The Lelos in the limelight: Georgia's chance to prove the doubters wrong

Merab Sharikdaze is Georgia's captain. Georgia Rugby

Saturday's Test match against Wales is not an ordinary occasion for Georgia, but if they had their way then it soon would be.

In the last decade, the Lelos have only played four games against Tier 1 Nations outside of the Rugby World Cup.

That's left them competing -- and thriving -- against sub-standard opposition.

In the last two years they've won 15 of their 20 matches. That run has seen them climb up World Rugby's rankings to 12th -- one spot ahead of Six Nations cellar-dwellers Italy.

"This is a chance that we don't get that much. Whenever we have it we want to use it," Georgia captain Merab Sharikadze, who played with injured Wales back row Ross Moriarty at Hartpury College, told ESPN.

"We know at the end of the day no one looks at the results in the REC [Rugby Europe Championship, the tournament below the Six Nations] or any other game, they only look at the results against the bigger teams, the Tier 1 teams.

"We win the same tournament every year but the progression is nowhere, it's pointless. So this game is a chance to prove that we deserve a chance to play the bigger teams, the chance to prove ourselves."

The problem for Georgia is that when those chances have come in the past, they haven't been able to take them.

Earlier this year they lost to Argentina in San Juan, while in previous November international series they fell to Scotland and Ireland.

But those results -- coupled with the fact they've never beaten a Tier 1 nation -- does not affect the team's confidence as they prepare to face Wales.

"I'm a New Zealander so no matter what team I coach I believe we can win anything!" Georgia's coach Milton Haig told ESPN.

"The reality is we have to have that self-belief because if you don't have self-belief then you're just going out there to make up the numbers. We would have been guilty of doing that at some stages, but certainly one of my messages throughout this campaign is to not feel as though we are just making up the numbers [but] that we're actually here to be competitive.

"Who knows, on any given day we want to make sure that we can cause an upset because it's about time that we do."

A win against Wales would send shock-waves through the rugby world and open doors for Georgia that are seemingly bolted shut.

Six Nations chief executive John Feehan will not budge on the idea of promotion-relegation in the annual competition despite Georgia's success against fellow Tier 2 nations and Italy's recent failures.

That's even with the Lelos getting crowds upwards of 40,000 at their home games in Tbilisi, while their commercial revenue is understood to have increased by 1,000 percent since the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Georgia's former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili also provides some financial muscle.

The situation has become increasingly frustrating for Sharikadze, who has made just six of his 55 international appearances against Tier 1 opposition.

"To be honest, for everyone that seems quite unfair doesn't it?" he said.

"I'm not saying that we must be in the Six Nations or anything like that, I'm just saying that we deserve a chance like everyone else. Every team who performs well deserves a chance to prove themselves."

Haig added: "You can talk about it, and there can be stories written about it that Georgia should be included in the Six Nations, but the reality is that until we beat one of those Six Nations teams it is only going to be just a discussion.

"If we get an upset, then it becomes more of a reality and people would say 'actually they do deserve to be there'."

While they patiently wait for more opportunities on the international stage, plans are already in place to improve the country's club system.

Georgia have a 10-team top division club competition, but the appetite is there to start a franchise and enter the global market.

"For sustainability and actual player development they need to be in a competition that will improve their rugby overall," Haig said.

"You can train as much as you like, but unless you get them on the field and put them under pressure against decent opposition -- that's how you learn the game mostly. So we're still looking for that opportunity whether it's a franchise team in a Southern Hemisphere competition or Northern Hemisphere we really don't mind, it's just we need to source something.

"We're talking to SANZAAR, we've been talking to them for the last couple of years. We're talking to the South Africans about Currie Cup possibilities, we're also talking to the French about PROD2 opportunities. If you get an upset over a big team then your credibility becomes a little more obvious and then that's when you start getting more opportunities to have a franchise."

Georgia hope those opportunities are enhanced after Saturday, or else it might be a little while longer before they're in the shop window again.