The Inside Track on the huge upcoming Ireland match
Jonathan Bradley runs his eye over all the key battles and showdowns in tomorrow’s intriguing international tussle.
Dave Kilcoyne v Davit Kubriashvili
With first-choice loosehead Cian Healy aiming to return in time for the Six Nations, the likes of Dave Kilcoyne, Jack McGrath and James Cronin know that any chance to impress ahead of next year’s World Cup must be seized and it is Kilcoyne who gets the opportunity against Georgia.
Having battled with Cronin all season for the Munster No 1 jersey, he will win his 12th cap tomorrow. Not selected for the November internationals this time last year, the Limerick man has battled his way back into favour and featured twice on the tour to Argentina last summer before coming off the bench against South Africa last week.
The 25-year-old will, however, be tested by Davit Kubriashvili. The Stade Francais man is one of 28 Georgian props playing in France and has won 35 caps. Having also turned out for Toulon and the Barbarians, the 28-year-old has experience and almost a stone and a half over his opponent.
Dave Foley v Kote Mikautadze
Tomorrow’s contest will be a hugely memorable one for Munster lock Dave Foley as he makes his Ireland debut at the Aviva Stadium. The 26-year-old has made a real breakthrough this season. While this may be his first senior cap, he has experience of facing Georgia having been a part of the Emerging Ireland team that featured in the Tbilisi Cup in 2013.
He will be required to get through a good deal of work while, at 6ft 6in, he will be a popular target in the lineout. Despite being just 23, Kote Mikautadze is an international veteran compared to Foley and will win his 25th cap tomorrow. Also 6ft 6in, Mikautadze is playing at a high level with Toulon.
G D’Arcy v M Sharikadze
While Gordon D’Arcy was fit to start against South Africa, the week of training he missed at the start of camp meant Robbie Henshaw was given the chance to impress in the 12 jersey. With Australia visiting just seven days from now, the 34-year-old Wexford native gets the chance to lay down a marker as he looks to hold off the younger men looking to steal his spot in time for the World Cup.
While he does not make the breaks of old, his centre partnership with Darren Cave will be important to how Ireland move the ball. Georgia’s backs may be unfamiliar but there are at least a couple of Ulstermen with a knowledge of Merab Sharikadze. The inside centre is coached at Aurillac by former Ulster, Ireland and Lions lock Jeremy Davidson while he is a team-mate of the recently departed prop Paddy McAllister.
At just 21 years of age, Sharikadze has already amassed 26 caps and displayed an impressive ability to carry the ball when Georgia played Emerging Ireland in 2013.
The main threats
The bookies may favour Ireland by some 40 points, but anyone thinking that tomorrow’s visitors will pose more problems for Irish commentators than Irish players need only remember that traumatic evening in Bordeaux back in 2007.
Ireland were similarly fancied that day but, unable to cope with the muscular challenge of the Georgians, stuttered to a 14-10 win and their highly anticipated World Cup campaign never recovered.
Even without the talismanic figures of Mamuka Gorgodze and Davit Zirakashvili, Georgia will pose problems in the tight exchanges thanks to a host of forwards drawn from the Top 14 and Ireland will need to front up if they are to secure the expected big scoreline.
Despite what is largely a second-string side, Ireland have a running threat and Ian Madigan will relish the chance to put a dangerous back three into space.
While fans were revelling in the afterglow of that notable win against the Springboks last weekend, Ireland’s forward unit were describing the victory as bitter-sweet after both the scrum and the lineout struggled.
So, while the 13 changes to the Ireland side may render it something of a moot point, Joe Schmidt will welcome another crack at an opponent known for their physical play. Even if there is not much to test the home side behind the pack, Georgia will certainly give scrum coach Greg Feek some food for thought.
The Eastern Europeans will look to deny the men in green a platform from which to attack and attempt to ensure that captain for the day Eoin Reddan has a difficult time.
Last week, Ireland did not offload once and, aside from the halfback pairing of Jonny Sexton and Conor Murray, passed the ball on just 13 occasions. Expect a different story tomorrow.
Stat attack: Ireland’s last meeting with Georgia sticks in the memory for all the wrong reasons but, of the players who featured in green that day, only Gordon D’Arcy will play at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow. Georgia’s captain David Kacharava was among the opposition.
A bit of previous
Ireland’s last six results:
Ireland 29 South Africa 15
Argentina 17 Ireland 23
Argentina 17 Ireland 29
France 20 Ireland 22*
Ireland 46 Italy 7*
England 13 Ireland 10*
Georgia’s last six results:
Georgia 9 Tonga 23
Georgia 24 Emerging Italy 10
Georgia 16 Argentina Jaguars 26
Georgia 23 Spain 13
Georgia 22 Romania 9
Spain 17 Georgia 24