Georgia Record Historic World Cup Triumph Against Tonga

In front of a capacity crowd in Kingsholm, Gloucester, Georgia registered arguably their best ever result with a 17-10 triumph against Tonga in their opening World Cup Pool C clash.

“The greatest moment of my career” was how outstanding captain Mamuka Gorgodze described Georgia’s victory over the Tongans, ranked five places above the Lelos in the world rankings. And among a wealth of excellent performances it was Gorgodze who spearheaded Georgia’s comeback having gone behind to a Kurt Morath penalty in the 9th minute.

The Lelos then spurned a straightforward opportunity to level the scores but the normally dependable Merab Kvirikashvili missed a routine penalty attempt. He soon made amends, striking between the posts in the 19th minute to level the scores at 3-3. A turning point in a tense contest arrived in the 27th minute as, after a spell of concerted Georgian pressure, Gorgodze powered his way over the line to score under the posts.

Referee Nigel Owens required video assistance to award the try but the Georgian players’ celebrations were convincing enough to suggest there was no decision to make. Kvirikashvili then dispatched the simplest of conversions to give Georgia a 10-3 lead.

Moments before half-time, Tonga thought they had scored a try of their own as Viliami Ma’afu raced over to touch down but the celebrations were cut short by referee Owens who correctly spotted a forward pass in the build-up.

Shortly after half-time Kvirikashvili, who enjoyed a mixed afternoon, missed another penalty but he was soon making up for it with a marauding run through the Tongan defence to lay the foundations for Georgia’s second try.

Working the ball from right to left, flanker Giorgi Tkhilaishvili stormed over the line for an excellent Georgian score in the 57th minute, to send the pockets of Georgian fans into delirium in the sun of southwest England. Typical of the topsy-turvy game Kvirikashvili was having, he then scored the conversion from a tight angle, by some margin his most difficult kick of the day. With a 17-3 lead and little more than 20 minutes remaining, victory was in sight but Georgia had to endure a nervy finale.

First, Tongan wing Fetu’u Vainikolo eventually broke through what seemed an imperious Georgian back line after several minutes of attacking pressure, touching down by the corner flag. By the time Morath converted the try, Georgia had been reduced to 14 men as Kvirikiashvili was sin-binned for a misdemeanour in the build-up to the Tongan score.

With eight minutes remaining, Tonga had an extra man with which to secure a tie with a converted try. But it wasn’t to materialise. First, Georgia ought to have put the game out of sight when they were awarded a penalty with five minutes remaining. However, with first-choice kicker Kvirikiashvili side-lined, Lasha Malughuradze stepped up only to hook his attempt wide of target. Nevertheless, the Lelos stood firm, defending heroically to earn a memorable triumph.

The scenes at the final whistle were simply euphoric as the Georgian players celebrated along with the few hundred Georgian fans who had made their voices heard all afternoon with their customarily vociferous support. New Zealander head coach Milton Haig, who had been claiming for months that Georgia’s preparations had been of a very high standard, was understandably joyous. "Today was pretty historic for everyone involved in Georgian rugby, and we are very pleased. "This is the best-prepared side ever to leave Georgia, and today we showed that. Fitness-wise, we were able to sustain our defence over 80 minutes, and that allowed us to come away with the win,” said the victorious Georgian head coach.

The victory is Georgia’s third ever at a World Cup and puts them in an excellent position to record two victories at the tournament, which was the mission the Lelos set themselves beforehand. However, Argentina, Georgia’s next opponents on September 25 again in Gloucester, won’t be relishing the prospect of facing a confident and courageous side, which might just be starting to dream of the knockout stage.

Alastair Watt

19 September 2015 22:46