Full House Roars Georgia on to 16th Straight Win over Russia

Araucous home crowd of over 55,000 at Tbilisi’s Dinamo Arena, which exceeded the attendance at Rome’s Olympic Stadium for Italy v France the previous day, roared Georgia on to a 28-14 victory over neighbors Russia last Sunday evening in the penultimate round of matches in this year’s Rugby Europe Championship.

The Georgia v Russia fixture has become a reliable annual boost to the national morale here, with this the sixteenth Georgian success in a row. Scenes of adulation and joy followed the final whistle at a packed Dinamo Arena but this wasn’t quite as emphatic as the Georgian fans perhaps expected.

Indeed, this was Georgia’s narrowest winning margin over the Russians on their home turf since a slender 9-3 success in 2004.

Under Milton Haig, prior to this match the Russians had lost 46-0, 36-10 and 33-0 in Tbilisi. With the Russians having endured a poor campaign so far, including a loss to Spain, expectations among the home support were of a similarly merciless demolition.

Such hopes were only further encouraged when Georgia notched their first score of the evening inside four minutes. After some typically robust forward pressure, the ball was swept left from scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze and eventually found center Giorgi Koshadze who dived over for the opener as the Dinamo erupted.

Full-back Merab Kvirikashvili did the honours with the resulting conversion to hand the Lelos a 7-0 advantage.

And the experienced Kvirikashvili would then produce the moment of the match, embarking on a thrilling run from deep in his own half, sliding past three Russians before setting up Lobzhanidze for Georgia’s second score in the 27th minute, which was duly converted.

Georgia couldn’t add to their tally before the break, although their 14-0 lead should have been reduced on the stroke of half-time. A rash decision to run with the ball, rather than kick to touch for the half-time whistle, ultimately led to Russia winning a penalty.

Home blushes were spared when Russian fly-half Yuri Kushnarev fired wide.

Following the restart, the Georgians continued on the front foot with the uncompromising Mamuka Gorgodze spearheading much of their attack. It was after another spell of sustained pressure near the Russian line that Lobzhanidze pounced to touch down for his second of the afternoon.

Kvirikashvili’s conversion extended the advantage to 21-0, with over half an hour to go. However, there was to be no humiliation for the Russians who fought back valiantly.

The dogged determination of full-back Ramil Gaisin would secure the visitors a first try of the game in the 55th minute, scoring a meter from the posts to give Kushnarev a straight forward conversion to reduce the arrears to 21-7.

The Russians conceded a penalty almost immediately but Kvirikashvili missed a routine kick which briefly kept the visitors in the game.

Georgia soon restored their 21-point cushion though when Lobzhanidze found Davit Kacharava, and the experience replacement slid over the whitewash for the fourth Georgian score of the match.

The final try of the evening would go to the Russians though as a breakdown in Georgian defensive lines allowed Bogdan Fedotko to score his first international try.

Kushnarev’s conversion brought it back to 28-14 but the Russians had limited time remaining to snatch a defensive bonus point, let alone a draw.

A lap of honor ensued for the home side upon the final whistle, which the fans embraced vociferously, suggesting that the extent of the winning margin was actually of minimal concern.

The result keeps the Georgians top of the table going into the decider against second-placed Romania in Bucharest on March 19, while Russia are in danger of finishing bottom and a subsequent relegation play-off.

Alastair Watt

16 March 2017 17:33