Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The last team to win an ENC match against Georgia

imageSince the 2007 World Cup, Georgia have lost just two ENC matches out of 34. Here is a lookback at the most recent upset against a multi national Spain side in February 2012 in Madrid.

Pre Match:

In the fixture in Tbilisi the previous year, Spain had been obliterated 60-0 as Georgia marched towards a Grand Slam. The teams had completely changed now though, in total just 9 of the 30 starters from the 2011 game started in 2012.
Breakdown of nationalities in
the Spain 22 vs Georgia 2012

In Spain's case just 3 starters remained as under coach Regis Sonnes they fielded was must one of their most foreign sides in their history. In the matchday 22 there were just 4 Spanish born players, they were joined by 11 French players (9 in the starting XV), 3 English, 2 New Zealanders and a South African and an Australian.

Sonnes made full use of the IRB eligibility rules and had gone on the rampage in recruiting both French players of Spanish origin or players qualified by residency from the Spanish league. 10 of the 22 first appeared on a Spanish teamsheet either in this match or the previous game against Uruguay.

The selection policy would not be too many's taste but the additions of players like Castres and former Clermont centre Pierre-Emmannuel García, Béziers fly half Charly Malié and Auch wing Sébastien Ascarat made them a fair bit stronger.
Former Clermont and
Castres centre Pierre-
Emmanuel García

Georgia on the otherhand had a weakened side, missing nearly all the notable Top 14 players like Gorgodze, Kakovin, Khinchagishvili, Zirakashvili, Kolelishvili or Kubriashvili. The 5 front rowers in the squad had a total of 8 caps between them and included 3 debutants aged 20 or 21. Notably in the backline, there was an 18 year old making his debut, Merab Sharikadze the youngest international centre since 1966. New coach Milton Haig actually said after the match that he didn't select the side.

Despite not being at full strength though, Georgia had played weakened sides in the ENC before and still had only lost just 1 game in their last 22 and would have expected to win and probably should have.

The Match:

Georgia spent a quarter of the match in Spain's third of the field, but the Spanish launched some great counter attacks to win the game. Two of the most experienced players in the Georgian side, the half backs Abuseridze and Kvirikashvili kicked loosely out of hand and also helped it.

All of Spain's 3 tries were scored from their own half and all stemmed from Georgian errors. Sempere's first profiting from a bouncing ball after an unclaimed chip kick by Malié. The second came from a garbage kick by Kvirikashvili, followed by missed tackles by Todua and Gigauri. The third from a garbage pass by Abuseridze.
GIF: Poor kick by Kvirikashvili poor tackle by Todua
The game was really a mixture between Spain playing better than usual and Georgia worse. Spain took points from all 4 of about 5 real chances, Georgia kept messing it up.

The try that came from Abuseridze's pass completely summed up the game. Basilaia had just missed a great opportunity, but Georgia still had pressure on the Spanish line and then they escaped with a 95 metre try. It was a try worth 14 points to Spain, saved one and scored one to take a 25-8 lead.
GIF: Basilaia misses a try scoring chance ...

.... leads to this 95 metre Spanish try (Video)

If Georgia had scored a try there they would have certainly won the game, as much of the last 30 minutes was Georgian pressure. But the Spanish held firm defensively to tackle Machkhaneli into touch just before the line, whilst Shkinin made a complete hash of a two on one. Despite creating the opportunities, the Lelos could only manage two tries as Spain clung on to the lead.
GIF: One of the chances Georgia let slip
It was just one of those days where everything seemed to go against Georgia. They had two players sin binned for tip tackles the latter of which was utterly ridiculous as Chkhaidze had lifted Peluchon but put him down safely on his feet, and during those sin bin periods Spain scored 18 points. Talking of questionable referee decisions, it would be interesting to see a close up replay of a potential knock on for the first Spanish try.
GIF: Chkhaidze's dubious yellow card


Spain continued on their passage handed debuts to a French Top 14 prop Franck Labbe, an Argentine and another New Zealander before the tournament ended. They backed up their success against Georgia by beating Romania (who were also weakened) in their other home game. But los Leones were not so good away from Madrid, whilst Georgia brought back a load of players and won the rest of their games, Spain lost to Portugal and Russia which cost them their only ever chance of winning the title.
Regis Sonnes led Spain to
their best ever ENC finish
but left his role soon after.

