Georgia hungry to face All Blacks at RWC 2015
By Jon Newcombe
Georgia head coach Milton Haig insists the job of qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2015 is only half done despite seeing his side book their place in England with a 36-10 win over Russia in the latest round of European Nations Cup Division 1A fixtures.
While the Lelos are now guaranteed of being involved in a fourth consecutive Rugby World Cup alongside ENC rivals Romania, the final match of the regional qualifying process between the two sides in Tbilisi on 15 March will determine who goes through to RWC 2015 as Europe 1 and Europe 2.
Should Georgia beat Romania they will be the top ranked European qualifier and join defending champions New Zealand, Argentina, Tonga and the Africa 1 qualifier in Pool C.
New Zealander Haig, who took charge of Georgia just over two years ago, admits such an outcome would be hugely significant for his adopted country.
“It’s awesome to have qualified, especially with two rounds of matches to go,” Haig said. “We’ve achieved one of our goals and now we want to achieve the other, which is to be in the same pool as New Zealand at the World Cup.
“To play against the All Blacks would be the ultimate rugby experience for our players, but first of all we have to play Spain and then it’s the big game at home to Romania. Although we’re on our way to England, the job is not finished yet, we need to finish top of the table.”
Strong second half
After eight matches over the course of this season and last only points difference separates Georgia (+160) from Romania (+130), who beat Spain 32-6 on Saturday to secure qualification, at the top of the ENC standings.
Roared on by a capacity 55,000 crowd, Georgia nearly got off to a flying start against local rivals Russia but pacey full back Merab Kvirikashvili was unable to cleanly gather his own chip kick ahead with the line at his mercy.
Worse was to follow for the Tbilisi-born player when he had a kick charged down inside his own 22 and the ball fell kindly into the arms of Russia wing Andrey Otrokov, who strolled over the line to score on 11 minutes. Dmitry Gerasimov converted to put the Bears 7-0 up.
Fifteen minutes later Georgia took the lead when tighthead prop Davit Zirakashvili muscled his way over from a rolling maul. Kvirikashvili added the extras to make the half-time score 10-7 to the hosts.
Georgia wasted no time in putting daylight between themselves and Russia at the start of the second half, Viktor Kolelishvili collecting an offload from fellow flanker Mamuka Gorgodze to score try number two. Gorgodze followed suit shortly afterwards, and with Kvirikashvili kicking both conversions Georgia were out of sight at 24-7.
Russia fly half Yury Kushnarev temporarily halted Georgia’s momentum with a 55th-minute penalty but that proved to be the Bears’ final scoring act at the Dinamo Arena.
A thrust down the middle by centre Merab Sharikadze set up a good attacking platform for replacement Teodore Zibzibadze to cross in the right hand corner for the bonus point try, before French referee Alexandre Ruiz rewarded the dominant Georgian pack with a penalty try in stoppage time.
Romania and Portugal victorious
“Russia put the ball in the air a lot in the first half and pressurised us with a good kick chase,” Haig said. “But we spoke about that at half-time and made sure we had enough men behind the catcher in the second period.
“Scoring so soon after half-time helped us and slowly but surely our forwards took control of the game. “It was great to have so many supporters cheering us on; it shows rugby is very much alive and well in Georgia.”
Meanwhile, two second-half tries from exciting left wing Ionut Dumitru helped Romania to overcome a slow start and beat Spain 32-6 at the impressive Cluj Arena.
The Oaks only held a slender 6-3 lead until being awarded a penalty try right on the stroke of half-time, which Florin Vlaicu converted to add to his two earlier penalties to make the score 13-3.
Spain scored first after the restart when Beziers-based fly half Charlie Melie kicked his second penalty, but there was never any danger of Romania letting the match slip through their grasp and Dumitru’s first touchdown, converted by Vlaicu, put the hosts two scores ahead.
Veteran fly half Valentin Calafeteanu then scored his first try in almost two years when he crossed the visitors’ line in the 65th minute. Vlaicu turned the five points into seven with the conversion but he was unable to add the extras to Dumitru’s second try and Romania’s fourth.
WATCH: HIGHLIGHTS OF WINS THAT TOOK GEORGIA AND ROMANIA TO RWC 2015
Bottom-of-the-table Belgium are staring relegation back to Division 1B in the face unless they can pull of an upset against Russia and Romania in their remaining two fixtures.
The Black Devils are now four points adrift of Spain and five points behind Portugal at the foot of the table after a 19-6 loss to the Portugese in Brussels.
Alan Williams’ missed kicks and a lack of composure in attack cost them dear, Portugal scoring the only tries of the match in the second half through second row Vasco Uva and centre Carl Murray.