Planet Rugby

Ireland shaken to the core

15th September 2007 21:49

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Goergia celebrate

Mind Bending: Dempsey struggles to rein in the Georgians

Ireland live to fight for their quarter-final place still, but only after overcoming a magnificent performance from Georgia in Bordeaux on Saturday to win 14-10.

It's been a World Cup marked by magnificent crowds and terrific displays from nations written off as cricket-score fodder. Georgia gave the starkest evidence yet that rugby's world is growing, and every one of the 35,000 souls at the Stade Chaban Delmas let you know that they thought it was wonderful.

Georgia, trailing 7-3 at the break and then nicking the lead with an interception try early in the second half, made the notion of rugby serfs and nobility at this World Cup look like the arcane old theory of senile club committee members.

Even after Ireland had won the lead back, the Georgians proceeded to camp in the Irish half in the manner of the finest professional teams around the world, pressurising the Irish into mistakes up front and just failing to find the one killer forward drive that might well have won them the game.

In the final moments, they got over the line for what might have been the clinching try, but the ball was held up. It was that close.

In defence, they stole Irish line-outs, wheeled Irish scrums, and smashed Irish runners backwards. To a man, they were heroes, even in a defeat which yielded only the consolation nugget of a bonus point.

Ireland's task tonight was threefold: to prove they could assert themselves on lowly opposition after that Namibian scare, to exorcise their own demons, and to pocket the all-important bonus point. They failed on each count.

Georgia dominated every facet of this game but one. They failed to score more points but thrashed the Irish on possession, territory, hunger, desire, passion and heart.

This began as a contest between back-to-back Triple Crown winners resplendent with marque names and part-timers from France's second division, yet it was impossible to tell which side was which for the whole duration of this titanic contest.

It's been on the lips of rugby fans for the past week, and this game served to underline the creeping realisation that there is little between the so-called 'minnows' and the money-soaked practitioners of this game than mere gym membership.

It's obviously a great thing for this grand old sport (IRB please take due note), but it calls into question why we pay good money to see the so-called 'stars' perform week in week out with their provinces and clubs.

With England looking like a pub XV with an ambitious fixture secretary and France acting like hosts with the least, European eyes and hopes are fixed on the Irish.

But on this evidence they'll be back at home before the month is out.

Of course, a win is always a win, and Ireland can be forgiven for having eyes only France and Argentina. Yet this result was in doubt until the final whistle and Ireland's inability to alter events will leave their fans with more than a mere Bordeaux-induced headache.

Ireland started as they meant to go on - nervously. A worrying lack of understanding between Peter Stinger and Ronan O'Gara, today equalling the half-back partnership record help by Alessandro Troncon and Diego Dominguez of Italy, gave Georgia a field position that they never relinquished.

Georgia fly-half Merab Kvirikashvili had a chance to be the first name on the scoresheet when Ireland infringed far out, but his shot at goal was wide.

But Georgian fires continued to burn and Ireland only gained entrance to the opposition's 22 in 14th minute of the game.

After a couple of free-flowing raids were nipped in the bud, the Irish went for the drive from a line-out in corner, and Rory Best emerged from the relieved heap of green bodies with a broad grin on his face. O'Gara added the extras and Ireland had finally opened their account.

But Georgia kept their foot on the pedal, with Kvirikashvili's monster boot keeping Ireland's share of the pitch down to the barest minimum.

The opportunity for a long-range shot at goal presented itself to the Irish on the 20-minute mark, but a visibly puffed-out O'Gara failed to find the target.

Ireland's frustrations soon became apparent and they began to concede territory and penalties like the seasoned pros.

A fabulous break-out from the Lelos then forced David Wallace to kill the move by slapping the ball away, and he duly earned a yellow card for his cynical effort. Kvirikashvili punished Ireland further by slotting the ensuing penalty and it was, almost unbelievably, 7-3 at the break.

Tellingly, Georgia decided to stay on the pitch during the break and they chewed on apples and tactics. Ireland, meanwhile, disappeared for what must have been a hair-drying session from Eddie O'Sullivan.

The unbroadcast words seemed to galvanise Irish action and big Shane Horgan began to carry into all areas of the pitch.

