Although England undoubtedly deserved their victory, the final score in this match didn’t exactly flatter them. Georgia dominated possession for large periods of the game and Martin Johnson’s side will know that they have been in a battle. Crucially, this England team made their chances count by running in six tries while Georgia managed to cross the line just before half time to set up what could have been a very interesting second period.
England took the lead early on after Dimitri Basilaia dropped a straightforward catch in midfield. The ball was fed to Shontayne Hape who broke to touch down just under the posts.
At 7 – 0 down with just four minutes on the clock, some Georgian fans may have been forgiven for looking back to 2003 and their record defeat at this level against an England side that went on to lift the trophy. In reality, that type of result was never going to be a danger and from the restart, the Georgians began to exert the type of pressure that was to be a feature of this match.
On seven minutes it briefly seemed that Georgia had responded in the best way possible as they stole an England scrum to feed Irakli Machkhaneli who crossed the line in the corner. Sadly a stray boot had entered into touch and the immediate danger was cleared.
The Georgian pressure was maintained however and after 10 minutes, Merab Kvirikashvili was given a simple chance to get points on the board but the penalty was dragged wide. Sadly this was to be a feature of Georgia’s play and after a solid performance against the Scots, Kvirikashvili was to have a poor night. Two minutes later he missed again with a much more difficult chance admittedly, but his side had wasted good opportunities to capitalise on their dominance.
On 21 minutes, the inevitable happened as Georgia were made to pay for those missed kicks. Against the run of play, England broke for Hape to cross over once again and Toby Flood made his second conversion of the evening to extend the English lead to 14 – 0.
Once again, Georgia responded well to the reverse and after Kvirikashvili missed again on 23 minutes, he finally slotted through the posts three minutes later to pull three points back.
Slowly England started to come back into the match and as possession started to even out, Flood added three points to restore his side’s 14 point cushion.
For the first time in the match, observers were starting to point at Georgia’s swift, four day turnaround after the Scotland game and ask whether fatigue would set in.
They had reckoned without the supreme stamina and resilience of this side and on 38 minutes Georgia were camped on England’s try line. Dylan Hartley transgressed once too often and following his yellow card, Georgia’s highlight of the World Cup to date came when Basiliaia crossed over just by the right hand upright.
At 17 – 10 going into half time and with England down to 14 men, the second period looked to be very delicately poised.
Initially, the start of the second half seemed to mirror the opening of the game as Delon Armitage crossed the line after 42 minutes. However, his boot had gone into touch in almost exactly the same point that Machkhaneli had crossed some 30 minutes earlier.
It’s not hard to guess at Martin Johnson’s mood in England’s dressing room at half time but whatever he’d said, his side were now playing their best rugby with just 14 men on the field. Four minutes later, that dominance was highlighted when Armitage squirmed through tackles on the touchline to make it 22 -10.
The next ten minutes seemed to sum up Georgia’s night thus far as Kvirikashvili missed two straightforward kicks at goal. By now, his side could have been in the lead and while it’s unfair to single out one man, Georgia’s overall dominance in possession had been wasted by poor kicking.
They were inevitably punished for their profligacy as Manu Tuilagi made a brilliant break on 62 minutes to cross over. A mere two minutes later, Chris Ashton followed and with two conversions, the score was suddenly beyond Georgia at 36 -10.
The fears of a hefty reverse looked as if they would be realised but in truth, the game petered out from this point. The momentum wasn’t helped by a nasty injury to Georgian wing Alexander Todua who was down for some time following a collision with Ben Youngs.
Right on the whistle, there was just time for Ashton to double his tally as he crossed over in the corner. The unconverted try made the final score 41 -10.
Georgia will be disappointed but they have won many fans today and their performance underlines just how far the nation’s rugby has come since that heavy defeat in 2003. Richie Dixon’s side will go into their match with Romania with a great deal of confidence which has been slightly tempered by injury concerns and the form of Kvirikashvili, but a repeat performance from this game, should see them take their first win of the 2011 tournament next weekend.