Muscles in Brussels: New Look but Same Dominance for Lelos

Georgia began their 2017 Rugby Europe Championship campaign in impressive fashion, earning a bonus point in a 31-6 triumph over Belgium in a bitterly cold Brussels.

Several young players, including four debutants, were selected in Milton Haig’s lineup but there was no sign of inexperience in a strong performance that swept aside the Belgians.

And there were a few of the older heads to guide the rising stars, most notably full-back Merab Kvirikashvili who opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a crisply taken penalty from just beyond the Belgian 22.

Ten minutes later, the Lelos notched their first try of the afternoon when the towering flanker Lasha Lomidze rose to clutch a lineout a few meters from the Belgian line, after which the Georgian pack bulldozed its way beyond the whitewash with fellow flanker Giorgi Tkhilaishvili eventually being credited with the score.

Kvirikashvili duly dispatched the conversion to give the Georgians a ten-point lead, with things looking ominous for Belgium who were backed by a near-capacity crowd.

A minute before half-time, the Lelos surged further ahead and it was a special moment for center Giorgi Koshadze who, after being fed by fly-half Lasha Khmaladze, dived through the posts for Georgia’s second score.

The simplest of conversions followed from Kvirikashvili to hand the visitors a 17-0 advantage at the break.

After the interval, the Belgians began to impose themselves more on the game and two penalties reduced their arrears to 17-6 by the 57th minute.

However, that was as close as the home side would get to Georgia who soon raced out of sight with two further tries.

The notoriously relentless Georgian pack was too much for Belgium to handle, eventually leading to the concession of a penalty try in the 68th minute which Kvirikashvili converted to increase the Lelos’ cushion to 24-6.

The Belgians were ready for the bath by this point but the hosts had to endure an extra eight minutes beyond the 80-minute mark as Georgia pushed patiently for the fourth try that would yield a bonus point.

Once again, forward power proved effective for the Lelos as number eight Beka Gorgadze muscled his way over the line, before Lasha Malaguradze kicked home the conversion to secure a 25-point winning margin for the championship favorites on matchday one.

But that wasn’t the most eye-catching result on week one as Georgia’s next opponents Germany made headlines with an historic 41-38 triumph over Romania in Offenbach.

This was the best result in Germany’s rugby history, and they come to Georgia this weekend looking to at very least improve upon their 59-7 reverse suffered a year ago in Avchala.

The Lelos play their first home match of the year on February 19 in Rustavi, a city built in part by German prisoners of war in the 1940s.

Germany’s route to rugby progress has been assisted to a large degree by the relaxed residence rules, allowing them to pick a number of South African-born players.

Regardless of the composition of Sunday’s visitors, their victory over the Romanians will ensure that Georgia treat Germany with not an ounce of complacency as they bid to make it two wins from two.

Alastair Watt

16 February 2017 18:47