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Richard Cockerill on Akaki Tabutsadze: 'He reminds me of Jonny May'

By Jon Newcombe
Davit Niniashvili congratulates Aka Tabutsadze for scoring a try in the Rugby Europe Championship 2024 semi-final v Romania. Photo credit: Rugby Europe

Normal is a word that no one would use to describe Jonny May, the English eccentric who scored tries for fun before announcing his retirement after the recent Rugby World Cup.


However, according to Georgia head coach Richard Cockerill, May’s free spirit lives on in the shape of free-scoring Lelos winger Akaki Tabutsadze.

In the best traditions of scrum-cap wearing wingers, Tabutsadze doesn’t mind standing out from the crowd and Cockerill sees similarities between the players.

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Richard Cockerill on Georgia’s dangerous finishers

The Georgian head coach discusses the quality attacking threats his side have in both the backs and the back row.

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Richard Cockerill on Georgia’s dangerous finishers

The Georgian head coach discusses the quality attacking threats his side have in both the backs and the back row.

“Aka is a finisher, he reminds me of Jonny May, you have no idea what he is going to do but he managed to find a way to the try line.

“They are typical wingers; they have got instincts that they are born with around scoring tries and sometimes they do the daftest things so in that way they are both very similar.”

Tabutsadze needs one try to draw level with May on 36 tries; the England winger having got there in 78 caps. Tabutsadze has got 35 in only 39 test appearances.

The 26-year-old Black Lion player is a try-scoring machine, one of the best around, and RugbyPass TV users will get the chance to see him in action this Sunday when Georgia take on Portugal in the final of the 2024 Rugby Europe Championship.


Tabutsadze scored three tries in the semi-final win over Romania a fortnight ago, two in the 38-11 win against Portugal in last year’s final and one in the 18-18 draw between the teams at Rugby World Cup 2023.

Now that Tabutsadze, the leading try scorer in the REC with five overall, has been re-joined on the wings by fit-again Lyon star, Davit Niniashvili, Georgia have twin threats out wide.

“We’ve got two great finishers really with Nini on one wing and Aka on the other wing, they are both very good,” admitted Cockerill, who broke off from team preparations to speak with RugbyPass whilst in camp in Paris.

“Nini is a quality player, unbelievably skilful

“I have seen some very good wingers in my time. For a guy who is 21/22 years of age, I can’t think of many European teams that he wouldn’t get a game in. He is a special talent.


“If we can get the ball in his hands as often as possible along with all our other qualities, then we should be able to create some opportunities.”

While last year’s final was a one-sided affair, Portugal will go into this game believing they can win their first title at this level since 2003, when the competition had the less marketable name, European Nations Cup Division 1A.

Playing the game on the synthetic surface at the Stade Jean-Bouin in Paris should suit Os Lobos more than Georgia who, despite their stellar wing talents, will probably bank on winning the game using a direct and physical approach.

The six-time defending champions are unbeaten in 32 Rugby Europe Championship matches, and Cockerill knows they are there to be shot at.

“There is pressure on us to win; everybody expects us to win so we have to make sure we get everything right.

“The last three times we have played Portugal we have won one and drawn two. They were the darlings of the World Cup having beaten Fiji and they should have probably beaten us, so we’ve got a fair bit to prove to ourselves.

“We’ll be well prepared and we are certainly well motivated as a group.

“We have shown some really good parts of our play and I’m hoping we can bring all that together on Sunday and put in a complete performance.

“We know that we don’t play as well as we can they are a good enough team to beat us. They are very dangerous with the unstructured way they play.

“The Jean-Bouin is a great stadium but that (the synthetic pitch) is another consideration because we are a big physical team and Portugal are a quick, nimble team. So there are some challenges for us at the weekend around the surface and the opponents and making sure, tactically, we are very good at what we do.”

The 2024 Rugby Europe Championship final kicks off at 20:00 GMT and brings a bumper day of rugby in the French capital to a climax.

Belgium and Poland get proceedings underway at 12:00, as they compete for seventh place, the fifth-place decider between the Netherlands and Germany follows at 13:45, before Romania take on Spain for the bronze medal at 17:15.


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