Gritty Win over Samoa Sends Georgia to Scotland in Buoyant Mood
TBILISI - Bouncing back from the previous week’s setback against Japan, Georgia flew to Scotland in a confident mood after a dogged 20-16 victory over Samoa at Tbilisi’s Mikheil Meskhi Stadium on 19 November.
The Lelos’ defensive capabilities had been queried by some after throwing away a good winning margin against Japan, but any questions about Georgia’s ability to resist periods of pressure were answered brilliantly in a showcase of defensive defiance against Samoa.
There were echoes of the last time Georgia emerged victorious over Samoa in 2013, where a heroic defensive showing saw the Georgians cling on for what was then an eye-catching result.
Georgia have since recorded victories against the majority of tier two sides, and it is perhaps a reflection of the progress made by Georgian rugby that a win over the likes of Samoa is no longer viewed as a surprise.
With the home fans again out in good numbers with a near capacity crowd, the Georgians began strongly, driving the Samoans into the surrendering of a penalty try after only nine minutes.
Full-back Merab Kvirikashvili, who had a mixed performance against Japan, was back on form and dispatched an easy conversion to give the Lelos an early 7-0 lead, which was quickly chopped to four points by Samoan fly-half Patrick Fa’apale’s long-distance penalty in the 12th minute.
The away side then went ahead for the first time as the Samoan centers combined impressively, as Rey Lee-Lo broke past Georgian tackles before unselfishly teeing up George Pisi for a nicely created try in the 21st minute.
Fa’apale’s subsequent conversion meant that Samoa now held a three point cushion.
You could not have blamed the Georgian fans for fearing the worst, with memories of the Japan defeat still fresh, but the Lelos demonstrated typically strong character to regain the lead.
As the clock ticked past the half hour, the Georgian forwards, in customarily uncompromising fashion, drove the scrum over the line with Beka Bitsadze touching down.
Kvirikashvili notched a difficult conversion to steer Georgia four points ahead and their advantage was increased before half-time, the Georgian full-back kicking a penalty to make it 17-10 at the break.
There was little doubt that Georgia were worth their seven-point advantage at this stage but the second-half took on a different complexion, as the Samoans dominated possession and territory.
Two penalties from the unflappable Fa’apale dragged Samoa back to within a point of the hosts with around 25 minutes still to play.
It was looking ominous for Georgia now as the visitors were firmly in the ascendancy, but the Lelos were handed a welcome reprieve in the 59th minute when awarded a penalty 30 meters out, which Kvirikashvili scored – his fourth kick from four on a flawless afternoon from the boot for the full-back.
That handed Georgia a 20-16 advantage, forcing Samoa to pursue a try which Georgia somehow managed to thwart with a 20-minute spell of determined defending.
As the final whistle sounded, a mixture of relief and joy descended as the Lelos took another notable scalp.
Samoa, no stranger to the top ten of the world rankings from time to time, have now played Georgia three times in the last three years and have failed to win once.
The Lelos have also defeated Japan in that period, Tonga twice and Fiji once, in addition to a comprehensive win over Romania earlier this year.
So, it is as one of the strongest tier two nations that Georgia goes to Scotland where they will seek to record what would be their greatest ever result should they win at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park on 26 November (kick-off 6:30pm Georgian time).
By Alastair Watt