KUMAGAYA, 28 Sep – A preview of the Group D match between Georgia and Uruguay, which kicks off at 14:15 on Sunday at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium.
The Big Picture
Uruguay have opted for a similar line-up to the one that surprised Fiji and will be looking to consolidate their place among Pool D's top three, while Georgia coach Milton Haig has made a raft of changes and says it is crunch time for the Lelos.
"We are at a tipping point in our tournament," Haig said. "The Uruguay match becomes a must-win for us. We're under no illusions about where we are and what needs to be done."
The New Zealander has made 12 changes to his starting line-up for Sunday's game, with only three survivors from the team that played Wales.
Some of the team's biggest names are either on the bench or out entirely, but there is no shortage of experience in the Lelos line-up. The team will be led by Jaba Bregvadze, with regular captain Merab Sharikadze on the bench after being cleared to play following a knee injury. It is Bregvadze's first time leading the side, as he wins his 56th cap.
Haig said squad rotation was always on the cards given the short turnaround between the Uruguay game and the Lelos’ next outing against Fiji (on Thursday, 3 October).
"We don't really see a lot of significance between what team went out against Wales and what team goes out here," he said.
"We were committed as a coaching group to giving everyone a chance, and from now on it will be the best players on the field. So if (the players) turn up some form tomorrow (Sunday), (they) might get selected for the next game."
While Uruguay will be full of confidence following their victory over Fiji, the Lelos will be aiming to bring their opponents back to earth. If they cannot, their mission of automatic qualification for RWC 2023 is likely to end in failure.
Form guide (most recent matches first)
Played five – Georgia 3W – Uruguay 2W
In the spotlight
While Georgia are traditionally known for the strength of their forward pack and dogged defence, Uruguay beat Fiji at their own game in terms of flowing rugby and the effectiveness of offloads. The match may become a battle of two styles – fast and furious versus strength and aggression.
Georgia believe the depth in their squad permits such dramatic player rotation and have some impressive new young backs to show off, but a lack of consistency in leadership and starting line-ups may cost them.
The return of Georgia's regular captain Merab Sharikadze (on the bench) after a knee injury is big news for the Lelos.
Notable Georgian absentees from the squad include four-time World Cup participant Davit Kacharava, Mikheil Nariashvili, who was stand-in captain for the Wales game, and Giorgi Tkhilaishvili. Talismanic giant Mamuka Gorgodze is on the bench, as is RWC 2019's youngest player, Vano Karkadze, who comes into the squad for the first time in Japan. Gela Aprasidze gets the nod at scrum-half in place of Vasil Lobzhanidze.
The only survivors from Georgia's starting XV that played Wales are 20-year-old fly-half Tedo Abzhandadze, alongside fellow back Giorgi Kveseladze and forward Konstantine Mikautadze. This time around, Kveseladze will play at outside-centre rather than on the wing.
For Uruguay, coach Esteban Meneses has made just two changes to the starting line-up that played Fiji, with Juan Rombys replacing Diego Arbelo, and Alejandro Nieto at number eight in place of Manuel Diana.
Stats and Trivia
Georgia and Uruguay will meet for the sixth time on Sunday, with Georgia winning the last three encounters, most recently a 19-10 win in Tbilisi in 2015. The teams played each other at RWC 2003 when Uruguay triumphed 24-12.
Uruguay will be aiming to win two matches at a single Rugby World Cup for the first time on Sunday, having previously won one match at both the 1999 and 2003 editions of the tournament.
The 30 points Uruguay registered against Fiji was a record for them at the World Cup, as was Felipe Berchesi's 15 points in a single RWC match. It was only the third time in RWC history that a team won a match despite scoring two fewer tries than their opponents.
"(Uruguay's win over Fiji) didn't surprise us at all. If you've watched Uruguay progress in the past 12 months, and more so in the past three months, they've made huge improvements in everything they do. They've got some pretty smart people involved in their coaching staff and in their physical prep performance staff, so I knew they would come into this tournament ready to create an upset." – Georgia coach Milton Haig on Uruguay’s win over Fiji.
"It’s the result of a four-year-long effort in which players and staff have planned carefully and with full dedication. It’s the outcome of a massive effort and the sum of many small achievements that culminated in the performance." - Uruguay coach Esteban Meneses (ARG) reflects on his side's win over Fiji.