Haig’s troops out to show their 2015 per­for­mance wasn’t a fluke

The Rugby Paper's Essential - World Cup Guide 2019 (Irish Edition) - - CONTENTS -

GE­OR­GIA en­joyed a fine RWC2015 with wins over Tonga and Namibia to earn third place in their Pool which guar­an­teed them an au­to­matic place in this year’s com­pe­ti­tion, but the fates have not re­warded them with the kind­est of draws four years later.

This time they line up against high-fly­ing Wales and Aus­tralia, who al­most al­ways get their act to­gether for World Cups, while Fiji are much fan­cied by many to cause a shock and pos­si­bly reach the last eight – which in the­ory leaves the Lelos and Uruguay scrap­ping to avoid the bottom slot in Pool D.

Ge­or­gia beg to dif­fer, how­ever, even if they will have to box clever. Kiwi coach Mil­ton Haig and his team will have stud­ied the fix­ture sched­ule and seen im­me­di­ately that their tour­na­ment piv­ots en­tirely on their mid­dle two games, against Uruguay on Septem­ber 29 and against Fiji just four days later. That’s their World Cup right there.

Th­ese are the matches the Lelos can win and should they se­cure a brace of vic­to­ries they would, un­der the cur­rent guide­lines at least, again qual­ify au­to­mat­i­cally for RWC2023.

Ge­or­gia will surely rest some key play­ers in the open­ing game against Wales with dam­age limitation their main ob­jec­tive while, af­ter play­ing Uruguay and the Fi­jians, the Lelos then en­joy the lux­ury of eight days rest be­fore one last hur­rah against Aus­tralia when they can field the strong­est team they have left stand­ing and play with lit­tle or no pres­sure.

The­o­ret­i­cally, Uruguay are Ge­or­gia’s ‘banker’ but they need to be wary of Los Toros be­cause the South Amer­i­cans in turn will be tar­get­ing that game above all oth­ers while the match with Fiji will present an in­trigu­ing clash in styles.

The Ge­or­gians are ex­actly the kind of team ca­pa­ble of ‘own­ing’ the ball for 80 min­utes against the Fi­jians and frus­trat­ing the hell out of them. And the Lelos have gone very well in­deed against Pa­cific Is­land teams re­cently.

As for Ge­or­gian rugby gen­er­ally, although there has been no massive spike in per­for­mance since RWC2015, there has cer­tainly been no dip or drop­ping off in in­ten­sity which can be a prob­lem in the emerg­ing na­tions, es­pe­cially af­ter a World Cup.

There has been a smat­ter­ing of new fix­tures against T1 na­tions – Scot­land, Ire­land and Wales – and, although still nowhere enough, it’s a start. A gutsy de­feat against an ex­per­i­men­tal Wales XV in Cardiff was prob­a­bly the high point.

Ge­or­gia have con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate the sec­ond tier Euro­pean Na­tions com­pe­ti­tion, even when field­ing sec­ond fif­teens to ease the work­load on their French based play­ers.

Their grow­ing strength in depth is en­cour­ag­ing but what hasn’t hap­pened yet is for a totem pole player to emerge, some­body like the now re­tired Ma­muka Gor­godze who was so in­spi­ra­tional in the last three World Cups.

Their for­wards are uni­formly strong and com­pe­tent, their front row re­sources sec­ond to none, and they do now have some young livewires at half­back. Brive scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidz­e is al­ready a vet­eran of one World Cup but will be chal­lenged for his start­ing place by Mont­pel­lier’s Gela Aprasidze while an­other Brive player – Tedo Abzhan­daze – has just com­pleted his third sea­son at fly-half with the Ge­or­gia U20 side and could well be a starter in Ja­pan. It is wider out they still struggle, lack­ing the ex­treme pace, clever foot­work and han­dling skills of many na­tions.

“We can get there but it won’t hap­pen overnight,” says Haig, who will be helped this time round by for­mer Eng­land as­sis­tant coach Gra­ham Rown­tree.

A tough cam­paign awaits but Ge­or­gia’s hunger and pas­sion is stronger than ever.

If RWC2015 was their big break­through, the Lelos must now con­sol­i­date be­fore look­ing to go up an­other level at RWC2023.

Ge­or­gia will be counting on cap­tain Giorgi Nem­sadze

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