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Opposition Focus: Georgia

Opposition Focus: Georgia

Wales’ first Rugby World Cup opponents are Georgia and the giants of Eastern Europe will be sure to provide a stern challenge for Warren Gatland’s men in Toyota on Monday.

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The Pool D clash is a chance for Wales to get off to a good start but head coach Gatland is taking nothing for granted.

Georgia’s impressive performances over the last two years or more mean they are certainly a team on the up, and they have competed at the last four World Cups dating back to 2003.

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They have secured victories at each of the last three tournaments and in 2015 claimed two successes against Tonga and Namibia.

“It’ll be a lot harder here,” said Georgia coach Milton Haig, when asked if his team could repeat their feat of 2015 in Japan.

“When I spoke to the Tongan boys in 2015 after that first match (which Georgia won 17-10), they really weren’t looking at us. With what we’ve achieved – automatic qualification and some of our performances over the last four years – we won’t be able to fly under the radar this time.”

Wales’ last meeting with Georgia saw Gatland’s side emerge with 13-6 victory at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium in November 2017. Hallam Amos scored Wales’ try with Rhys Priestland kicking the rest of the points.

In that game, Georgia proved their effectiveness at the set-piece and a similar performance is expected in Japan, with threats posed in the scrum and their power work in the tight exchanges.

Haig has also been boosted for the 2019 World Cup by Georgian legend Mamuka Gorgodze coming out of international retirement.

Various people had tried in vain to get the 35-year-old Toulon forward to return to Test rugby since he stood down from the arena in 2017.

But when the Georgian Prime Minister and former rugby player Mamuka Bakhtadze picked up the phone and begged him to go to Japan, it was a call he couldn’t turn down.

“The current situation in the team meant I was needed,” Gorgodze said. “Two of our best players Merab Sharikadze and Giorgi Tsutskiridze have got injuries. I decided to retire three years ago because I wanted the fans to remember Mamuka Gorgodze at his best.

“I was repeatedly approached over the past three years with offers to change my mind, but I always refused. When those injuries took place the players told me I simply had to come back and I also got a call from Mamuka Bakhtadze so I decided to return.”

Gorgodze’s Georgian debut came 16 years ago and he has gone one to win 71 caps scoring a national record 26 tries in the process.

“I am in great shape in spite of my age. I’ve played 80 minutes in two games for Toulon,” he said. “I haven’t been with the
Georgian team for nearly three years nor have I been through all the preparation phases for the World Cup so there is a great risk I will not be able to blend in.”

Toulon have allowed Gorgodze, who scored two tries against Agen at the start of the TOP14 season, to feature in a fourth World Cup despite him signing for the French giants on the understanding he wouldn’t go to Japan.

“The coach told me he knew how important playing for the national team was, but if he did not have three other locks in the team he wouldn’t have been able to release me,” he said.

“What Mamuka is really good at is what he’s always been good at,” Haig said. “Apart from his experience and his leadership he’ll also bring that physicality that Georgians are known for.

“That’s what we’ll expect out of him and I’m sure that’s what he’ll give us.”

On the challenge of facing Wales, Haig added: “They’ll be different because it’s a World Cup and everyone wants to perform on this stage [but we] think we’ve got some strengths in terms of what we had last time.”

Wales v Georgia, Monday 23rd September, City of Toyota Stadium, 11.15am BST – Live on ITV

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