TOKYO, 13 Oct – Georgia return home from Rugby World Cup 2019 disappointed after failing to achieve their goal of winning two matches and finishing third in their pool.
While the Lelos earned a 26-point win against Uruguay, defeats by Wales, Fiji and Australia meant they were fourth in their group and fell short of automatic qualification for France 2023. They finished third in their pool four years ago.
The Georgians were in with a shout against Fiji for the first hour and against Australia until the last 10 minutes, but faded through a combination of fatigue and errors.
Only in the victory against Uruguay and against Wales did Georgia manage to rewrite that script, bouncing back from 29-0 at the break to match the Welsh with 14 points apiece in a strong second half before losing 43-14.
Few, if any, coaches at RWC 2019 can say they have dedicated as much to their team both on and off the field as New Zealander Milton Haig has for Georgia since his appointment in 2011. He moved his wife and two young daughters to Georgia for the duration of his eight-year tenure, where they became, in his words, part of the fabric of Georgian society.
The mismatch of forwards, most of whom play top-flight rugby in France, compared with nearly half of their backs still playing in Georgia's semi-professional domestic league, did not help Haig's cause.
It does appear to be turning through the likes of Tedo Abzhandadze, Vasil Lobzhanidze, Gela Aprasidze and the emerging talent of Giorgi Kveseladze, but until it does, Georgia will always be on the back foot.
Their set-pieces and scrum worked well enough for them to challenge for parts of the game - and their defensive effort against the Wallabies was, at times, epic.
With Haig, pictured above, staying on in Japan as head coach of club side Suntory Sungoliath, Georgia have to find a replacement with as much personal investment and commitment.
Player of the tournament
It is impossible to split 21-year-old centre Giorgi Kveseladze - one of only two players to start all four RWC 2019 games - and the departing legend, Mamuka 'Gorgodzilla' Gorgodze, pictured top, who gave his all in as many games, especially against Australia. He finished the tournament with 31 tackles at a team-best 97 per cent success rate.
Memorable moment off the pitch
Prop Levan Chilachava finding a way to stay cool and give a big fright to RWC 2019's youngest player, Vano Karkadze.
Memorable moment on the pitch
The Lelos' 33-7 win over Uruguay – their only victory at RWC 2019 – and the performance of Player-of-the-Match Otari Giorgadze, pictured in action below. The utility player is just 23, deceptively fast and with a power-to-weight ratio more akin to a prop than a back-row.
Touted as the next Gorgodze, RWC 2019 allowed a glimpse of just how good he is. Watch out for him in Top 14 next season, having gained promotion with Brive, where he plays with a host of other Georgians.
Veterans such as Gorgodze, David Kacharava, Giorgi Nemsadze, Shalva Sutiashvili and possibly several others will likely retire from the international scene, paving the way for the new generation of players Haig took to Japan.
Never in Georgia's history have they played so many Tier 1 opponents in such a short time, as they did before and during RWC 2019. The issue is whether they can keep getting those games to keep building on Haig's progress.
Quotes of the tournament
"You can't beat teams by just being one-dimensional. If we're going to test teams and win big games we've got to be able to use the ball as well." - Milton Haig
"She's always angry when she is watching my games because she thinks the other players are hurting me. She even thinks my team-mates are hurting me, and she says she will come to training with me and get angry at them. That's why she is daddy's girl – she is always trying to protect me." – Jaba Bregvadze, captain against Uruguay, on his five-year-old daughter, Elene.
How did they do?
Lost to Wales 43-14
Beat Uruguay 33-7
Lost to Fiji 45-10
Lost to Australia 27-8
By the numbers
4 - the number of Tier 1 opponents Georgia played (SCO, SCO, WAL, AUS) between 31 Aug 2019 and 11 October 2019. It was the highest number of Tier 1 matches they have ever played in such a short space of time.
3 - the number of rugby balls prop Guram Gogichashvili can juggle.
2 - the number of Georgian players who started in all four RWC 2019 matches: Giorgi Kveseladze and Konstantine Mikautadze. Kveseladze played every minute.
33 - the most points Georgia have scored in a RWC match, against Uruguay in 2019, overtaking the 30 they posted against Namibia at RWC 2007.
8 - the number of Georgians playing at newly promoted Top 14 side Brive in 2019-20, including four members from their RWC 2019 squad: Vasil Lobzhanidze, Tedo Abzhandadze, Otari Giorgadze and Vano Karkadze.