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Georgia pack punch capable of rattling Irish

By Michael Sadlier

The overall plan was thrown a bit askew last weekend when Tonga came to Tbilisi and turned their hosts over.

Georgia had wanted to begin their autumn games in the right way, particularly in front of their growing home support, while also of importance to them is the fact that the Caucasus nation occupy the same pool as the Tongans in next autumn's World Cup.

And what a pool they are both in as along with Namibia the make-up of the group also includes Argentina and a certain All Blacks squad.

Of rather more pressing concern, though, was the aftermath of tasting defeat against Tonga, to the tune of 23-9, which meant the Georgians, who also host Japan next week, had been beaten for only the third time in 11 games in the Georgian capital.

'The Lelos' will be targeting Namibia as the side to clearly defeat next October in England, just as they did back in the 2007 tournament in France. But Georgia will also be thinking bigger and will want another scalp, with Tonga being the only likely looking candidates.

And why not go after it? After all, back in 2007 they also came so close to taking Ireland down. The memories still linger of that evening in Bordeaux when Ireland stumbled over the line by a mere 14-10, along the way to their shock exit at the pool stages.

That was the last time the sides met and only the third occasion the nations have played each other ahead of tomorrow.

Dredging up the spirit of that performance might give the visitors something to help focus their minds in taking on Joe Schmidt's much-changed but still strong-looking side.

The Georgians are, naturally, all about forward orientation with scrummaging their fundamental strength. They are definitely not easy to break down as indeed the Emerging Ireland side who beat the team they put out 20-15 in summer 2013's Tbilisi Cup will readily admit and it hardly comes as a surprise to find a considerable number of Georgians earn their trade in the visceral world of club rugby in France where physicality and endurance are key.

But Georgia's undoubted power could be greater as their squad - Kiwi coach Milton Haig has made three changes from the Tonga game with the experienced skipper Irakli Machkhaneli missing out due to a shoulder injury - prepare to take on the full Ireland side tomorrow afternoon.

Haig - who it turns out helped give Joe Schmidt his first real career break back in New Zealand - has also tried to bring greater subtlety to the Georgian game than mere scrummaging power and forward fury for the second tier side who are ranked 15th in the world and have former Connacht coach Michael Bradley on board as well.

Seven members of tomorrow's pack play their rugby in France.

These include loose-head prop Mikheil Nariashvili at Montpellier and second row Kote Mikautadze who is with Toulon along with replacement prop Levan Chilachava.

It's simple really. If they are to rattle Ireland, then it will be through their pack. 'The Lelos' will simply want to play to their strengths and for that you could hardly blame them.

Belfast Telegraph


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