But just when Ireland seemed to be setting themselves up for a decent attempt at the Georgian lines, disaster.

With Stringer otherwise engaged at the bottom of a ruck, O'Gara's telegraphed pass from the base of the breakdown was intercepted by Giorgi Shkinin and all the Irish could do was yell at each other as the little wing dotted down under the sticks for the converted try - and the lead.

The Lelos then managed to snatch a well-placed Irish line-out and the men in green looked in danger of usurping the English in awfulness.

A penalty against the Georgians allowed Ireland another crack at the hitherto untroubled white lines, but - again - they fumbled the opportunity.

A rare break-out from defence then allowed Ireland their next try.

Wallace collected the ball from the tail of a green line-out on the green line and he was away. D'Arcy was on hand to make a few more precious yards. The ball then went wide - finally at speed - to Girvan Dempsey, and the fullback sneaked into the corner and Ireland snatched back the lead. O'Gara converted and Ireland breathed again.

But the nation with just eight rugby pitches was soon back in the driving seat.

A huge drive almost had the Irish waiting for a conversion, but a knock-on saved their blushes.

Georgia kept up the pressure and three long-distance drop-goal attempts threatened Ireland's tenuous hold on the lead.

The fitness then began to tell (were the Irish waiting for this?) and the heroic Georgians began to spill easy possession.

But still they kept Ireland honest with some deft touch-finders to the corners.

A brilliant bomb from Shkinin then put the Georgians into the Irish 22, and then a succession of magnificent inching driving mauls took the pack over the line and referee Wayne Barnes went 'upstairs' to decide if the ball had been grounded. Alas, great defence from Denis Leamy kept his country's honour intact.

But the Georgians weren't done. With the last move of the game they won a penalty and shoved it straight into the heart of the Irish pack, only for a knock-on to deny them what could have been a page in history.Man of the match: Denis Leamy, Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy all did well, but the day belongs to the Lelos. If NASA ever needed an environmentally friendly satellite-launcher they should check the availably of Merab Kvirikashvili's boot - it's huge! It's tempting to give a collective gong to the whole Georgian team, but we reckon Georgi Shkinin sneaks it for his big-hearted efforts in attack and defence.

Moment of the match: Surely Georgi Shkinin's try - a moment that shoved Irish hearts into Irish throats!

Villain of the match: Who knows who the real culprits were, but the fight that sparked up at the final whistle was not a worthy conclusion to this spectacle - a game that will go down in the annals of World Cup history.

The scorers:

For Ireland:

Tries: Rory Best, Dempsey

Cons: O'Gara 2

For Georgia:

Try: Shkinin

Con: Kvirikashvili

Pen: Kvirikashvili

Ireland: 15 Girvan Dempsey, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Denis Hickie, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Simon Easterby, 5 Paul O'Connell, 4 Donnacha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Rory Best, 1 Marcus Horan.

Replacements: 16 Jerry Flannery, 17 Simon Best, 18 Malcolm O'Kelly, 19 Neil Best, 20 Isaac Boss, 21 Paddy Wallace, 22 Geordan Murphy.

Georgia: 15 Otar Barkalaia, 14 Giorgi Elizbarashvili, 13 Malkhaz Urjukashvili, 12 Davit Kacharava, 11 Giorgi Shkinin, 10 Merab Kvirikashvili, 9 Bidzina Samkharadze, 8 Giorgi Chkhaidze, 7 Rati Urushadze, 6 Ilia Maisuradze, 5 Mamuka Gorgodze, 4 Ilia Zedginidze, 3 Avtandil Kopaliani, 2 Goderdzi Shvelidze, 1 Mamuka Magrakvelidze.

Replacements: 16 Akvsenti Giorgadze, 17 David Khinchagashvili, 18 Levan Datunashvili, 19 Zviad Maisuradze, 20 Irakli Abuseridze, 21 Malkhaz Urjukashvili, 22 Otar Eloshvili.

Referee: Wayne Barnes

Touch judges: Malcolm Changleng, Paul Marks

Television match official: Federico Cuesta

Assessor: Tappe Henning

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