Wednesday, 16 September 2015

RWC Preview: Georgia

Talismanic Mamuka Gorgodze is 'key to Georgia’s RWC 2019 campaign'A short look at Georgia's preparation and build up and squad for the tournament, as they hope to trump Tonga and qualify automatically for 2019.

Unlike the PNC teams who have all played up to around 7 or 8 games over the last 2 months, Georgia have not been so active on the field since winning the ENC for the fifth consecutive time in March.

Whilst they did play the Tbilisi Cup, this was again used more towards testing the fringes of the squad. So preparation has been more along the lines of other European sides, who whilst the PNC and Rugby Championship were going on, were heading off to fitness boot camps.

The success of Calvin Morriss'
fitness program, and whether it
will allow the Georgians to last the
whole 80 minutes will be key to
their hopes at the World Cup.

This has been a significant weakness for Georgia in the past, so it was made a priority by coach Milton Haig, who hired former long serving England fitness coach Calvin Morriss and sent the squad to cryotherapy chambers in Poland at the Cetniewo Olympic Center.

As a result though the warm ups for Georgia, have had more of a pre season feel about them compared to some others, and it's been hard to judge where they are at. The defeat to Newcastle was a game featuring around nearly 60 players, and teams completely changed at half time.

The Canada match was originally scheduled as a non test match the same way, but changed at the last minute to an international. Again Georgia lost, but Haig seemed relaxed about this, they didn't field their best side, and cited they had been turning down penalties in a one point defeat as it was still 'training'.

Finally they also lost to Japan in a game just 4 days later, this time in a seemingly more serious match, as they let their lead slip in the final 2 minutes. Still Haig hasn't seemed too worried, presumably thinking that was Japan's 8th match within a couple of months, whilst his side were just easing back from pre season, and saying the loss was good preparation.

Having said that though, ideally he would have surely liked the confidence of coming into the tournament having won one of those close matches.

The positives over the last year or so have been the tackling, with the centre combination in particular strong in this area. The scrum, whilst still overhyped, has also improved under the coaching of Didier Bés, although it is a lottery how much the likes of Nigel Owens, JP Doyle or George Clancy will referee this. 

One suspects the Lelos would have preferred a French ref, or at least a French speaking ref, and Owens in particular may not be a good from Georgia's point of view for his unpredictability in the scrum area.

GIF: Merab Sharikadze seen here taking the punch out of a move
from set piece, along with Davit Kacharava have formed a very
firm defensive partnership between them.

Georgia's most important match will be the opener against Tonga. Form is clearly in the Tongan's favour, who have the confidence of beating the Lelos comfortably last November.

They will be underdogs, but it is far from an unwinnable game. That game in November was actually 9-6 to Georgia at the hour mark, but they fell away in the last 20, just as they did in every game last November.

Particularly exaggeratedly so against Ireland where after not conceding a try in the first half, they played much of the second half with 14 or even 13 men after an injury a minute after having used the entire bench at around 50 minutes.

It is obvious as to why fitness was made a priority, but coming from such a low base, it is unknown how much of an impact the prolonged period of work they've done will have.

In addition to that, discipline has been suspect in the past, and the team has been easily wound up at times. Whilst much will also depend on whether the unpredictable Merab Kvirikashvili can deliver a solid performance at full back.

Whilst capable of creative and good moments, this has often been outweighed by Kvirikashvili's tendency for complete blunders which have lost points or put the side under pressure. All in terms of weak tackling, skewiff punt kicking, and an ability to swing from sweetly striking over kicks from 50 metres to missing from in front of the posts.

GIF: Merab Kvirikashvili has talent, and is capable of good and
creative moments. But regularly swings from good to bad, but his
bloopers in defence and kicking are often so comically bad they often
put his side under pressure. Whether he can deliver an unforced
error free, weak tackle free performance vs Tonga will be crucial.

The tournament's success will come down to the result against Tonga. A match between the very oldest team at the tournament, and one of the very the youngest, Georgia will be hoping their youth that has many players born in the 1990's can hold out.

If they win that then pressure is off for the rest of the tournament, with a win over Namibia very probable, and they can enjoy playing the All Blacks. Everything hinges on that first match, that may also decide whether Haig continues the job to 2019, where Georgia with some particularly exciting talent coming through at junior level will likely be a stronger side.

