Georgia captain says lack of fans won't spoil Twickenham 'big day'

London (AFP) –


Georgia captain Merab Sharikadze is looking forward to a "very, very big day" when his side face England in their first match at Twickenham on Saturday, even though a ground capable of holding a crowd of more than 80,000 will be largely deserted.

Coronavirus restrictions mean spectators are currently banned from most major sporting events in Britain, with only a small number of journalists, photographers and broadcast crews set to witness first-hand Georgia's Autumn Nations Cup opener against recently-crowned Six Nations kings England.

This will be only Georgia's third Test against England, following 84-6 and 41-10 defeats at the 2003 and 2011 World Cups respectively.

And Sharikadze was in no doubt of the significance of a match at England's headquarters, telling a conference call on Friday: "It's a very, very big day for us.

"We have been waiting for this for a long time and now we have to show our best side."

Unlike many of his team-mates, the 27-year-old does have previous experience of playing at Twickenham, with the England-educated centre having first appeared there in the same college side as England's Jonny Hill and Ellis Genge.

"I played at Twickenham in a final for Hartpury College, quite a while ago now and I played London Sevens as well, a few times," said Sharikadze, a veteran of 67 Tests.

"It was very good, obviously Twickenham is one of the greatest rugby stadiums you can ever get.

"It's a very good experience, obviously very different with a crowd but still tomorrow is going to be a great pleasure for us," he added after a training session on Friday that saw several members of the Georgia squad step onto the Twickenham pitch for the fist time.

Georgia were only drafted into the specially created Autumn Nations Cup -- a tournament also featuring Europe's Six Nations and Fiji -- after 2019 World Cup hosts Japan refused to tour the continent amid the pandemic.

While Georgia are renowned for their scrummaging power, with several players at leading French clubs, Sharikadze provides some much-needed experience behind the scrum together with full-back Lasha Khmaladze.

The skipper believes Saturday's match against World Cup finalists England will be a huge learning opportunity for Georgia.

"I'm quite confident in those guys," said Sharikadze.

"It's a great experience for them, a great opportunity to improve -- one of the best opportunities in life you can get."