Rugby-Deep-chilled Georgians strive to reach next level

By Mark Trevelyan LONDON, Sept 5 (Reuters) - It will be a case of 'out of the freezer, into the fire' when Georgia launch their World Cup campaign in an intimidating pool that pits them against Argentina's Pumas and the mighty New Zealand All Blacks. The Georgian squad prepared for the tournament with an 10-day stay in Poland to undergo cryotherapy, exposing themselves to temperatures below minus 100 degrees Celsius in a chamber cooled with liquid nitrogen. The treatment, designed to invigorate the body, ease muscle pain and relieve stress and insomnia, has been around for a while. But its central role in Georgia's build-up points to an approach that, under coach Milton Haig, is now more scientific and rigorous than in the past. Haig told Reuters the results were quickly evident as players set PBs (personal bests) in the gym. The New Zealander is very clear about the objective in the coming weeks: "The goal is to get third in the group and automatically qualify for the next World Cup in 2019." Guaranteed entry in four years would mark a new milestone in the development of rugby in Georgia, the only former Soviet republic among the 20 competing teams in England. The emergence of a successful side capable of thumping arch-rivals Russia has enthused the public and made a national hero of Mamuka Gorgodze, the giant back row whose bulk and aggression have earned him the nicknames 'Gulliver' and 'Gorgodzilla'. With New Zealand and Argentina favourites to top Pool C and Namibia likely to struggle, a key battle for the Georgians will be their opening match against Tonga in Gloucester on Sept. 19. When the two sides last met, in Tbilisi last November, Georgia led 9-6 after an hour but went down 23-9 after the Pacific islanders ran in three tries in the final quarter. Other memorable near-misses include a 14-10 loss to Ireland at the 2007 World Cup, when they were narrowly denied a try in the closing moments, and a 29-18 defeat by Argentina in 2013 after leading 12-9 at halftime. As they seek to convert more opportunities into victories, the Georgians will, as ever, rely heavily on their beefy forwards, most of whom ply their trade in France. Among the backs, 18-year-old scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze and dynamic centre Merab Sharikadze, just 22 but already a seasoned campaigner, are exciting prospects. The youngsters will be able to draw on the experience of second-row Giorgi Chkhaidze and fullback Merab Kvirikashvili, Georgia's record points scorer, both appearing at their fourth World Cup. (Editing by Rex Gowar)