Georgia all but booked their place at the 2019 Rugby World Cup after edging out Namibia 17-16 at Sandy Park, despite trailing 0-6 at the interval.
Wednesday’s contest was hardly a classic and credit must go to Namibia for how they performed. However, Georgia’s experience saw them home.
Tries from Mamuka Gorgodze and Lasha Malaguradze proved to be the difference as the Lelos now hope Tonga don’t surprise New Zealand on Friday.
Namibia though, while disappointed to come so close and not win, made history in Exeter by claiming their first Rugby World Cup point.
It was a strange game in Exeter as the first-half action lasted 49 minutes – 68 in total – in what was a try-less opening period to the match.
The prize was big for Georgia as they looked to back up their win over Tonga with their second of the tournament, which would all but secure their place in the 2019 tournament. However, there were plenty of nerves from the Lelos and the Namibians feasted on them for large periods.
It didn’t take long for Namibia to open the scoring, inside the first minute in fact, when Georgia knocked on at the kick-off and then were caught offside. Theuns Kotze made no mistake off the tee in front of a packed out Sandy Park faithful, who have loved their World Cup games.
However, it wasn’t all good news for the Namibians early on as they lost their talismanic captain Jacques Burger to a head knock in the ninth minute. Unfortunately his Head Injury Assessment wasn’t given the all-clear and the Saracens man had his final RWC fixture prematurely ended.
Soon after Burger was off, it looked like Georgia had crossed through left wing Alexander Todua. But television match official Shaun Veldsman adjudged pivot Malaguradze to have knocked on in the act of stripping the ball off a Namibian attacker. It came as massive relief for Namibia.
Their relief would turn to joy when they doubled their lead on eighteen minutes again via the boot of Kotze, this time after Georgian flanker Viktor Kolelishvili made a high tackle on Namibia number eight Renaldo Bothma. Were the African side heading towards a famous World Cup win?
Georgia, despite enjoying the majority of possession and territory leading up to the half-hour continued to be rattled and fragmented in their game. That left Milton Haig venting in the coach’s box and gave yet more confidence to Phil Davies’ side that a first ever RWC victory was on.
Things wouldn’t improve for Georgia when hooker Jaba Bregvadze was yellow carded for leading with the elbow on Heinrich Smit on 35 minutes, but in an extended half due to stoppages – from start to finish it was 68 minutes – it would be Georgia who went in with a man advantage when props Raoul Larson and Johannes Coetzee were also marched to the sin-bin by Irish referee George Clancy for a cynical and scrum offence respectively.
Importantly for Namibia though they kept their try-line intact.
Georgia were intent on changing that early in the second-half and with Merab Kvirikashvili and Todua combining well, it looked like happening sooner rather than later. And sure enough it came from Gorgodze on 50 minutes before Kvirikashvili’s extras moved the Georgians 7-6 in front.
To make that score worse for Namibia, number eight Bothma was carded for a high tackle in the lead-up to that try as Georgia had the momentum.
And they gleefully turned the screw before the 60 minute mark when fly-half Malaguradze found a hole off an offload which made it a 14-6 gap.
Georgia at this point were showing their superiority in terms of fitness and know-how as they enjoyed the majority of the territory and looked much more comfortable in possession. With fifteen minutes remaining could they start to celebrate a likely automatic spot in 2019’s showpiece?
Both sides traded penalties before the final ten minutes but then came the grandstand finish in Exeter as after a third Kotze penalty goal, the Namibian fly-half then crossed the line wide on the left before his fine conversion made it 17-16. Suddenly the victory was up for grabs.
Georgia though held on as eyes now move to Newcastle on Friday. For Namibia, a first World Cup losing bonus-point will come as some consolation.
Man of the match: Namibia impressed in the first period with a workmanlike effort but in the second-half the quality of Georgia helped them turn the screw, with inside centre Merab Sharikadze standing out. So strong in contact yet nimble on his feet, he was excellent.
Moment of the match: Georgia needed their man mountain of a captain to inspire this turnaround and Mamuka Gorgodze of course did the job. His powerful try from close-range on 50 minutes set the Lelos on their way to what looks like being a third-placed finish in the pool.
Villain of the match: Although there were cards, it was hardly a dirty contest so nothing to see here.
Tries: Gorgodze, Malaguradze
Con: Kvirikashvili 2
Yellow: Bregvadze (leading with elbow – 35 mins)
Pen: Kotze 3
Yellow: Larson (cynical offence – 40 mins), Coetzee (scrum offence – 40 mins), Bothma (high tackle – 50 mins)
Georgia: 15 Merab Kvirikashvili, 14 Tamaz Mchedlidze, 13 Davit Kacharava, 12 Merab Sharikadze, 11 Alexander Todua, 10 Lasha Malaguradze, 9 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 8 Mamuka Gorgodze (c), 7 Viktor Kolelishvili, 6 Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, 5 Konstantin Mikautadze, 4 Giorgi Nemsadze, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili.
Replacements: 16 Shalva Mamukashvili, 17 Karlen Asieshvili, 18 Anton Peikrishvili, 19 Levan Datunashvili, 20 Lasha Lomidze, 21 Giorgi Begadze, 22 Giorgi Aptsiauri, 23 Beka Tsiklauri.
Namibia: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 David Philander, 13 Danie Van Wyk, 12 Darryl de la Harpe, 11 Russel van Wyk, 10 Theuns Kotze, 9 Eugene Jantjies, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Tinus du Plessis, 6 Jacques Burger (c), 5 Tjiuee Uanivi, 4 PJ van Lill, 3 Raoul Larson, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 1 Johnny Redelinghuys.
Replacements: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Jaco Engels, 18 Johannes Coetzee, 19 Wian Conradie, 20 Rohan Kitshoff, 21 Johan Tromp, 22 Damian Stevens, 23 Heinrich Smit.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)