Georgia withstood a late surge by Tonga to clinch a 17-10 win in Gloucester on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
It was a disappointing effort from the Tongans, but take nothing away from Georgia. They were worthy winners of an encounter where they outmuscled the opposition in the physicality stakes and the crowd who backed the Ikale Tahi.
Tonga looked up for the challenge in the early stages, giving the ball air in an attempt to get their wide men into the game from the start. But stonewalling defence by Georgia kept them at bay.
A quarter of the way through, the sides could still not be separated after Kurt Morath and Merab Kvirikashvili traded penalties for a 3-3 scoreline.
But with Georgia dominating territory and possession plus bulldozing Tonga at the set pieces, the pressure eventually told.
The Europeans marched into the 22 following some good work by 18-year-old scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze, the youngest ever player at a World Cup. Captain Mamuka Gorgodze picked the ball up at the base of the ruck, powered through the tackle and stretched to score. Kvirikashvili converted.
Tonga thought they had hit back on the stroke of half-time when Viliami Ma'afu ran onto an inside pass to glide over the tryline, but were called back for a forward pass.
By the end of the first half, Georgia had already made 90 tackles to Tonga's 33.
Tonga began the second stanza as they did the first, but poor handling and decision-making continued to stifle their momentum. That was epitomised when another poor kick by Morath led to a wonderful counter-attack by Kvirikashvili. The Georgia fullback fielded the up and under, and spotting open space ahead of him, squirted down the right flank into the 22. With Tonga backpeddling, the ball was recycled quickly and blindside flanker Giorgi Tkhilaishvili finished off in the left corner.
After putting in a lacklustre performance for 60 minutes, Tonga turned the tide and started to play with more urgency. They camped inside Georgia's 22 and although Georgia's excellent defending came to the fore again, there was a sense of inevitability to Tonga's attack. Left wing Fetu'u Vainikolo finally broke through the wall for his record-breaking 15th Test try. Morath nailed the touchline conversion to set up a nervy finish.
Georgia, who were reduced to 14 men when Kvirikashvili was yellow-carded for a professional foul in the build-up to Tonga's try, were able to hold on to secure a thrilling win.
Tonga – Try: Fetu'u Vainikolo. Conversion: Kurt Morath. Penalty: Morath.
Georgia – Tries: Mamuka Gorgodze, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili. Conversions: Merab Kvirikashvili (2). Penalty: Kvirikashvili.
Tonga – 15 Vunga Lilo, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Will Helu, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10 Kurt Morath, 9 Tane Takulua, 8 Viliami Ma’afu, 7 Nili Latu (c), 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Steve Mafi, 4 Lua Lokotui, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Tevita Mailau. Subs: 16 Paul Ngauamo, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Hale T Pole, 20 Jack Ram, 21 Samisoni Fisilau, 22 Latiume Fosita, 23 Sione Piukala.
Georgia – 15 Merab Kvirikashvili, 14 Tamaz Mtchedlidze, 13 Davit Katcharava, 12 Merab Sharikadze, 11 Giorgi Aptsiauri, 10 Lasha Malaghuradze, 9 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 8 Mamuka Gorgodze (c), 7 Vito Kolelishvili, 6 Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, 5 Giorgi Nemsadze, 4 Kote Mikautadze, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili. Subs: 16 Shalva Mamukashvili, 17 Kakha Asieshvili, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Levan Datunashvili, 20 Shalva Sutiashvili, 21 Giorgi Begadze, 22 Giorgi Pruidze, 23 Muraz Giorgadze.
Photo: Harry Engels/Getty Images