Given the lack of rugby in general over the last 12 months there is excitement growing ahead of the Men’s Rugby Europe Championship 2021 getting underway this weekend.
And, when you throw into the mix the fact that this year’s and next year’s tournament performances will play a big part in which countries will earn places at the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France, then it makes things even more interesting.
By the end of the Men’s Rugby Europe Championship 2022, two teams from Georgia, Spain, Romania, Russia, Portugal and Belgium or the Netherlands will qualify for the showpiece event with one more going into another qualifying event.
That is some way down the line though and for now the teams in the Championship will just be focusing on a solid start in the first block of games in the 2021 event which run from March 6 to March 27.
Belgium, who finished bottom in 2020, and Trophy winners the Netherlands will play their play-off match in the spring, so for now there are five teams who will be getting things underway, with four playing on Saturday.
Georgia are the holders and they will start off as favourites given that they are the highest ranked team in the competition at 12th in the world.
They won five games from five last time out to lift the trophy for the third year in a row and this Saturday they are on the road to Lisbon to face Portugal.
When the two sides last met in Paris last March, Georgia came out on top 39-24, but knew they had been in a match and Portugal have been improving gradually.
They won two out of their five matches in the 2020 event to finish fourth in the table, are 20th in the world rankings and it will be an intriguing encounter.
Russia also won two of their five games in 2020 and will be looking for a big improvement this time around.
This Saturday they host Romania in Sochi as 21st in the world meets 19th in the world with both teams announced the inauguration of the ‘Kiseleff Cup’ which the two teams will compete for annually.
The trophy has been named after the famous war general from the 19th century who was in charge of building a road in Bucharest, which is still named after him to this day - Şoseaua Kiseleff.
Last year it was 32-25 to the Russians in Krasnodar while Romania finished third in the table with two wins to their name.
Spain, runners-up last year and 17th in the world, have to wait a week until they return to competitive action.
The squad - who will have taken heart from the Women’s team winning their own Rugby Europe Championship for 2020 recently - are getting ready to host Georgia on March 14 in Madrid.
All games in the 2021 Rugby Europe Championship on Rugby Europe TV will have English commentaries, with the team being announced in the coming days.
Opening weekend’s fixtures
Russia v Romania (Saturday 6 February, 1pm CET, 3pm local, Sochi)
Portugal v Georgia (Saturday 6 February, 4pm CET, 3pm local, Lisbon)
By Gary Heatly
Image below: Lasha Lortkipanidze