THE DARK HORSE

NZ Rugby World Tournament Guide - - CON­TENTS -

Keep an eye out for Ge­or­gia be­ing way bet­ter than you ex­pect.

Ge­or­gia have been world rugby’s big­gest im­prover since the last World Cup. They are com­ing to Eng­land with gen­uine hopes if caus­ing a few up­sets. MICHEL ESTI­ENNE re­ports.

THEY AR­RIVE IN ENG­LAND AS..?

Ge­or­gia have made quite con­sid­er­able progress over the last cou­ple of years. They eas­ily won the Euro­pean Na­tions Cham­pi­onship with nine wins and a draw, 32 tries and a 170 points goal-av­er­age. Since 2012 they have en­joyed a 19-game win­ning streak in that com­pe­ti­tion.

WHAT TYPE OF FOOT­BALL WILL THEY PLAY?

After ob­tain­ing in 2009 the High Per­for­mance Na­tion sta­tus, Ge­or­gia have opened them­selves to the world. They now play test matches in Novem­ber. They have won twice against top 10 teams (Ja­pan, Samoa), un­der Mil­ton Haig’s rule. Ben­e­fit­ing from World Rugby’s Strate­gic In­vest­ment Pro­gramme, the Le­los have de­vel­oped a more bal­anced rugby, not re­ly­ing only on their pow­er­ful for­wards any­more. Their con­fi­dence boosted, the Le­los play a more cre­ative and ex­pan­sive style, look­ing for spa­ces.

WILL THERE BE ONE PAR­TIC­U­LAR GAME THEY TAR­GET?

Their first game against Tonga in Glouces­ter might prove de­ci­sive. If they win, they can build mo­men­tum. If they have learned their les­son from their de­feat against the Pa­cific side back in Novem­ber (24-9), the Le­los may very well win.

In Tbil­isi last year, they had been lead­ing un­til Tonga scored three tries in the last 15 min­utes. Since, the Ge­or­gians have gone to Cet­niewo in Poland and used the Olympic train­ing cen­tre’s fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing cryother­apy rooms, in which tem­per­a­tures can go as low as -160°. How­ever en­thu­si­as­tic they may be, the Le­los will def­i­nitely keep a cool head dur­ing this World Cup.

DO THEY HAVE ENOUGH PER­SON­NEL DEPTH?

The Le­los have al­ways been short of backs. How­ever, the cre­ation two years ago of a fed­eral pro­gram for young play­ers (15-20) is be­gin­ning to yield in­ter­est­ing re­sults and pro­duc­ing good back­line play­ers. Lobzanidze is a good ex­am­ple. Other play­ers are slowly mak­ing their way to the top in the French Pro D2 such as Merab Sharikadze and Ta­maz Mche­lidze in Top 14.

POST TOUR­NA­MENT HOPES..?

Get­ting in­vited to the Six Na­tions would be a great achieve­ment. Over the last few years, this lit­tle Cau­casian coun­try has made ev­ery ef­fort to join the re­stricted cir­cle of the best Euro­pean na­tions. Their per­for­mance dur­ing the World Cup will cer­tainly help them.

GOOD SHOW: Ge­or­gia will be sur­pris­ingly en­ter­tain­ing.

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