Review of the match between Wales and Georgia in Pool C
Wales are going in more or less fully loaded. Morgan is rested, Biggar is given another week to recover and Dyer is starting ahead of Adams. Lake has returned as captain. Rees-Zammit and Faletau will have played all four of Wales’ pool matches. Otherwise this is the team that kicked the Wallabies while they were down.
Georgia have made five changes. Sharikadze is back in the midfield and captains, the pack has a host of changes too.
Wales starting lineup: 15. Liam Williams, 14. Louis Rees Zammit, 13. George North, 12. Nick Tompkins, 11. Rio Dyer, 10. Gareth Anscombe, 9. Tomos Williams, 8. Taulupe Faletau, 7. Tommy Reffell, 6. Aaron Wainwright, 5. Dafydd Jenkins, 4. Will Rowlands, 3. Tomas Francis, 2. Dewi Lake (c), 1. Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16. Elliot Dee, 17. Nicky Smith, 18. Henry Thomas, 19. Dafydd Jenkins, 20. Taine Basham, 21. Gareth Davies, 22. Sam Costelow, 23. Mason Grady
Georgia starting lineup: 15. Lasha Khmaladze, 14. Akaki Tabutsadze, 13. Giorgi Kveseladze, 12. Merab Sharikadze (c), 11. Davit Niniashvili, 10. Luka Matkava, 9. Vasil Lobzhanidze, 8. Tornike Jalagonia, 7. Beka Saginadze, 6. Mikheil Gachechiladze, 5. Konstantine Mikautadze, 4. Nodar Cheishvili, 3. Beka Gigashvili, 2. Shalva Mamukashvili, 1. Guram Gogichashvili
Replacements: 16. Vano Karkadze, 17. Nika Abuladze, 18. Irakli Aptsiauri, 19. Vladimer Chachanidze, 20. Giorgi Tsutskiridze, 21. Gela Aprasidze, 22. Tedo Abzhandadze, 23. Demur Tapladze
Why It Matters
If you’re a one-eyed Australian fan, this doesn’t matter at all. Wales are already above Australia in the table, Georgia can’t reach them even with a bonus point win. The Fiji v Portugal on Sunday is what matters to you.
For Wales, one point of any type means they’ll top the pool, regardless of the result of the Fiji v Portugal result. If Wales do get just one point, Fiji could match them on 15, but Wales hold the tiebreaker.
In a wider sense, Georgia beat Wales in November, and that was the final nail in the coffin for Pivac. Since then, Gatland has had a rough honeymoon and then turned Wales’ fortunes around. Georgia appear to have rather gone backwards. This rematch will be an interesting snapshot of how things have changed for them both.
Late Team News
During the warmup, Anscombe injured his groin. The extent of the injury is not yet known. He looked distraught which might reflect the state of the injury but, given his injury history, may be more of an emotional “oh no, not again.” Costelow starts and Biggar is on the bench. Costelow is young but plays in a similar style to Anscombe. Playing between Williams and Tompkins, with some older heads like Faletau, North and Liam Williams nearby to offer him a quick word if he needs it, this shouldn’t change that much.
If you want to see how a modern winger should work in defence, watch Dyer from about minutes 17 to 20. He spotted Georgia had momentum, shot out of the line and made a tackle that stopped it dead. Then he got under a high ball and collected the kick. Then he chased a bit of a nothing kick, made the tackle and forced the turnover. He absolutely made mistakes too, he was part of a group that butchered a 3-on-1 overlap for example, but in those three minutes he just neatly showed the core skills you should expect.
Overall the first half started really scrappily. Parts of that were both sides being over-eager, trying to score off phases where they should taken a tackle and reset, but parts were the defence being very aggressive and disruptive. Wales were looking the better side during this period but it wasn’t one-sided.
That all settled down after 16 minutes when Wales worked a cute lineout move and Francis crashed over for the first try. If you picked the tighthead as the first scorer in that game, good on you. Live I thought the TMO might have something to say but on replay there was clearly no obstruction at the lineout. Really cute.
Wales scored a more normal try for them, a nice backs move and a good double jink from Liam Williams, then a penalty from Costelow stretched the lead. However, Georgia fought back. It might have taken a lot of phases but they eventually scored under the posts.
The last few minutes of the half swung back and forth but Georgia were strongly on attack until a neck roll at a ruck gave Wales a penalty that ended the period.
Wales are doing the job but not looking at convincing as they’d like.
After just three minutes of the second half, Georgia spilt the ball, two quick passes got it to Rees-Zammit in acres of space and that was all she wrote. Untouched under the posts, 24-7 and the match was done and dusted, wasn’t it?
However, for the next 20 minutes Georgia played with passion and direction and while Wales mostly played with systems and control that snuffed out the threats they had moments of total lack of focus that kept encouraging Georgia. Some of those were silly and minor, Williams went to pick up at the base of a scrum and knocked on. Others were more serious and resulted in two tries to Georgia. That’s not to belittle the efforts of the Georgians, they were attacking and took their chances but one of the tries should never have been scored if the defensive line was thinking and working together.
Welsh nerves were settled when a kick ahead saw Rees-Zammit touch down for the fourth try and a later kick ahead followed by a burst of his insane speed saw the TMO award him his hat trick try. Shortly before that a massive scrap saw Balham and Niniashvilli shown some cheese and missing the final ten minutes. Faletau also left with an injury to his wrist.
The game finished with a try to North.
Final Score: 43-19
The second Rees-Zammit try that snuffed out the Georgian resurgence. Going from 24-19 to 31-19 broke the Georgian morale as well as confirming Wales were going to top the pool.
There are lessons to take from this. Wales were scrappy for the opening 15 then between scrappy and poor for 20 minutes in the second half. That might be OK next week, but Wales will work to improve. It’s OK for the other side to have their good periods in the game but you still need to focus and defend when the other side are playing well.
As a marker though, 11 months ago, Wales capitulated and lost the same matchup at home. Today, Georgia fought back and got close, then Wales took control and ran out 24 point winner, scoring six tries. Big tick there.
Costelow had some errors, sure, but was good. Particularly given the lack of preparation and game time. But they were odd little mistakes rather than anything systematic.
Player of the Match
I didn’t catch the official PotM. LRZ was eye-catching with a hat-trick and a try assist. Liam Williams was solid at the back, plus a try and a try assist and a million metres (OK, 151, 52 more than anyone else). Reffell was an absolute nuisance, 18/19 tackles and a bucket full of turnovers. I’m going to give it to Dyer though. In the French match I didn’t give it to Ollivon who did all the unsung work. Today I’m giving it to Dyer, who did. He chased every Welsh kick down his wing, he got in the air for every Georgian kick down his wing, 7/8 tackles and won a turnover in his own half. It’s not glorious but it’s hard work that we ought to recognise sometimes.