A slice of history was made last weekend when Georgian side Black Lion played their first game in EPCR competition.
They arrive in Llanelli on Friday night to take on the Scarlets in the second round of this season’s Challenge Cup.
Here we take a closer look at Europe’s newbies and their threats.
So who are Black Lion?
Formed in 2021, they are a Georgian rugby franchise who have been playing in the Rugby Europe Super Cup, a tournament that also includes teams from Romania, Portugal, Spain, Israel, Belgium, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. They have been champions for the last two years, beating Tel Aviv Heat of Israel 29-17 in the 2022 final in Tbilisi.
The team is owned by the Georgian Rugby Union and coached by Levan Maisashvili, the former head coach of the national team, who left his post following the side’s disappointing showing at the recent World Cup in France. Maisashvili also masterminded Georgia’s famous win over Wales in Cardiff in November 2022.
Black Lion play at the impressive 27,223-capacity Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, named after a player who was voted the best in the history of Georgian international football.
Along with South African side The Cheetahs, they are one of two invited sides in this season’s Challenge Cup.
How did they get on in round one?
In soaking conditions in Tbilisi, they pushed a young Gloucester side all the way before losing 15-10.
They did score the only try of the game and although conditions meant the match turned into a bit of an attritional kick-fest, Black Lion looked dangerous on the counter. As you would expect from a Georgian side littered with internationals, their set-piece was also strong.
Who are the players to look out for?
Fly-half Luka Matkava is the man who pulls the strings and was Georgia’s No. 10 at the Rugby World Cup in France. He scored all of his side’s points against Gloucester including the only try of the game, a superb individual effort which sliced open the Cherry and White defence.
Centre Giorgi Kveseladze made 27 appearances in a couple of seasons at Gloucester in the English Premiership and will be remembered for a wonder-try against Ireland in Dublin during the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup.
Wing Akaki Tabutsadze is Georgia’s record-try scorer, a devastating runner with a prolific record. Added to his tally against Portugal at this year’s World Cup.