We know good things come to those who wait, but for this Georgian prop the hard work climbing the rugby ladder strengthened him
Those forearms and all his other ink. Ask Beka Gigashvili what it all means and he’ll tell you about family, team bonding, and the desire to keep moving forward and upwards. But etching such motivators onto his skin took some time.
Actually, that’s not true. It was more that there was a bit of time between needle buzzes – he got his first tattoo in France in 2014, but it wasn’t until we were all twiddling our thumbs during the Covid pandemic that he went on and got the majority of the artwork we see. He was moved to.
“I always wanted more tattoos but I never had anyone to draw it,” he says. “Then I decided to do it – I had a lot more time for this but also the will. I think I will get more when I have more time!”
This, if you’ll forgive us, is a nice illustration of a character point. Because no matter your designs, the first moves can be tough. You have to get underway and there is bravery in getting started. So 2014 was memorable for another very obvious reason in that Beka Gigashvili moved to France. “It was hard from the beginning,” he explains. “I was away from my family. But in another way it was life-changing. Because I was becoming a professional in rugby, a big change.
“Before moving to France, I wasn’t even thinking of this. But one day a player I know who was already playing in France called me and said this was the right situation for me. So after this I accepted a move, of course. That’s when I first began thinking about living in France.
“That was at Chambéry. The coach there was Michel Ringeval, who was the most important coach for me when it came to the scrum and learning the game. I had just started playing rugby when I came to France; I was 20 when I took up rugby and I had a very short time here in Georgia before I moved to Chambéry.
“The player I am today compared to then is quite a big difference. I gained a lot of experience from this period as well as confidence, and professionalism. I gained a lot of things I didn’t have before. I can’t really describe my game today, you’d have to ask some coaches! But I do everything with maximum effort just to be the best in my position and to help my team from that position. Whatever I can do, I’ll give my most.”
Interestingly, while there is a coyness here – and likely an aversion to a powerful spotlight – others in the Georgia camp highlight the 31-year-old Gigashvili as being “one of the best jokers in the team!”, yet he doesn’t enjoy describing himself.
So this guy is a fixture for Toulon at tighthead today, having climbed from Chambéry to Grenoble and then to the Stade Mayol in 2019. He’s the latest in a long line of heroes in the fabled Georgian pack. But he is shy when asked about it. Thankfully, though, we can ask opponents about just what he brings to the party. Particularly when it comes to set-piece time. Let’s scrum.
The first obvious note we get from opponents is that he is strong. You may think it’s an obvious start, particularly with his Pit Bull Terrier build. Later in our conversation, Gigashvili laughs as he tells us he enjoys wrestling, cracking up as he remembers times he’s locked up with his own brother back home, the other Gigashvili also a player in the Georgian domestic rugby scene.
However, it’s about what you do with your power. We are informed by one front-rower who tangled with him last season that he thrives with a fast scrum engagement. He wants to get into his optimum scrummaging body shape as early as possible – in seasons gone by, he would lean back into his second-rows, before shooting forward. However, today he is happier to maintain his balance, perhaps owing to increased confidence in himself and the monsters he has behind him. But it is an aggressive snap when the ball is put in that sets him apart.
He is an aggressor. That can be a risk in this game; go too hard and he can end up separated from his hooker as the scrum wears on. But he’ll go for it. And if the opposition No 2 isn’t on his mettle and active with their left shoulder, we are informed, he will relish coming straight through the seam between the hooker and loosehead.
His style, one scrummage-savvy contact tells us, is “very French”. Which makes sense. He has worked hard to shove through the levels of rugby there since his early twenties. It is now paying dividends. Hard work, as they say, pays off.
In 2020, coach Ringeval gave an interview with Var-Matin, who cover Toulon closely. The veteran coach revealed that Beka Gigashvili called him when he signed for Toulon to thank him for all his help. But the Frenchman felt that Gigashvili’s ethic was the key. In the piece, he says of Beka: “When he arrived in France, it was with the idea of succeeding. He gave himself the means. I have rarely seen that. He is a very hard worker. It’s true that at first he didn’t speak French but that wasn’t a problem. The message got through. A month after his arrival, he had integrated.”
Beka Gigashvili on Georgian goals
Humble to a standard, we wonder what someone like Beka Gigashvili would see as a good World Cup for Georgia, who face Australia, Fiji, Portugal and Wales in their pool. The tighthead tells us: “Every World Cup is good to show your country and your face on the global stage. But the main thing is to secure automatic qualification for the next World Cup. Just this means you’ve had a good World Cup. Then maybe we can have a better World Cup. We will certainly try.
“Georgia should have a goal to win every game they play at the World Cup. You achieve that through hard work and will, but you need a lot of things to work to win each of the matches. We hope we are capable of creating history for Georgia. This is the best opportunity for us to do it. We can show the world how much of a bonded team we are. And how we can stick together in every situation; how we can be side-by-side with each other all of the time. This is the main thing we want to show the world. And also, I want to show the world how Georgians fight until their last drop of blood on the field. To get the maximum out of ourselves and do it as a team.
“The main reason we can do this is because over the last four years we’ve had a lot of ups and downs. There was the Corona period, when we were stuck in South Africa. We had similar in Tbilisi as well. There were some not-so-successful moments during this period.
“But we also had two big wins and after those we had confidence as a team. Add all of these things together and we are more bonded.
“You notice that when we are on the field or off the field, in camp or out of camp, we always try to be together. Even on days off, we’ll gather together outside of camp with our families. So all of the time we are together. That bonds a team a lot. Even having days off with team-mates.”
In a previous chat with Rugby World, Gigashvili’s national team-mate and hooker Shalva Mamukashvili told us that no matter where you are in the world, “If you played rugby just once, you’ll know that all props are crazy!” But on the culture of the Georgian team, what Beka hints at likely culminates in the scrum.
As Mamukashvili tells us of Georgia training: “The thing is when we are at the camp, especially in Georgia, then yes, there is a competition. Yes, everyone needs to prove their place. But as we go to the scrum, nobody thinks about just themselves. In scrum training we must be perfect.”
Of course, sometimes with the Georgians we can be at risk of being all about the set-piece. So what does Gigashvili see as his main job?
“It’s not just about scrummaging, as it used to be for Georgia. The national team’s forwards aren’t just about making tackles and the scrum but about offloads and running. We are doing more than that. We are working on our rugby skills to show we can play at speed, and working on the visually pleasing side of rugby – not just pushing.”
We joke that we might see some Sonny Bill Williams-style offloads from the front-rower next, and immediately he quips that he sees the same tattooist as the former Toulon star. We aren’t sure if this is a gag or not because just as fast he adds, “Same tattoos, same offloads, same club…”
Maybe Mamukashvili is right about props. But Gigashvili also sounds like someone happy with the life they have found. For him that’s in France, and he has a view on playing a World Cup there.
“It’s a big advantage for the players who play in France and already live there. Because they feel like they are in their second home and they’ve already adapted to the atmosphere there. It makes things easier for you in that respect.”
It may be doubly the case for Beka Gigashvili, who has a son aged nearly nine months old at home. To be immersed in a landmark event in the country you live in, with cherished family so nearby, is special. Being able to get some sleep in camp is perhaps just a little added bonus for now…