CARDIFF, 30 Sept – Georgia coach Milton Haig has made significant changes to the side that will face New Zealand on Friday in order to preserve his preferred team for their all-important final Pool C game against Namibia five days later.
After naming identical teams for the opening matches against Tonga and Argentina, Haig will introduce a number of fresh faces against the All Blacks including the previously unused quintet of Giorgi Chkhaidze (pictured), Lasha Lomidze, Alexandr (Sandro) Todua, Beka Tsiklauri, all starting, and Simon Maisuradze on the bench.
Prop Anton Peikrishvili also comes into the squad on the bench, replacing the unused Davit Kubriashvili who suffered a knee injury in Georgia’s warm-up game against Canada, which failed to heal in time.
“We’ve been pretty vocal about what our ultimate goal is at this tournament,” Haig. “We’ve got five days after the All Blacks game before we play Namibia which is very important to achieve our goal of qualifying for 2019, so it’s a necessary evil that our focus is on the Namibia game.”
In addition to the fresh faces, half a dozen players who started on the bench against Tonga and Argentina are promoted to the starting line-up for Friday night’s game.
“We don’t think there’s a heck of a lot of difference between the guys that we stuck out against Tonga or Argentina and New Zealand. We’ve worked pretty hard in the last four years to make sure we’ve created depth and competition for positions,” Haig said.
Based on experience alone Haig's comments ring true, with the squad to play New Zealand boasting 655 combined caps, Georgia's most experienced line-up ever in any match, and their second oldest side at a World Cup.
Senior players missing the chance to play the All Blacks include the veteran trio of Merab Kvirikashvili, Giorgi Nemsadze and Davit Zirakashvili.
“Some of the senior guys knew they wouldn’t get on for this match. There’s a few disappointed guys obviously, but we said three or four months ago that we all have a common goal and everybody agreed to this,” Haig said. “They don’t like it obviously, but it goes with the territory.”
Second row Chkhaidze is playing at his fourth World Cup, one of only two Georgians to have done so, and is relishing the chance to finally take the field at England 2015 and front up against the New Zealand pack. “It’s a big honour,” he said.
Georgia’s talismanic captain Mamuka Gorgodze, veteran centre David Kacharava and the 18-year-old World Cup history-maker Vasil Lobzhanidze all remain in the squad, although Lobzhanidze will start the New Zealand game on the bench in favour of Giorgi Begadze.