'Phenomenon' Niniashvili changing perceptions
TOP 14 PREVIEW: Ever since the end of the 1990s French rugby and the Top 14 has been littered with gnarly, aggressive Georgian forwards making mincemeat of opponents at set-pieces, but one 20-year-old back is helping change the image of the Lelos.
Lyon’s Davit Niniashvili features at fullback as well as on the wing and has scored five tries in 15 league games since joining on an academy contract last season.
He also helped the club win the Challenge Cup in May on just his sixth European appearance.
“I remember his first training sessions. He was a young Georgian aged 18. We [the coaching staff] didn’t know much about him,” Lyon head coach Kendrick Lynn told reporters this week.
“But straight away we saw had very good handling, he made good decisions, he had good skills.”
“He has a huge acceleration. We said ‘Wow, who is this young phenomenon from Georgia?'” the Kiwi added.
When Niniashvili arrived in the foothills of the Alps in the summer of 2021, another Georgian in Beka Saghinadze, the bearded 110kg back-rower, was his housemate.
“Davit was lucky to have Beka when he came,” Lynn said. “Everything was easier for him.”
In July, Tbilisi-born Niniashvili, nicknamed ‘Nini’, was man of the match as his country beat Italy, a Tier One nation, for the first time.
“The win was historic for the Lelos, Davit was massive,” Saghinadze said.
“Davit is important, because he opens the door to young Georgians who want to play full-back.”
“They see it’s possible because it’s not just strong men who can play abroad,” he added.
That form has carried into the new Top 14 campaign.
He has scored three tries, including a double against Stade Francais last weekend also in the No. 15 shirt, when he booted a monstrous 50m penalty goal.
“These days in rugby, winger and full-back positions are very similar,” Lynn said.
“Since the start of the season Davit has asked me every week if he was going to start at fullback.
“He was right to do so, he plays well at that position.”
“I knew he’d show up against Stade Francais,” he added.
During the close season, he extended his contract to 2025 and signed a senior deal at Matmut Stadium.
This Saturday, Lyon and Niniashvili will head to Clermont, who have two Georgians in their senior set-up, Davit Kubriashvili and his fellow tight-head prop Giorgi Dzmanashvili, with the pair both weighing 122kg.
“Every time, we know he’ll give 100%,” Lynn said.
“He can make the difference in a match.”
Fixtures (kick-off times are GMT)
Saturday, October 1
Bordeaux-Begles v Stade Francais (13.00)
Clermont v Lyon (15.00)
Brive v Bayonne (15.00)
Pau v Toulon (15.00)
Perpignan v Castres (15.00)
La Rochelle v Racing 92 (19.05)
Sunday, October 2
Montpellier v Toulouse (19.05)