TOKYO, 22 Sep - Analysis of Georgia, playing in Pool D with Australia, Wales, Fiji and Uruguay.
Georgia, playing in their fifth consecutive Rugby World Cup, are on an upward trajectory. In 2019 they have beaten every team they have played, apart from Tier 1 Scotland. They beat everyone they met in 2018 apart from Tier 1 Italy and Tier 2 Fiji and Japan, and beat everyone in 2017 apart from Tier 1 Argentina and Wales and Tier 2 Romania.
The Lelos are known for their forward-orientated game, and their scrum and lineout are even better than the stats suggest. Their backs remain a concern but are improving. At this Rugby World Cup, such "success" would be defined as victories over Uruguay and Fiji - matching their 2015 record - and competitive performances against Australia and Wales.
In the first half of the second match against Scotland, Georgia showed the game plan they need to employ against both Wales and Australia: keep it very tight and defend frenetically when the opposition get near your line. Georgia outperformed Scotland in the scrum and made their way down the pitch to score three penalties.
In 10 of their last 19 games, Georgia have restricted their opponents' scores to 10 points or less. Their defence is a strength and one they need to keep as they are not the type of team who will do well when the scoreboard sees a lot of action: in their past 30 games they have only won twice when the opposition has reached 20 points.
The backs are a weakness, albeit an improving one. The disparity between the ability of the forwards and that of the backs is significant. The expectation is that the backs of 2019 will be significantly better than Georgia have seen previously. Much has been made of the half-back pairing of Vasil Lobzhanidze and Tedo Abzhandadze, and how well they do in Japan will indicate how much we can expect from Georgian backs for the next four years.
After Gela Aprasidze replaced Lobzhanidze at scrum-half in the 60th minute of Georgia’s second warm-up match against Scotland, Georgia drifted away from their gameplan and tried to play an exciting game. It did not work as they conceded 19 points in the final 20 minutes. One of their tasks for this World Cup will be to add some flair while not stopping what they are good at.
The frenetic defending is good but it is tiring. Against Scotland in Edinburgh they conceded 26 points without reply, and in Tbilisi against the same opposition they lost the second half 21-7. In 2018 they lost 19-0 against Japan in the second half and 27-0 to Fiji after the break, having led 15-10 at half-time in the the latter. They may well run Wales and Australia close at half-time, but that is no guarantee that the scores will be close after the full 80 minutes.
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"No matter how much the Georgian backs improve, it will always be the forwards who dictate whether they win or not. The question for this year is how much help the backs can give."
Vital statistics (All Test Matches 2018)
World ranking: 12th
Average minutes of possession per game: 15m 51s (Ranked 18th of the 20 teams at RWC 2019)
Scrum success: 88% (15th)
Lineout success: 86% (12th)
Goal kicking success: 72% (17th)
Average tries scored: 3.2 (12th)
Average tries conceded: 1.8 (1st)
Seconds per pass/ruck/kick: 9.0 (19th)/13.6 (18th)/43.2 (3rd)
Passes per ruck: 1.5 (13th)