Preview: Ireland v Georgia

Date published: November 14 2014

Fresh from their confidence-boosting win over the Springboks, Ireland host Georgia in Dublin this Sunday in their second November Test.

Fresh from their confidence-boosting win over the Springboks, Ireland host Georgia in Dublin this Sunday in their second November Test.

Nothing about Ireland’s win over South Africa was a fluke – they comprehensively out-thought Heyneke Meyer’s squad and showed countless examples of heroism in defence.

Joe Schmidt has rightly taken much of the credit for the way his side persistently kept themselves out of the rucks and held firm in defence, but the physical impact of Paul O’Connell and co. was impressive.

When they did commit to the breakdown they were excellent at turning over the Boks, while denying Duane Vermeulen and Marcell Coetzee, ruck experts the pair of them, any chance of pilfering Irish ball.

Combine that with the kicking masterclass from Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton, Ireland were more or less impregnable until JP Pietersen scampered over to prevent the hosts from moving up to third in the IRB Rankings.

Perhaps ideally Schmidt would have liked to carry the momentum of last Saturday into a fixture with the Wallabies straight away, but Georgia instead arrive in Dublin this weekend.

With the match against Australia coming up, Schmidt has decided to rotate his starting side and in the process hand first caps to Munster’s Dave Foley and Leinster’s Dominic Ryan, with the uncapped number eight Robin Copeland amongst the replacements.

It’s a compliment to the depth of Ireland’s squad that 13 changes can be made to the side that defeated South Africa, yet the replacements include experienced figures such as Eoin Reddan, who captains the side, along with Gordon D’Arcy.

Irish fans will be excited to see younger backs like Craig Gilroy and Felix Jones get a run in the back three, while Ian Madigan makes only his third start for Ireland and for the first time since against Canada in 2013.

Ireland both should and will win, but that however doesn’t make Sunday’s game an easy ride.

The majority of Georgia’s squad ply their trade in the Top 14 and over the last few years they have become Europe’s best second-tier side thanks to their domination of the European Nations Cup.

Taking a look at the stats, Georgia have won six out of the last seven competitions, with their only slip-up coming in 2010. Focusing on this year, Georgia’s 22-9 win over Romania wrapped up yet another title.

It’s for that reason we often discuss the prospect of promotion and relegation in the Six Nations, because Georgia are quite clearly knocking on the door.

Having them face Ireland in the middle of November in Dublin is a great opportunity to showcase how much talent and potential Georgia really have, just as we’ll see at next year’s World Cup.

“The enthusiasm for the sport across the country, the large crowds – it all makes a difference. There’s so much passion for the game here, maybe even more so than in New Zealand. Georgians are a bit like the Welsh or the South Africans where they get really fanatical about their rugby,” said Georgia’s Kiwi head coach Milton Haig to Emerald Rugby.

“We will have played Samoa, Argentina and Ireland all in one year, these are all top ten nations and this experience helps us massively.

“Ideally we need to be playing Tier One sides three times a year as this is how you can improve as a team, by playing against the best, and learning from it.”

Georgia are in Pool C alongside New Zealand, Argentina, Namibia and Tonga, with the latter perhaps knocking their confidence after a 23-9 loss in Tbilisi.

Sadly they will be without Mamuka Gorgodze, the monster Toulon forward who is regarded as one of the best players in the Top 14. Other names however do stand out.

Two other Toulon players however will be involved, Levan Chilachava and Konstantin Mikautadze, while followers of the French top flight will be familiar with Davit Kubriashvili and Mikheil Nariashvili.

Georgia’s top talent though undoubtedly lies upfront, with the majority of their backs playing lower level rugby in France or featuring in the Georgian domestic league.

The loss to Tonga might have knocked Georgia’s confidence, but they should take heart from the 2007 Rugby World Cup when Ireland were pushed all the way to escape with a 14-10 victory.

Ones to Watch

For Ireland: Jared Payne went well in his first cap for Ireland last weekend at 13, and now it’s Darren Cave’s chance. Payne was solid in defence and would have no doubt liked more moments to work with the ball in hand, but South Africa starved Ireland of possession and the game-plan mattered more. Ireland with Cave will look to get him into one-on-one match-ups and release him on the outside to bring Ireland’s back three into play. A really classy player.

For Georgia: The captain. Irakli Machkhaneli earns his keep with the Armazi club in Georgia and the 33-year-old has been a mainstay of the national side stretching all the way back to his debut in 2002 against the Netherlands. In the ensuing 12 years, Machkhaneli has scored 23 tries in 73 caps, including a double against a Barbarians side captained by Bob Skinstad back in 2006.

Head-to-head: A front-row battle. Jack McGrath was outstanding in defence last weekend for Ireland, making 17 tackles, but creaked under real pressure from the Bok scrum. Dave Kilcoyne gets the start in the one shirt to face Georgia and will get a real test from Montpellier tighthead Davit Kubriashvili, one of the best in France.

Previous Results:
2007: Ireland won 14-10 in Bordeaux (RWC)
2002: Ireland won 63-14 in Dublin
1998: Ireland won 70-0 in Dublin

Prediction: A huge chance for some of Ireland’s fringe players to stand out ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup, the hosts should have too much in the backs for Georgia to handle. Ireland by 30.

The teams:

Ireland: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Eoin Reddan (c), 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Tommy O’Donnell, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Dave Foley, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Robin Copeland, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Stuart Olding.

Georgia:15 Merab Kvirikashvili, 14 Tamaz Mchedlidze, 13 David Kacharava , 12 Merab Sharikadze, 11 Sandro Todua, 10 Lasha Khmaladze, 9 Giorgi Begadze, 8 Dimitri Basilaia, 7 Vito Kolelishvili, 6 Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, 5 Giorgi Nemsadze, 4 Kote Mikautadze, 3 Davit Kubriashvili, 2 Shalva Mamukashvili, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili
Replacements: 16 Simon Maisuradze, 17 Zurab Zhvania, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Levan Datunashvili, 20 Giorgi Chkhaidze, 21 Vazha Khutsishvili, 22 Lasha Malaguradze, 23 Muraz Giorgadze

Date: Sunday, November 16
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kickoff: 14:30 local (GMT)