Preview: Georgia v Tonga

Date published: September 18 2015

Georgia and Tonga face off in what is expected to be a tightly-contested Pool C encounter at Kingsholm on Saturday.

Both these countries are considered minnows on the international scene, and underdogs in their group, so victory for either side will be a massive boost and will set them up nicely for the rest of the tournament. 

These two sides were amongst the also-rans at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand but didn't disgrace themselves. Georgia finished fourth from a pool which included England Scotland, Argentina and Romania.

They managed to beat Romania to record only their second-ever win at the World Cup and also impressed with a competitive performance against Scotland before eventually losing 13-6.

Tonga finished third in their pool alongside eventual Canada, Japan, eventual winners New Zealand and runners-up France. They eventually registered one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history when they secured a 19-14 victory over France and also beat Japan.

With world champions New Zealand and Argentina also in their pool this year – along with Namibia – and expected to progress to the quarter-finals, Georgia and Tonga could be fighting for third place which will be a significant achievement as it will mean they qualify automatically for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Georgia coach Milton Haig highlighted the importance of this match to his side's campaign.

"The first game is crucial and our goal is to end up third in the group," he said.

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that Tonga are in the same position as we are so it's going to be a critical game."

Georgia's preparations for the global showpiece haven't gone that well as they lost their two warm-up matches narrowly to Canada and Japan. 

Despite those results, Georgia will be confident as their last match – against Japan – was played at Kingsholm less than two weeks ago.

Tonga by contrast beat Romania in their only World Cup warm-up match and came third during the recent Pacific Nations Cup, after finishing that campaign with victories against Japan and the USA.

Tonga will also take confidence from their previous encounter against Georgia which they won 23-9 in Tbilisi last year.

Georgia take great pride in their forward play and will look to dominate up front, especially in the scrums where they seldom take a backward step.

Tonga hooker Aleki Lutui, who has not been picked for this encounter, expects a huge onslaught from their opponents.

"Georgia are a physical team who have improved a lot over the last couple of years, so we expect it to be a physical game," Tonga hooker explained Lutui.

"We will have to be physical also as that is what they will bring."

Ones to Watch:

For Georgia: Inspirational captain and number eight Mamuka Gorgodze is expected to play a huge role in Georgia's campaign. A devastating carrier who is widely regarded as one of the game's best back-rowers, the Toulon stalwart is expected to get his side over the advantage line with his strong carries. If he builds up a head of steam, and his team-mates follow his lead, they could be victorious.

For Tonga: Left wing Fetu'u Vainikolo is superb with ball in hand and should keep Georgia's defenders busy if his inside backs manage to create space for him to show of his attacking talents. The 30-year-old finished as joint top try-scorer – along with his team-mate scrum-half Tane Takulua, during Tonga's recent Pacific Nations Cup campaign – and could become Tonga’s outright leading try scorer in Tests if he crossed the whitewash against Georgia. He is currently tied on 14 with Josh Taumalolo. 

Head-to-head: The battle at the breakdown should be one of the highlights of this clash as Georgia tearaway Viktor Kolelishvili and Tonga skipper Nili Latu are both excellent on the ground. Latu is also a strong ball carrier who is always looking to exploit gaps in opponents' defence while Kolelishvili is a ferocious tackler who will also look to make his mark with some big hits on defence. 

Previous results: 

2014: Tonga won 23-9 in Tbilisi
1999: Georgia won 28-27 in Tbilisi
1999: Tonga won 37-6 in Nuku A'lofa

Prediction: While Georgia have the experience of playing at Kingsholm already, Tonga's recent form has been impressive and that gives them the edge. Tonga to win by six points!

The teams:

Georgia: 15 Merab Kvirikashvili, 14 Tamaz Mchedlidze, 13 Davit Kacharava, 12 Merab Sharikadze, 11 Giorgi Aptsiauri, 10 Lasha Malaghuradze, 9 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 8 Mamuka Gorgodze (c), 7 Viktor Kolelishvili, 6 Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, 5 Giorgi Nemsadze, 4 Konstantin Mikautadze, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili. 
Replacements: 16 Shalva Mamukashvili, 17 Kakha Asieshvili, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Levan Datunashvili, 20 Shalva Sutiashvili, 21 Giorgi Begadze, 22 Giorgi Pruidze, 23 Muraz Giorgadze

Tonga: 15 Vunga Lilo, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Will Helu, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Tane Takulua, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Steve Mafi, 4 Lua Lokotui, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Tevita Mailau.
Replacements: 16 Paul Ngauamo, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Hale T Pole, 20 Jack Ram, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Latiume Fosita, 23 Sione Piukala

Date: Saturday, September 19
Venue: Kingsholm Stadium, Gloucester
Kick-off: 12:00 local 
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

By David Skippers