19/09 -  Tonga | Gloucester | Ref: Nigel Owens
25/09 -  Argentina | Gloucester | Ref: JP Doyle
03/10 -  New Zealand | Cardiff | Ref: Pascal Gaüzère
10/10 -  Namibia | Exeter | Ref: George Clancy

Loosehead Prop: Mikheil Nariashvili (Montpellier) has developed into one of the leading props in the Top 14 and is a now a clear first choice. Kakha Asieshvili (Brive) was about fifth choice a year or so ago, but after injury to Zhvania will now back up Nariashvili.

Zurab Zhvania (Stade Français) was originally in the squad as a loosehead that covered hooker, but got injured against Newcastle and was replaced by Simon Maisuradze. Vasil Kakovin (Toulouse) has been hampered constantly by injury since joining Toulouse and didn't quite make the cut. Davit Khinchagashvili (Racing) retired from international rugby before the initial squad was announced.

Hooker: Shalva Mamukashvili (Sale) makes it back after a nasty leg injury earlier this year and will be first choice. Jaba Bregvadze (Kochebi Bolnisi) has just about made it back after a severe career threatening neck injury ruled him out for over a year. Simon Maisuradze (La Voulte-Valence) was a late replacement for Zhvania, and will be third choice.

Irakli Natriashvili (Clermont) another player who has had bad injury problems in the past, opted to accept a deal with Clermont as World Cup cover.

Tighthead Prop: Davit Zirakashvili (Clermont) is the ball carrying option of the tightheads and previously preferred starter. But has competition from Davit Kubriashvili (Stade Français) who's regained some form lately, and Levan Chilachava (Toulon) who is perhaps the best scrummaging option.

Lock: Kote Mikautadze (Toulon) is the bulkiest of the locks, whilst Giorgi Nemsadze (Tarbes) also offers strength as a ball carrier and at rucks and was on good form last season. Experienced Levan Datunashvili (Aurillac) was a big injury doubt for this tournament but has made the squad.

Back Row: Mamuka Gorgodze (Toulon) remains the talisman of the team, and has moved back to number 8 more recently for Georgia. Vito Kolelishvili (Clermont) is another lock in the starting team. Giga Tkhilaishvili (Batumi) can play the role of the smaller, nimbler flanker, the experienced Shalva Sutiashvili (Massy) the tackling flanker, and Lasha Lomidze (Béziers) the tall bulldozing number 8, offering plenty of options there.

Dimitri Basilaia (Perpignan) a breakthrough player in the 2011 tournament, has fallen out of favour recently and didn't make the cut.

Scrum Half: Vasil Lobzhanidze (Armazi Tbilisi) will be the youngest player ever at the World Cup and is already first choice. Giorgi Begadze (Kochebi Bolnisi) and Vazha Khutsishvili (Rustavi Kharebi) will back him up.

Fly Half: Lasha Khmaladze (Lelo Saracens) has been first choice since 2013, but didn't feature prominently in the warm ups, with Lasha Malaguradze (Bagnères) who has been a sub for most of the past years starting both international matches.

Centre: Merab Sharikadze (Aurillac) is one of the strongest backs and has heaps of experience despite still only being 22. He and Davit Kacharava (Enisey-STM) have held the first choice centre positions since the last World Cup. Tamaz Mchedlidze (Agen) is the other player used at centre in the squad, but will likely shift out to the wing.

35 year old Tedo Zibzibadze (Périgueux) who made his debut back in 2000, looked like making the squad a year ago, but a long term injury ended his chances. Youngster Giorgi Talakhadze (Lelo Saracens) made the original 31, but got injured and was replaced by Muraz Giorgadze.

Wing: Sandro Todua (Lelo Saracens) regained his place in the team this year after a spell out of the side for defensive issues. Giorgi Pruidze (AIA Kutaisi) was one of the few players to take their chance in the Tbilisi Cup and rise into the squad. Giorgi Aptsiauri (AIA Kutaisi) will act as the utility back to cover from 11-15. Muraz Giorgadze (Armazi Tbilisi) was an injury replacement for Talakhadze, and played against Japan in the warm ups, so may not be that far behind Todua or Pruidze.

Full Back: The creative but unpredictable Merab Kvirikashvili (Montluçon) holds the full back position for his fourth World Cup, with Beka Tsiklauri (Locomotive Tbilisi) is the back up goal kicking full back.

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