Georgian Rugby’s “foreign legionnaire” - Nice to meet you, Matthew Janney!
24 December, 2015
Georgian Rugby’s “foreign legionnaire” - Nice to meet you, Matthew Janney!
Georgian rugby players have played in many Europeaan teams, and now it is our turn to take in a “foreign legionnaire.” Or, to be precise he is an English citizen returning to his Georgian roots!

“Not so long ago he used to date the well-known English actress Emma Watson. However, Matthew is not fond of discussing his personal life”

Matthew Janney is 23 years old. Born in London, he plays for the Oxford University rugby team and is (at least
outwardly) as English as it gets. However… “When we were small, Grandma used to tell us that our family originates from Eastern Europe – presumably Russia, but we were not sure. Grandpa was no longer alive by that time; he could have told us more,” recalls Matthew. After a lot of digging around various archives, it turned out that Matthew’s grandfather was actually a Tbilisi-born Georgian by the last name of Janashvili. So, our Matthew is actually Mate (pronounced Mah-teh) and not Janney, but Janashvili!
The moment our born-again Georgian Englishman discovered his heritage, he applied to World Rugby to allow him to play for Georgia. WR spent over a year verifying Mate’s ethnic origins, but eventually the 23-year-old got his coveted spot on the Georgia National Rugby Union Sevens and proceeded to prove himself to his new teammates in several matches that followed. By the way, not so long ago he used to date the well-known English actress Emma Watson. However, Matthew is not fond of discussing his personal life; when Georgian Journal was interviewing him, he requested to only be asked rugby-related questions.

– Matthew, not so much is known about you in Georgia. Could you please give us some information on your family and lifestyle as well as tell us when you became interested in rugby?

– I started playing rugby when I was six, for Richmond Rugby club... My grandfather was a rugby player for the Bank of England and I think it is from him that I acquired this innate love for rugby.

– So, you have learnt that your grandfather was from Tbilisi, and his family name was Janashvili. Could you give us the name of your granddad and his birth date? This way you may even find your Georgian relatives…

“I chose to play for Georgia for two reasons: 1) It would give me the chance to play rugby at an international level, and 2) It was a way to connect with a very important part of my heritage…”

– My grandfather was called Benjamin Andre Janashvili, and was born in Tbilisi in 1912. We think his parents were called Tanya and Meir, but it has been hard for us to trace official documents as they left Georgia almost 100 years ago.

– Can we say that if your ancestors had not migrated in 1921, today you could have been Mate Janashvili and not Matthew Jenney?

– I suppose I would be Mate Janashvili if my grandfather had not migrated - I am proud to be a Janney, as I know this means “strong” in Georgian!

– What was the first thing that you did when you learned that you had Georgian roots?

– After I learnt of my heritage, I travelled to Georgia and explored Tbilisi, Kakheti and the Caucasus. I wanted to get a feel for the country and see what the people were like. I loved it, and immediately felt I had an inherent connection to the country.

– You had an offer from a Russian team and refused. Why? What would Matthew say to those who say that he decided to play for the Georgian team only after your hopes of playing for the English team were dashed?

– I chose to play for Georgia for two reasons: 1) It would give me the chance to play rugby at an international level, and 2) It was a way to connect with a very important part of my heritage…

– You have already played for the Georgian Sevens Rugby team. What were your impressions?

– I loved playing for the 7s team - the boys were great and even if they didn’t all speak English, we found a way to communicate. Their rugby was at a high standard with a really good skill level.

– You told us that your new teammates are teaching you Georgian. Some of them even teach you Mingrelian! So, what did you manage to learn during your stay in Georgia?

– I learnt the basics of Georgian rugby - “burti” “kheli” “tsin” - and some swear words that I cannot repeat here, obviously! However, I am learning Georgian at Oxford, so I hope to practice when I return to Georgia.

– What can you say about Georgian cuisine and Georgian wine?

– I love Georgian food - especially khinkali and chakapuli - and the wine is great too. After all, the Janashvilis are from Machkhani, where they grow a lot of wine!

– Do you prefer sevens rugby or big rugby?

– Big rugby. I love sevens, but I consider myself a 15s player.

– Have you attended any of the matches of the Georgian National Team on the Rugby World Cup 2015? What can you say about the Georgian team and its playstyle?

– I went to see a warm-up game between Georgia and Canada. I believe Georgians play with more heart than any other team.

– What is your nickname, if you have one?

– My nickname is Mate, of course!

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