The last full round of Autumn Nations Series fixtures kicked off in Cardiff as Wales welcomed Georgia to the Principality Stadium. The pressure seemed off of Wayne Pivac following a win over toothless Argentina last weekend, but his men found themselves behind within minutes of the kickoff courtesy of a penalty from Tedo Abzhandadze. A period of Welsh pressure after 15 minutes gave them a penalty to the corner, but after the maul was halted, the ball was spread wide and Alex Cuthbert found himself tackled into touch by Davit Niniashvili. However a clever lineout move a few minutes later saw Jac Morgan go over for the try, Rhys Priestland adding the extras. And Morgan was over for another just minutes later as quick recycling of the ball allowed Tomos Williams to find him unmarked on the blind side. Wales were turning a period of dominance into points, and thought they had a third try after Josh Adams won the chase to his own kick, only for a forward pass to him from Tomos Williams to wipe the score off the board. and the teams went into the break with the score at 12-3.
The second period started much like the first, with most of the game taking place between the 22s, but Wales’ decision to keep kicking the ball came back to haunt them on 50 minutes as Alex Cuthbert was given a yellow card for taking out Alexander Todua in the air. And the Georgians took advantage once they made it into the Wales 22, with Abzhandadze’s cross-kick finding Todua in acres of space for a try just before the hour, with Abzhandadze’s conversion making it a 2-point game. And as the Lelos got the momentum, the fly half had a chance to put them ahead with 15 minutes remaining with a penalty, only to pull the kick to the left. With 7 minutes remaining, it looked like Jac Morgan had completed his hattrick after an error from Niniashvili under the high ball, but replays showed that Taulupe Faletau had knocked on in the build-up as he tried to collect his own kick on. A massive Georgian scrum allowed them to clear their lines, and the next with 3 minutes remaining demolished the Welsh scrum on their own ball to earn a penalty, and with his first kick of the game, 21-year-old replacement fly half Luka Matkava kept his nerve to kick the Lelos into the lead. An error at the restart gifted Wales with one more opportunity off a scrum, but the Georgian pack once again demolished them on their own ball to earn a penalty and secure an historic 12-13 victory.
Georgia are an improving team with a good solid defence, but let’s be honest: they aren’t Ireland or the Springboks. And yet Wales made them look like such with an aimless attack.
Yes they may have had a spell where they scored 2 tries (and just missed on another) in the first half, but beyond that the attack looked pedestrian, despite a the entire back line being regulars in the 23 or highly experienced internationals. And while the pack showed a few more changes, you would have thought there was still enough there to beat the Lelos.
Instead, the attack looked aimless as Tomos Williams and Rhys Priestland kicked ball away, the pack struggled to make any metres of note in contact and the return of Owen Watkin at 12 appeared to break any midfield chemistry that had been building between George North and Nick Tompkins. And it all combined to leave players like Louis Rees-Zammit feeding of scraps.
Wayne Pivac has been in the role for years now, and yet there is no consistency of selection as he appears to still have no idea what his best XV or his team identity is. And with losses at home to both Italy and Georgia in 2022, they are lucky that the Six Nations relegation suggestions haven’t began in the same way they do each time Italy lose a game. It seems clear now that Pivac is not the man to lead the team, and while replacing him now would be a late call, it would allow Wales to use the Six Nations as a chance to prove themselves. Let’s be honest, even a poor World Cup under someone else would surely be an improvement on the current situation, where an exit at the pool stages seems the least of their worries, as finishing outside the top 3 of a pool made up of Georgia, Fiji, Australia and Portugal (and thereby missing out on automatic qualification for RWC2027) looks a real possibility.
A seat at the table
This is a big day for Georgia, their first win over a Tier 1 nation other than Italy (who they beat in the summer), and at the Principality Stadium of all places! The calls have been loud for Georgia to get more matches against Tier 1, and following this result they are sure to get deafening.
We’ve seen in the past how it took so long for Argentina and Italy to win their spot in Tier 1 tournaments that the team who earned them the spot soon aged out with a lack of quality underneath, so that cannot be allowed to happen again here. And while there is plenty of experience is the squad, there is also a generation of exciting young talent in their 20s coming through, spearheaded by Abzhandadze, Vasil Lobzhanidze (preparing for his 3ʳᵈ Rugby World Cup despite being only 26), Niniashvili and Giorgi Kveseladze, who was missing from this game.
Georgia need every chance to continue building after this Rugby World Cup, and to do that, they need 2 things:
- They need to be playing regularly against Tier 1 opposition, and that means finding a way to get them into a top competition, which will then see Tier 1 Nations playing in Tbilisi, which will only help grow the sport in the country.
- They need to get at least 1 club side into a top tier competition, while ideally also keeping a sprinkling of players through other leagues, as this will just widen the number of players getting regular matches against Test-level players
If the Lelos can get these things soon, the next cycle could be massive for them.
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