Dimitri BASILAIA has vowed to repay head coach Michael Bradley for bringing him to Scotland for a first taste of top-flight club rugby by helping Edinburgh break their Heineken Cup duck against Racing Metro on Friday.
The 27-year-old No 8, who can play anywhere across the back row, impressed Bradley when he was helping coach Georgia up until his move to the Capital in 2011, and when Basilaia became available from his second tier French club Valence d’Agen, a transfer was negotiated.
Partly due to a knee ligament injury which has kept the 6ft 3in and 17st 4lbs Georgian out since mid-October, Edinburgh fans have rarely set eyes on the 21-times capped player, bar a couple of stints early on from off the bench against Munster and Zebre and a start against Treviso just before the Heineken Cup kicked off. He is eager to be involved against the French side at Murrayfield.
Even in those cameo outings, Basilaia has looked an asset, particularly with his powerful broken-play running and ability to link with colleagues.
The fact that he is ready to burst on to the scene again and make up for lost time is a mouth-watering prospect which might just be the catalyst needed for Edinburgh’s revival.
“I feel I am ready again physically and really looking forward to any opportunity,” said Basilaia, speaking exclusively to the Evening News in his first interview after spending an initial period upon arrival learning English.
Progress has been swift on the linguistic front. “I have had a teacher helping me two days a week but mostly I have learned on my own,” he explained, “and I know that if it was not for Michael Bradley, I would not be here. Michael was a big help to me with Georgia.”
In fact, Bradley was part of the Georgian set-up when Basilaia notched a debut try against Portugal in Tbilisi back in 2008.
Since then, Basilaia has amassed 21 caps in such diverse locations as the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk for a match against Russia, Prague and Commerce City, Colorado, where the USA were encountered.
There was also the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, where Georgia confirmed hints that they should be getting more regular cracks at the elite of the international game and on a personal level, Basilaia achieved a feat that makes him unique among the Edinburgh squad.
It was in Dunedin that he scored a try against the full England line-up, which is something only one Scot, Castres’ Max Evans, has done in six meetings since 2007.
Basilaia’s score came in a 10-41 defeat and he also lined-up for a Georgian team who ran Scotland close before going down 6-15 in Invercargill.
“It was funny coming to Edinburgh and finding some of the Scots boys I played against were now team-mates,” he recalled, “but every week is adding to my experiences, having started back in Georgia, aged 12.
“My ambition is to do the best I can for Edinburgh also to turn out for Georgia early next year.”
Basilaia’s record for Georgia is good. He won his first matches for his country and more recently, he’s tasted success in his last three. However, he hasn’t played internationally since last March because of the knee injury sustained when he made his European debut against Munster from off the bench in Limerick this season.
“That injury maybe cost me caps against Fiji and Japan during the Autumn, but if I can do well over the next few weeks with Edinburgh, hopefully I will be involved for the second tier Six Nations. “Georgia are lined up to play Russia, Spain, Portugal, Romania and Belgium and the Heineken Cup can maybe help get me involved. It is a massive tournament and one that is followed at home.
“It was always an aim of mine to play in the European Cup and part of the reason I left Georgia aged 20 to join Clermont Auvergne, where I spent season with the Espoirs (Under-21s). I’ve always been a professional rugby player since I left school, but my rugby education has been good, too. Moving to Valence d’Agen got me more game time, where I even came across some of the players who are liable to turn out for Racing Metro on Friday.
“They are a big, powerful side, but I know Edinburgh have the ability to reverse the result in Paris last weekend and I’d love to be part of the squad.”
Edinburgh are expected to have to make one change, with winger Tom Brown likely to be ruled out with knee damage.
Coach Bradley has also made a habit of rotating his squad, but more bulk in the back row that can be provided by a fit Basilaia may be what is required to deny the Racing juggernaut possession.