Georgia has Kiwi knowledge to get them through the Rugby World Cup
Hidden deep in the mountains of Georgia is a New Zealander who will be cheering on two teams this Rugby World Cup. Milton Haig is a former Counties Manukau, Chiefs and New Zealand Maori coach, now the head coach of Georgia at the Rugby World Cup. Georgia, who have been drawn in the All Blacks' group, have never made it out of the pool stages of the cup, and will be targeting victory against Namibia this time around. As he prepares to face the All Blacks in Cardiff on October 3 (NZ time), Haig talks about coaching in a foregin language, powerful forwards and how much he misses fresh fish.
Why did you become a coach?
It was a natural progression for me from a player into a coach, because I was a halfback and, as people know, they do a lot of "on-field coaching" anyway. It was also a passion that I was lucky enough to make my job.
Why did you decide to coach overseas?
It was a great opportunity for our family to go and experience a different way of life and culture. It will allow our children to broaden their minds and at the same time I get to coach an international side at a World Cup, something most coaches would love to do.
How does coaching in Georgia differ from New Zealand?
You do a lot of coaching in a foreign language. That was really hard to learn to do for a start. You speak in English a lot, which some players don't understand, so you have to use someone to interpret for you, so every instruction takes double the time to say and put into action. Other than that, it's doing the same job I would be doing in New Zealand.
What are the fans like?
Here in Georgia the fans are very passionate about rugby, just like in New Zealand.
How would you describe your team's style of play and its culture?
Our style has changed in the last 3½ years as we have expanded our game to make sure that we use the ball out wide more now. However, we are still able to use our big forward pack as well, which has been a big strength of Georgian rugby for many years now.
What do you think of this year's All Blacks?
They are obviously the best team in the world. It will be a big occasion for Georgia as a country and the Georgian rugby team to play them for the first time ever this year at the Rugby World Cup. The All Blacks' win against Australia in Auckland was certainly something to see and only re-emphasised how good they are.
What is your favourite place in Georgia?
The mountains in an area called Kazbeki, in the northeast, are fantastic and the region is very similar to the Remarkables area in Queenstown. We also love Gudauri, also in the northeast, which is a snowboarding and skiing resort, 1½ hours from Tbilisi, the capital city.
What is one thing you miss about New Zealand, and why?
Going to the beach and all of the fresh fish, because I've realised that we have the best in the world of those things in New Zealand.
What was the last book you read?
Not sure, but I'm currently reading Legacy, by James Kerr.
What was the last movie you saw?
It was a Disney film, that I went to with my children: Big Hero 6.
If you could invite any four people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why?
Bono, Barack Obama, Winston Churchill and Colin Meads. Let's face it, they would be such an intelligent and interesting conversational group and Pinetree can keep everyone grounded!
What would you serve them?
Bluff oysters and Nelson scallops to start, followed by prime New Zealand fillet steak, with garden-grown vegetables and new potatoes for the main. Dessert will be strawberries out of my garden, with homemade vanilla icecream and chocolate sauce.
And to drink?
It would have to be Georgian organic wines, white and reds, for during the meal and Hennessy XO Cognac to finish.
Interview: AMY JACKMAN
Photo: GETTY IMAGES