Georgia 12 Emerging Ireland 45: Billy Holland had to discard his crutches to lift the trophy at Avchala Stadium after succumbing to a captain’s curse in Tbilisi.
Holland took the armband from Rhys Ruddock, who broke his arm in the previous match, for this final game against hosts Georgia, only to roll his ankle after barely two minutes.
The Munster lock briefly played on after treatment, during which time Georgia took the lead through Beziers No8 Lasha Lomidze, before hobbling off clearly in pain.
“We don’t know the extent of the injury yet. He went over on his [right] ankle so we’ll have to wait and see what comes from the scans when we get back home,” said Emerging XV coach Allen Clarke.
It was the last thing Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt wanted to see just moments after arriving. However he left far happier after watching a team of youngsters and World Cup hopefuls weather an early Georgian storm before turning on the style in a second-half blitz of their own.
“It was great to have Joe here. He was satisfied with what we achieved in winning the tournament, but more important was the performance,” said Clarke.
“Undoubtedly, there were men out there who have put their hands up for the World Cup squad this year as well as the tournament in 2019, which was always the purpose of this campaign for us.”
Stephen Archer, Dan Leavy and Jack Conan will have impressed Schmidt after muscling up to some stiff opposition. JJ Hanrahan kicked seven from seven while wings Matt Healy and Andrew Conway proved dangerous. Centre Stuart McCloskey also came through a physical encounter impressively.
“It has been a valuable experience for us. It has been tough because of the conditions, as well as playing three games in eight days. But that is part of the learning,” added Clarke.
“Along the way, we have shown glimpses of potential and we looked absolutely sublime in the second half when we played with pace and precision. We knew if we could live with their physicality, we were going to back our rugby, fitness and skill-set.
“If this group stays together for a while, they could be unbelievably dangerous with an 80-minute performance.”
Georgia also lost their captain, Levan Datunashvili, in the opening minutes with his side ahead 5-0 and Ireland took the lead before half-time through a penalty try when their driving maul was pulled down short of the line.
Once Ireland’s pack had absorbed the worst, their backs proved lethal, particularly on the counter-attack. Conan’s burst ended with Healy scoring while Hanrahan’s break was finished by Eoghan Masterson early in the second half.
Georgia replied through a trademark lineout drive but three tries in eight minutes, for John Cooney, Conway and Finlay Bealham, the prop crossing just seconds after taking the field, capped a resounding second-half display and an impressive victory.
B Tsiklauri; A Khutsishvili, R Gigauri, T Mtchedlidze, G Pruidze (I Svanidze, 58); M Ninidze, G Begadze (V Khutsishvili, 63); Z Zhvania, S Maisuradze (J Bregvadze, 48), A Peikrishvili (I Mirtskhulava, 48), L Datunashvili (capt, O Giorgadze, 8), K Mikautadze, B Bitsadze, L Lomidze S Shubitidze, 30), G Chkhaidze.
A Khutsishvili (47) Tries – L Lomidze, O Giordadze. Con – B Tsiklauri.
T O’Halloran; A Conway, N Reid (P Nelson, 68), S McCloskey (E Griffin, 58), M Healy; JJ Hanrahan, L McGrath (J Cooney, HT); J Cronin (D Buckley, HT), R Herring (D Herrernan, 73), S Archer (F Bealham, 73), B Marshall (F Taggart, 70), B Holland (cap, A Browne, 7), E Masterson, D Leavy, J Conan.
Penalty, M Healy, E Masterson, J Cooney, A Conway, F Bealham.
JJ Hanrahan (6). Pen: Hanrahan
Mathieu Raynal (France)
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