Following Fiji’s 17-12 triumph over Georgia, here are our five takeaways from the Rugby World Cup game in Bordeaux on Saturday.
The top line
The clash of the two finest emerging nations turned out to be a bit of an arm-wrestle as Georgia’s magnificent defence threatened to nullify one of the best attacking sides in the competition, Fiji.
Nevertheless, the Pacific Islanders found a way in the end, growing into the second half to snare a win that takes them into second place in Pool C, needing only one point in their next match against Portugal to ensure a quarter-final clash against England, a side Fiji roundly beat during the August warm-up Tests.
Second-half tries from Waisea Nayacalevu and Vinaya Habosi were enough to see them home after Georgia delivered a superb defensive set in the first 60 minutes of the match, with the Europeans leading up until the 63rd minute courtesy of penalties from Luka Matkava and Davit Niniashvili. However, despite their incredible defensive shift, Georgia never quite looked like having the firepower in attack to trouble the Fijian line and they crumbled in the face of waves of power running in that last quarter.
Levani Botia had a frustrating first 50 minutes, penalised a couple of times by Karl Dickson for not releasing before jackaling. But the La Rochelle seven is an absolutely world class exponent of his art, a complete openside and as his influence rose, so Fiji were able to get onto the front foot and grab some much needed continuity.
13 tackles and two important turnovers are par for Botia’s brilliance in defence but it was his support run, one of eight carries he made for 34 metres, after Tevita Ikanivere had broken the first wave of Georgian defence, that set up Fiji’s second try for Habosi down the right flank.
With the brilliant Nayacalevu also providing one of the finishes of the World Cup as he defied gravity to dot down in the corner, it’s also fair to acknowledge the impact of scrum-half Frank Lomani off the bench, who added pace to the pass from the breakdown and gave Fiji real direction and continuity in attack, something lacking in the first half.
🇫🇯🙌 When Fiji needed some magic to get back in the game the skipper stood up! #FIJvGEO
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) September 30, 2023
The Joe Worsley engineered Georgian blitz defence is one of the best around and for 60 minutes it stifled all continuity from Fiji. It’s a simple system- leading the blitz on the 10/12 channel but using two tacklers, one low and one high not only to stop the player but also to achieve dominance on the gainline.
Mikheil Gachechiladze was a giant all afternoon, hitting 25 thunderous tackles and grabbing two turnovers in an all-action display and alongside him, his back-row cohorts Tornike Jalaginia (19) and Beke Saginadze added welcome support. Between the three back-rowers they managed 12 dominant hits (out of a remarkable total of 19 overall for Georgia) demonstrating just what a well drilled and intelligent unit Worsley has created. With Luka Matkava and full-back Miriani Modebadze also both absolutely outstanding in their defensive work, Georgia managed one half of the match brilliantly, but will rue that they weren’t able to create more with ball in hand.
For Fiji, their lineout was, bluntly a shambles. They lost five of their own 16 throws with two others not straight – basic lapses that could have and should have lost them the match. They also failed to achieve 75% success at scrum-time, with four penalties awarded against them wheeling under pressure.
Given they will almost certainly face England in three weeks’ time, who have one of the best set-piece completions in the tournament, this is an area they need to sort out quickly if their semi-final dream is to remain.
They will also consider how they reacted to the Georgian blitz. They were drawn into that contact area and the more they became frustrated the more they resorted to one out runners doing their own thing, far from the co-ordinated wave of joined up attacking we’re so used to seeing.
Georgia are almost certainly down and out now – they will believe they’ve underachieved at this World Cup and part of that has been their lack of sharpness in attack. They appear short of a real gas man other than Niniashvili and they really have missed the go forward of the brilliant eight Beka Gorgodze since his injury.
The week ahead
Fiji play Portugal on October 8 needing one point to qualify and very little will prevent them from doing that, despite the challenge Portugal will bring. For Fiji this is a tough selection problem – they need to ensure their point but they have to keep their world class players fit and available for the quarter-finals. Expect to see a mix and match policy for this weekend with bigger questions to be asked afterwards.
The biggest of those is who to play at nine? Simone Kuruvoli is the best goal-kicker Fiji have but his service and speed isn’t close to that of the free-running Lomani. It’s a real tight call – and it may be that Kuruvoli starts to try and own the scoreboard, with Lomani acting in the game changer role we saw today.
For Georgia, their last fixture is against Wales and given recent results between the two nations you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll want to go out with a bang. Their defence and set-piece is a given but the Welsh defence is every bit as good as theirs, if not better. More ambition is the order of the day, and given they don’t really have much outright speed to bring into their team they might have to look at change-ups, grubbers, chips and so on to try and defeat the magnificent and claustrophobic Welsh blitz.