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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Wrestling for the cause
By Dmitry Shishkin and Matt Majendie

Most international front-row forwards need at least a modicum of wrestling experience before heading into the melee of a ruck or maul.

Levan Tsabadze
Tsabadze is unlucky to be missing out on the World Cup

But few are better equipped for the role than the 110-kilogram Levan Tsabadze.

Before turning his focus solely to rugby, Tsabadze was a "rather talented" world-class wrestler.

He got to grips with some of the world's bulkiest contenders in the ring and won gold in the junior world championships.

Tsabadze was a certainty to be in the side, but a serious shoulder injury prior to the naming of the Georgia World Cup squad scuppered his chances of appearing on the sport's biggest stage.

Nevertheless, the 30-year-old looked on the bright side and told this website how he moved from wrestling to rugby.

"I have been involved in sport all my life," said Tsabadze.

"I realised I needed to practice to stay on the same high level, but sometimes I couldn't even find a place to wrestle.

"The hard times came for Georgian wrestling as there were no tournaments for us to compete in so I decided to try something else

TSABADZE FACTFILE
DOB: 8/1/73
Position: Prop
Test debut: 3/4/94
Club: Montferrand (France)

That "something else" turned out to be rugby, which led to his international call-up more than a decade ago in 1992.

His bulky presence was clearly well suited to the role and he has flourished as one of the leading lights of the international side.

His second-choice career has taken him across the globe, most notably to France where he plays his club rugby for Montferrand.

A former national captain, he is one of the most recognisable faces in Georgia after coming third in last year's sports personality of the year competition.

While he may be twice the weight of Tony McCoy, the champion jockey who was third in the English version, he is no less determined.

Tsabadze added: "We will fight all the way to the end of the World Cup - we will be fighting for the pride of Georgia."

That fighting for pride may only stretch so far, with Georgia tipped by many for the Pool C wooden spoon.

Crowd boost

But the prop is adamant that increasing interest in the game in Georgia will give him the required boost to overcome Uruguay, the other minnows of the group.

Tsabadze recalled: "When I first played for the national team, there were only 500 fans in the stadium.

"When we played Russia for the place in the World Cup finals more than 70,000 supporters were cheering us on."

Few of those fans are likely to make the trip to Australia, but up to five million people are expected to watch from home - it is just a pity that one of the sport's most charasmatic characters will not be taking part.





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