MASTERTON, 22 Sept. – If Georgia win their next match against Romania in Palmerston North, they will probably credit the home-cooked meals they’ve had at Masterton.
Just 105km from Arena Manawatu Stadium, Masterton is home to 22,000 people and surrounded by rolling green hills dotted with sheep and cattle from nearby farms.
It is here former All Blacks coach Sir Brian James Lochore – known as ‘BJ’ to the locals – and more than a dozen families invited Georgia’s 30-man squad and their coaches, doctors, and officials to their homes for dinner on Tuesday night.
“There would be enough families to have them over for tea every night of the week,” said Mark Mossman, or ‘Mossy’, during the scenic drive to the Mossman homestead.
He said New Zealand’s ‘stadium of four million’ meant there were many communities keen to share a meal, a drink, and their homes with visiting teams.
“We’re always going to be biased as New Zealanders,” he said in reference to the All Blacks’ campaign to break their 24-year Rugby World Cup drought. “But because we’re made of many communities, of small towns, we take an interest in the things that happen locally.”
Mark and his wife, Jo, their daughters Charlotte, 18, and Bridget 14, invited players Shalva Sutiashvili and Givi Berishvili to their 728-acre farm, Ranui.
The two Lelos and the Mossman family were also joined by neighbours Ross and Jolene Wakeling and their two sons, Gus, 13, and Hugo, nine years old.
While they dined on roast lamb plucked from the Mossman’s herd of 1,500 ewes, they chatted about Georgian geography and the local Wairarapa rugby club, East Coast, whose jersey shares the Lelos’ red and white.
“Having them over for dinner gives them a chance to relax away from the Rugby World Cup,” said Jo Mossman, whose father Brian Lochore coached the 1987 All Blacks team that won the first Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
In welcoming the Georgians to Masterton, Sir Brian revealed he did not have the privilege of a home-cooked dinner when he represented New Zealand rugby during the 1960s and 70s.
“As a player we never had the chance to go to people’s houses in foreign countries,” he said.
Sense of community
During his tenure as the All Blacks coach, Lochore made sure his players met the communities that supported and cheered the national New Zealand team.
It is this same sense of community that is behind Masterton and greater New Zealand’s enthusiasm for all things rugby.
“You’ve been playing such great rugby,” said Mark Mossman after meeting his guests Shalva and Givi.
The Georgians were also commended over cheese and crackers in the Mossman’s living room for their courageous performance in their 41-10 Pool B loss against England in Dunedin.
“That was really something against England,” said Ross Wakeling, who played in New Zealand’s under-21 team during the 1980s.
The two Georgians were flattered by their hosts’ encouragement.
“The final score does not reflect what sort of match it was,” said Sutiashvili, a flanker in the Lelos’ starting XV against England.
Sutiashvili and teammate Berishvili were overwhelmed by the welcome but managed to express their gratitude with a heartfelt thank you and an array of Georgian gifts, including a signed book about Georgian culture and a red Georgian team tie.
“We’ll be adding this to the collection of rugby ties,” said Mark Mossman. Framed and mounted in the family home is a collection of rugby ties belonging to his father-in-law Brian, who exchanged the mementos with rival teams during his rugby tours around the globe.
As the evening wrapped up over rugby tips, apple crumble and vanilla ice cream, Berishvili stood up and insisted on helping the evening’s chef, Jo Mossman, clear the table.
It was a simple gesture that reflected their appreciation of the Mossmans’ hospitality, with a few chuckles from their hosts over how often a Georgian rugby player helps clear the Mossman dinner table.
“This is really excellent,” said Sutiashvili.
“After spending a few months away from home training for the Rugby World Cup, we really needed something like this, being among family.”
The Lelos will be cheered on by their new Masterton families when they face Romania in Palmerston North on Wednesday, 28 September.