This was always destined to be a physical encounter and not the most attractive game of rugby you’ll ever see but you can’t blame Georgia for playing to their strengths as they powered to a 25 points to 9 victory in Palmerston North.
As they prepared to face a team that they routinely beat in the European Nations Cup, the weight of expectation was on Georgia to record their second ever World Cup tournament victory and maybe the pressure resulted in a slightly nervous start that saw Richie Dixon’s side camped in their half for the opening few minutes.
Even more worryingly, the powerful Georgian pack were comfortably outmuscled in two early scrums, the second of which gave Marin Dumbrava a good opportunity to put three points on the board for the Romanians. The kick was missed and from the drop out, Georgia slowly began to settle.
On nine minutes, Romania gave away a penalty just inside their own half but as anyone who saw Merab Kvirikashvili’s opening kick against the Scots two weeks ago will know, it was well within the fly half’s range. For Georgia to be effective in this match, Kvirikashvili needed to forget about his poor display against the English and return to his form at the start of this tournament so there were encouraging signs when his long kick sailed through the posts to give Georgia the lead.
The rest of the half settled into a pattern as Kvirikashvili and Dumbrava began to trade penalties, although Georgia’s fly half did land a crucial kick on 32 minutes to give his side a six point cushion.
Chances to land tries were scant although Revaz Gigauri did briefly threaten from the wing before being pushed into touch some 20 yards from the line.
Further kicks were subsequently exchanged until right on the whistle, Romania’s Iulian Dumitras had the best chance of the match. Kicking high from his own half, he was allowed to continue unchallenged to collect his own ball and as the Georgian defence parted to give Dumitras sight of the line, he fumbled his own catch and the danger was gone.
Therefore at the break, Georgia had maintained their six point lead and went in to the second period at 12-6.
The second half started in much the same manner as the first and Romania enjoyed a much brighter opening than their opponents. Handling errors and a wild Georgian pass that went straight into touch were assisting the Romanians but against the run of play, Kvirikashvili was given the first chance of the half.
For the first time in the game, the fly half’s touch deserted him but if Georgian fans were starting to show some concern, their worries were short lived as Dixon’s men finally started to take a grip on the contest.
From a long period of possession, Georgia found themselves camped deep in Romanian territory and eventually, the moment came as Mamuka Gorgodze powered over the line through some weary defending. Kvirikashvili added the points and suddenly there was daylight at 19 points to 6.
Finally, Georgian dominance was starting to show and after withstanding their opponents’ physical onslaught for nearly an hour, Romania’s game began to fall apart through indiscipline and basic handling errors.
Georgia never really came close to breaching the try line again but penalties were conceded and after landing one out of the next two attempts, Kvirikashvili had made it 22-6.
Straight from the restart, substitute Florin Vlaicu landed Romania’s first points of the half as he made it 22-9 but it wasn’t long before Georgia responded and with Kvirikashvili off the field, replacement Malkhaz Urjukashvili slotted home.
From here, the game slowly drew to an uneventful close with Georgia recording their first win of the 2011 World Cup by 25 points to 9.
It was sad to see some neutral reports complaining about the standard of rugby on offer at the end of the game. In some respects, the main thing for Georgian fans is that they asserted their superiority and made sure that they won the game and while we would all like to see them play flowing, attacking rugby at the back, that simply isn’t their strength.
On the whole this was a solid team performance and after a nervous opening, the pack stood firm, controlled by the dynamic pairing of Victor Basilaia and Mamuka ‘Gorgodzilla’ Gorgodze. The backs had a decent, if not outstanding game and there were some encouraging performances from the replacements too.
Georgia remain in Palmerston North to take on Argentina on October 2nd and this win will have given them renewed confidence that they may just cause an upset.