EXETER, 7 Oct - It was an historic night for Georgia, who almost certainly secured their qualification for Rugby World Cup 2019by doing enough on Wednesday night to finish third in Pool C, but it was by no means a straightforward victory as Namibia fought them all the way in a match that eventually came down to a one-point margin and included four yellow cards.
Prince Harry was at Sandy Park to see a contest that defied all predictions as Georgia dominated every statistic but for large portions of the match were unable to convert them into points.
Providing the All Blacks win against Tonga on Friday, Georgia will have secured the all-important third position following their opening win against the Pacific islanders. This also marks the first time they’ve won two matches at a Rugby World Cup.
Billed as a battle of the captains, number eight Mamuka Gorgodze – with the crowd roaring his name – was again the inspiration for his team, scoring the first of the Georgians’ two tries. The equally talismanic Jacques Burger was forced off in the 10th minute after suffering a blow to the head. After losing by one point, the Namibians will be left to wonder whether Burger’s presence might have made the difference.
In both previous meetings between these two the victorious team was losing at half-time and the trend continued as Georgia trailed 6-0 at the interval, despite having dominated possession. In the first half, Georgia made 290 metres to Namibia’s 45, and nine clean breaks to none. Georgia looked to be suffering from nerves, making errors and losing possession, while the African qualifiers channelled the bulldog spirit of their absent captain by forming a blue defensive wall across the pitch and making tackle after tackle.
The half-time break was slow in coming, with the first stanza lasting 64 minutes including stoppage time. With repeated infringements on the Namibia tryline, referee George Clancy continued play and, after a series of scrums,eventually blew the whistle when a Georgia try was disallowed for a forward pass.
The Namibians started the second half with 13 men, after two yellow cards just before half-time, but came out as combative as they had finished the first. In Burger’s absence, man of the match Tinus du Plessis took on the mantle of top tackler while Renaldo Bothma repeatedly charged through Georgian tackles like a buffalo.
Yet Gorgodze (pictured above) proved why he is the only player so far to have won two man-of-the-match awards at this World Cup by ploughing through the Namibian defence for the first try.
The Georgians suddenly grew in confidence and it was not long before their second followed. Namibia looked exhausted and enjoyed little possession, yet the blue shirts kept throwing themselves into tackles and somehow managed to keep the Georgians from scoring again.
This enthralling match took another turn when Namibia's fly-half, Theuns Kotze, scored a late try in the corner and landed the difficult conversion which lifted the Welwitschias to within a point. With four minutes on the clock the Georgians kept their heads and the ball, and held on for a historic win.
At the final whistle it was relief and exhaustion rather than celebration from the Lelos, although they hoisted the superb Gorgodze into the air.
Georgia head back to Tblisi having achieved what they set out to; Namibia take their battered bodies to Leicester to face Argentina on Sunday.