everything I tried to do is to make them proud, so if I know they’re happy, then I’m happy.
“I’ve got family here in Georgia. And (against Germany) they’ll see me play for the first time. To see family see me sing the anthem – not many moments top that.”
The fight to make a Rugby World Cup is on for Vakh Abdaladze, but there are few finer front-row finishing schools.
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