Georgia will need a strong performance from captain Mamuka Gorgodze if they are to upset Tonga in Gloucester on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The minnows come into this opening Pool C fixture in contrasting form, with Tonga on a four-match winning run and Georgia on a four-match no-win streak. With southern hemisphere giants New Zealand and Argentina lying in wait, both camps will be eager to lay down an early marker.
Gorgodze was in top form for club and country before sustaining two knee injuries which kept him sidelined for the majority of the last European season. He has since undergone successful rehabilitation and was fast-tracked into the run-on XV for Georgia's World Cup warm-up matches against Canada and Japan, both of which resulted in narrow defeats for the Lelos.
The fact remains, though, that if Georgia are to do well against the experienced Tongans, and in the tournament overall, they need their No 8 to play to the best of his ability. Tonga, with their skill and pace, will outfox them in the battle of the backlines on Saturday, but Georgia are renowned for their forward prowess and Gorgodze must lead the charge by disrupting Tonga's set pieces at every opportunity.
Tonga have won two of their three Tests against Georgia and are well placed to secure another victory on Saturday. However, this will be the first World Cup match between the tier-two nations with much higher stakes.
Like all other Pacific nations, Tonga tend to become ill-disciplined when the pressure is on. The captain who manages his charges the best on the day, will increase his team's chances of leaving Kingsholm Stadium with a victory.
Both coaches have selected their strongest available starting lineups.
GORGODZE'S STATS THAT MATTER
61 – Test caps for Georgia
56 – Test starts
40 – Test wins
24 – Test tries
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Tonga 2, Georgia 1
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.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Photo: Marty Melville/Getty Images