Georgia to face All Blacks challenge at RWC
World champions New Zealand await the top European qualifiers Georgia after the Lelos beat off a brave Romanian challenge in Tbilisi to win the FIRA-AER European Nations Cup Division 1A title.
In what was always expected to be a tight, tense battle in front of a capacity crowd of 27,000 at Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in the Georgian capital, a try by tight-head prop David Zirakashvili of Clermont Auvergne coupled with some excellent marksmanship by full-back Merab Kvirikashvili was enough for Georgia, who finally won out 22-9.
A titanic performance by Georgia’s pack, especially 21-year-old second row Konstantine Mikautadze and man of the match openside flanker Mamuka Gorgodze, ensured Georgia enjoyed more possession with fly-half Lasha Khmaladze an unflappable general behind the scrum.
On the other hand, Romania were guilty of giving the ball away too readily. That, coupled with the fact the Oaks suffered three yellow cards, meant they were always under pressure, particularly in the second half.
Great Rugby World Cup occasion
So October 2, 2015 has suddenly become a big day in Georgia’s sporting calendar as they will face the All Blacks in the famous Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for what will surely be one of the great Rugby World Cup occasions.
In addition to New Zealand, Georgia will play Tonga on September 19 in Kingsholm, Argentina six days later at the same venue and the Africa 1 qualifier – yet to be determined – on October 7 at Sandy Park, Exeter.
Captain Irakli Machkhaneli spoke afterwards of the significance of winning the right to face the world champions at one of Rugby’s most iconic venues.
He said: “It’s going to be huge for the Georgian team to play against the world champions and a team with the history and quality of New Zealand. It will be wonderful for the development of Rugby in Georgia. We don’t have any illusions of how difficult it will be to play them and I am not going to predict the result but I think with this one match Georgian Rugby will grow. It will be a great boost for Rugby in our country.”
Haig looks forwad to facing his countrymen
Georgia head coach Milton Haig, himself a New Zealander, said he would relish the opportunity to go up against his countrymen on the Game’s biggest stage.
“For Georgia and the guys, to play against the All Blacks – something we’ve never done before – will be a special occasion. Of course, as a coach and a Kiwi, it will be something I have never dreamed of before and it will be massive.
“But there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before we get to that stage. We will enjoy this victory and then prepare well for Rugby World Cup. We will be targeting two wins in our pool at least. It is a realistic goal for us. We proved in Argentina that we can be competitive against Argentina and our first goal in England will be two wins thus qualifying automatically for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.”
Meanwhile, although distraught at having lost the match and the ENC Division 1A title to their perennial rivals, Romania can find solace in the fact that they have still done enough to qualify for the Game’s pinnacle tournament in England next year. By qualifying as Europe 2, Romania will have their own share of big occasions to look forward to, most notably their opening match against France at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Howells accepts Romania beaten by better team
They will also play Ireland in Wembley Stadium, Canada at Leicester City Stadium and Italy at Sandy Park. So plenty to look forward to for fans of Rugby in Romania.
Coach Lynn Howells said: “Georgia were the better team, they deserved their win and as the Romanian coach I am a little disappointed with how my team played today. The whole object of the European Nations Cup for us was to qualify for the RWC and we achieved that so I am happy. Our group for RWC is probably not much tougher than Georgia’s so we still have the chance to do well in England next year.”
IRB Council Member, President of FIRA-AER and International Olympic Committee Member Octavian Morariu, who attended the match, added: “Today we saw a great game of Rugby. Georgia played better than Romania and deserved their victory. But most of all it was a great day for FIRA. We are trying to get more professional and we try to promote our teams. This match was the best promotion for the quality of Rugby that exists within FIRA.
“These countries are closing the gap very quickly on the Six Nations and it is clear to me that the standard of teams like Georgia and Romania is improving all the time."