Brendan O’Brien, London
Joe Schmidt’s side may have got off to an impressive start at this Rugby World Cup with their dismissal of Canjada in Cardiff, but Michael Bradley recorded the first Irish success story of the tournament in Gloucester some hours earlier.
The Cork man is assistant manager to Milton Craig with Georgia who upset the odds to defeat Tonga at Kingsholm 17-10 early on Saturday: a result that sparked jubilant scenes among the East European contingent at the final whistle.
“You could see by the reaction of the players, fans and coaches at full-time how much this meant to us,” said the former Connacht coach. “There was a certain amount of relief too, given the intense pressure Tonga were applying towards the final whistle.
“Overall, when we led 10-3 at half-time, it was a good place to be and that lead meant Tonga had to come out and play. We set up a defensive structure from there and until their try we did enough to get over the line.”
The win, just Georgia’s third in four World Cups, is doubly significant as it puts them in prime position to finish third in a pool that also contains New Zealand and Argentina, a position which would guarantee them a place in the 2019 event in Japan.
Bradley, who also had a stint as head coach with Edinburgh, began working with the ‘Lelos’ in 2013 and the former Ireland international saw his brief extended as time went on.
The Georgians served up an astonishing defensive performance against the fancied Tongans, something epitomised by Toulon flanker Mamuka Gorgodze who made a frankly ridiculous 27 tackles in a man-of-the-match performance.
“I don’t like to talk about my own performance,” Gorgodze said. “I am the captain and I think this is why I was man of the match, but all the players were the same today. The small nations like Georgia are very tight, more than professional sides. We are friends and brothers.”
Gorgodze described the win as “the best victory in our history” – they came agonisingly close to scalping Ireland in the 2007 World Cup – before looking ahead to their next assignment, against Argentina back in Gloucester next weekend.
"They are big favourites. Argentina are one of the best teams in the world in the scrum, but maybe we’ll change history. Maybe Georgia will be the best, but maybe after the game I can say that. It will be very, very difficult. I’m sure that Georgia will give everything.”