Ireland v Georgia
Joe Schmidt sends his Ireland World Cup hopefuls in against Georgia tomorrow warning them not to be intimidated by the physically aggressive Lelos.
With squad places up for grabs ahead of September’s World Cup in England, there will be no lack of incentive within an essentially second string Ireland side captained by Eoin Reddan showing 13 changes from the line-up which started last Saturday’s famous 29-15 victory over South Africa. With a showpiece fixture against Australia next weekend leading into a Six Nations title defence, this is the best opportunity many will get to make an impression ahead of next summer’s tournament warm-ups. Yet, in potentially wet-weather conditions against a big, physical, forward-orientated Georgian side, Schmidt has seen enough of the visitors in their tight game with an Emerging Ireland side in June 2013 to know the tier-two nation has what it takes to unsettle an inexperienced side.
It took two late Ian Keatley penalties to defeat Georgia 20-15 in that IRB Tbilisi Cup game two summers ago and the Ireland head coach, who has handed Test debuts tomorrow to two forwards from that game, Munster lock Dave Foley and Leinster back-row Dominic Ryan, has urged his players to be on their guard.
“They have a physical aggression that can be intimidating. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t allow them to intimidate us, that we can look after the ball and we can ‘aggress’ them to a degree, with good technique and with a good bit of structure and make sure that our systems are well resourced, that players are on their feet, that they’re contributing,” Schmidt said yesterday having named his matchday squad.
“That’s a real challenge because some of the players haven’t spent that much time in them, and that’s why it’s likely to be imperfect at times. If we do nail a couple of chances, if we do get the points that we need from a couple of good phases of play, if our defence can hold up and be as effective as it was last week apart from the last two minutes, and if we can get a really solid set-piece, get some pressure on their ball, get some real quality in our delivery, then they’ll be the makings of a good day at the office.”
There are just two survivors from the side that defeated the Springboks last weekend, with Schmidt retaining Simon Zebo on the left wing and Mike Ross at tighthead prop while promoting seven of last Saturday’s replacements with full-back Felix Jones, fly-half Ian Madigan, scrum-half Reddan, loosehead Dave Kilcoyne, hooker Richardt Strauss, lock Mike McCarthy and flanker Tommy O’Donnell stepping up as the frontline players are rested ahead of the Wallabies’ visit to the Aviva six days later.
In addition to the debutants, backs Craig Gilroy, Darren Cave and Gordon D’Arcy will make their first appearances of the Guinness Series, as well as No.8 Robbie Diack while Munster back rower Robin Copeland makes the bench and is the other member of the 23 set to make his Ireland debut.
More than 42,000 tickets have already been sold for Georgia’s third visit to Dublin, the previous two having been World Cup qualifiers in 1998 and 2002 which produced 70-0 and 63-14 landslides for the Irish.
The most recent Test meeting, however, came at the 2007 World Cup in Bordeaux where Georgia put the frighteners on a sluggish Ireland with Eddie O’Sullivan’s side lucky to escape with a 14-10 pool win.
Right toward the end, the game was right in the balance and 14-10 is never comfortable,” recalled Schmidt who watched the game from his then base in Clermont. “That is certainly a warning of what they can deliver.”
With a game that has all the hallmarks of an interlude between headline-grabbing assignments against Southern Hemisphere giants, Schmidt is in a difficult position. Clearly he has to prioritise a victory over the Wallabies but he also needs to maintain the momentum his players have created by beating the Springboks. The six-day turnaround between Georgia and Australia means he has been unable to bring continuity to his selection so he has backed his carefully honed squad culture and environment to deliver a performance despite the pitfalls.
The head coach said he will expect imperfection but he also wants to build on the South African success.
“I think for us, a really good day at the office would be a solid set-piece,” Schmidt said. Paul (O’Connell) said it after the game, we were a little bit frustrated about the set-piece last week. So for us a good day would be a solid set-piece.
“It would be to build again on our defensive effort which I think players can take a bit of pride. We didn’t actually have a lot of ball to attack with last week, but if there’s a couple of micro plays, or there’s a couple of opportunities that we get to maximise the potential and the opportunity that we create, and get something for it, whether three, five or seven points.”
For all the potential banana skins presented by Schmidt, Georgia’s tier-two status and last week’s home defeat by Tonga suggests Ireland’s World Cup wannabes have a great opportunity to tick the boxes on Schmidt’s wishlist.
