Georgia's new breed ready for Romania
Since the opening round back in February, Division 1A of the European Nations Cup has been building to this. On Saturday, unbeaten Georgia travel to face Romania in Bucharest, with the hosts also yet to taste defeat and eager to put one over their great rivals in the race for Rugby World Cup 2015.
The build-up to the match took on a new complexion last weekend. While Romania were putting in a strong showing to beat Belgium 32-14, the Lelos were running eight tries past Spain on their way to a 61-18 victory in Tbilisi.
In the wake of Rugby World Cup 2011, Milton Haig stepped in as Georgia’s head coach and brought with him a desire to play a more expansive game. The New Zealander saw his plans take shape in the last round and believes that we will soon see a complete Georgia team.
“I don’t think we’re too far away,” the former Bay of Plenty and Counties Manukau coach admitted.
“In the past Georgia have probably been a bit one dimensional in their style of play, just using their forwards to bash it up, and now with some of our young backs coming through we’re more exciting. I really want to play that brand of rugby and our loose forwards like that brand of rugby, when you spin the ball wide.
“Last year we were beaten by Spain, and there were a number of us that still had that in the back of our minds. We really wanted to make sure that we played well and had a good result. Luckily for us it came together, we attacked pretty well and we’d been working hard all week on that.”
One of Haig’s rampaging loose forwards is Montpellier’s Mamuka Gorgodze – or Gorgodzilla to his admirers. A veteran of two Rugby World Cups, the flanker is keeping his feet on the ground when it comes to Romania and the qualification process, despite their recent successes.
“Of course we feel confident for this game, but Romania are a serious team. We appreciate their strength and approach the game with great amount of care,” said Gorgodze. “Both of our teams are favourites and as the game is considered as a final of the tournament, I would say it is 50-50 for both of us.
“The game is very important for Georgia and for the fans, but it is highly important for World Cup qualification. We are both considered as the strongest teams in the European Nations Cup. Our goal is to win that game.”
Haig believes that victory in Bucharest will grant his side a measure of control over the qualification battle. With his plans for an all-action Georgia beginning to bear fruit, he’s slowly coming around to the idea of fulfilling a long-held ambition of coaching at a Rugby World Cup.
“It would be a lifelong coaching dream,” he said. “It’s a goal I set myself a few years ago, that I really wanted to coach at a World Cup. I didn’t expect it to come so soon really. The opportunity here in Georgia has allowed me to chase that dream and we’ve put ourselves in a good position with four wins out of four. We’ve still got next year to go, but qualifying would fulfil a lifelong dream for me.”
Both Haig and Gorgodze have treated their favourites tag in the same manner, with careful respect. Confidence is a wonderful thing for an international rugby team to have, but on this occasion they are focusing intently on each game to ensure that no unwelcome shocks derail their passage to England 2015.
“Certainly we have the expectation of qualification, but we are not overconfident,” Gorgodze said. “We do not have the feeling that we will qualify easily as a lot of teams have improved their performance and there are no more easy games – that’s why we approach the issue of qualification with caution.
We appreciated the strength and confidence of the Spanish team for instance, and prepared quite seriously for the game. It was not an easy win.”
On taking the Georgia job in December 2011, one of Haig’s stated aims was to ensure that his side began climbing the international ladder. In his sights were Scotland and Italy and with his side now showing further promise he believes that they’re closing in on that goal.
“We’re using the ball a little bit more and it’s allowed us to have more of an all-round game,” he said. “We still need some more time to develop it and understand that type of game, because it’s new to some of our guys, but I’m confident that in the next six to 12 months we could, if we get an opportunity, put the frighteners up a Tier One nation, that’s for sure.”
Whoever emerges victorious at the Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf on Saturday will be crowned European Nations Cup champions for 2013, but the race to qualify for RWC 2015 could go down to the wire next year.