Still it was their first ever top two finish in the ENC which was reason for them to celebrate, but the success of 2012 was short lived. They refused to offer Sonnes anything more than a one year deal and he wanted one that ran to the World Cup in 2015, he soon left to join Bordeaux and with him went a fair amount of the foreigners he had brought in.

Oddly despite their best ever ENC season, the FER had a backlash against the French influence and when the sides met again in 2013 only 7 of the matchday 22 remained. Georgia on the otherhand were strengthened due to it being a World Cup qualifying year and trounced them 61-18 at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium. Spain went from their best ever finish in 2012, to finish bottom for the first time since 2004.

Now in 2014, Spain are already on their second coach since Sonnes after his replacement was sacked and after starting the year in massive danger brought back a load of the French players. Far too late for a chance World Cup qualification, but they look like they will keep them up. However despite a stronger team this year it was pretty evident in their last match against Romania that even with their French players, the top two opposition has taken a step forward and not experimenting so much and the Oaks dealt with them easily. Even in Madrid, Georgia will expect to do the same as well.
This game was Milton
Haig's first in charge.

For Georgia, aside from a 46-0 pasting of Russia, Milton Haig didn't have the greatest of first years in charge. The ENC was retained, but many of the errors in this match were repeated throughout the year. Aimless kicking from the likes of a horribly off form Abuseridze and shoddy tackling from the likes of Todua cost them a win over Fiji.

Still though, this ENC match is the only one the Lelos have lost in their past 19. Several real youngsters who played this game have now developed over two years from rookies into useful members for the first choice side, and Haig has been making some more progress of late even though it was a while coming. Last November they played well for most parts and should have gone undefeated, and in the ENC so far none of the opposition has come any closer than 25 points.

Match Details:

Spain: 15 M Peluchon14 R le Roux13 C Sempere12 P-E García11 S Ascarat10 C Malié (C Blanco 50)9 S Rouet1 A Pradalié2 B Auzqui (J Phipps 53)3 J Moreno4 T Parker (C Lyons 64)5 J Recuerda6 G Gibouin (M Roca 62)7 G Rolls8 M Visensang.
Tries (3): Sempere (6, 44), Visensang (18) Conversions (2): Peluchon (19, 45) Penalties (2): Peluchon (3, 38)

Georgia: 15 R Gigauri (G Skhinin 53)14 I Machkhaneli13 D Kacharava12 M Sharikadze11 S Todua10 M Kvirikashvili9 I Abuseridze1 M Nariashvili, 2 S Mamukashvili (K Asieshvili 70)3 B Sheklashvili (L Chilachava 51)4 L Datunashvili5 K Mikautadze (G Nemsadze 46)6 G Chkhaidze7 G Berishvili, 8 D Basilaia (G Kalmakhelidze 53).
Tries (3): Basilaia (15), Machkhaneli (58), Datunashvili (69) Penalty (1): Kvirikashvili (36) Sin Bins (2): Todua (3), Chkhaidze (37)

Referee: David Wilkinson (Ireland) | Venue: Estadio Nacional Complutense, Madrid | Attendance: 10,000

Full Match Video:


  1. radu florea5/3/14 10:55 am

    hopefully for us, Romanians, you'll count the third defeat in 15.03 in Tbilisi! ;) just kidding! All I want is a good match and the best to win. Looking forward [for RO and Georgia] for the RWC.

  2. Georgia's comedy halfback pairing certainly cost them that match. It was a classic Abuseridze performance where he threw his hands in the air at every ruck remonstrating for the ref to call phantom penalties.