How they match up: Simon Lewis looks at the key battles
Ireland: The scrummaging performance against South Africa left a bitter taste in the mouths of Mike Ross and scrum coach Greg Feek as Ireland often struggled to get on terms with the Boks and referee Romain Poite. It was a 2½ out of 5 performance but expect plenty of hard work on the training field this week and a front row of Kilcoyne, Strauss and Ross determined to make amends tomorrow 3½/5
Georgia: The focus of all the praise, the Lelos pride themselves on their scrummaging, roll out world-class props on a conveyor belt and with an all-foreign-based pack they are clearly not to be underestimated. With a front row plying its trade in Montpellier, Sale and Stade Francais last weekend, the Georgians came out about even against Tonga winning two scrums on opposition ball and losing two on their own put-in. 3½/5
Ireland: Not a good day at the office against South Africa for Paul O’Connell’s lineout unit and the captain shouldered the blame by admitting to poor calling, exonerating hooker Sean Cronin in the process. The Springboks exerted maximum pressure on Irish ball and reaped their reward but the Irish lineout came up trumps when it mattered, negating their maul by not contesting and winning a vital turnover in the visitors’ corner which led to three crucial points. Mike McCarthy and debutant Dave Foley get a chance to impress tomorrow. 3/5
Georgia: Against Tonga, Sale hooker Shalva Mamukashvili, an unused Champions Cup sub against Munster recently, had limited opportunities, with Georgia getting only six lineouts. Toulon’s Kote Mikautadze and Aurillac’s Levan Datunashvili, replaced this week by Tarbes’ Giorgi Nemsadze, in the second row lost two of them but stole two on Tongan ball. 2½/5
Ireland: An almighty effort in the tackle from Ireland against South Africa, particularly given the late changes in their back row when openside flanker Chris Henry was a late withdrawal through illness. That Ireland were able to slow Springbok ball down and give scrum-half Francois Hougaard such a hard time without the likes of Best, Healy, McFadden and O’Brien is a testament to the standards set. All change this weekend in the back row with Dominic Ryan, Tommy O’Donnell and Robbie Diack out to make an impact. 4/5
Georgia: With such a physical pack, Ireland should expect a battle at the breakdown although they will be missing their standout exponent of the art in Toulon’s Mamuka Gorgodze, sadly absent through injury. Clermont’s Viktor Kolelishvili and Perpignan No.8 Dimitri Basilaia remain in the back row, however. 3/5
Ireland: A faultless display off the tee for fly-half Johnny Sexton with four penalties and two conversions against South Africa. Sexton’s kicking game was sublime at times while scrum-half Conor Murray’s crossfield kick set up Tommy Bowe’s game-clinching try. There were also some neat kicking moments from Robbie Henshaw and Rob Kearney. 3½/5
Georgia: Full-back Merab Kvirikashvili kicked all Georgia’s points last week in the 23-9 loss at home to Tonga, converting three of five penalty attempts but difficult to judge how tactically effective they are with the boot when they enjoyed so little possession. Fly-half Lasha Khmaladze only touched the ball 23 times and kicked it 10 times. 3/5
Ireland: A tour de force from half-backs Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton showed the way for Ireland against the Springboks last week without the need to venture too many times into their opponents’ 22. Schmidt will look for a new backline retaining only Simon Zebo from last week to get more penetration and perhaps more expansiveness this weekend. 3½/5
Georgia: Tryless against Tonga last week as their Pacific Island visitors dominated possession. Full-back Kvirikashvili was the main attacking threat, beating three defenders as Georgia were reduced to countering the rare moments they got their hands on the ball. 2/5
Ireland: Performed heroics last week to withstand huge South African pressure in all facets of the game and did so with discipline for the most part, restricting Handré Pollard to two penalty kicks at goal. Two tries were conceded but Georgia should be less problematic, not only to work out but also to contain, although they will offer another physical challenge up front. 3½/5
Georgia: Well organised with their set-piece defence but Ireland’s attacking smarts may prove too much for a lower-league back three to cope with in Dublin tomorrow. The 21 missed tackles last week against Tonga tells its own story and conceding two tries in the last 10 minutes suggests they may struggle to last the pace. 2½/5
Totals: Ireland: 21/30. Georgia: 16½/30
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