"Georgia Battle to Historic Win over Samoa"

01-Dec-2013

By Alastair Watt

Link to the article

It felt like the longest last minute in the history of sport but Georgia survived a late siege to emerge with a stunning 16-15 victory over Samoa at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium on November 23.

A second-half try from center Merab Sharikadze and 11 points from the boot of Merab Kvirikashvili steered the Georgians to surely their most impressive success in 24 years as an independent rugby union nation.

The Samoans, ranked eighth in the world before kick-off, could scarcely believe the outcome having dominated the first-half, scoring two tries and terrorizing the frail looking Georgian defense.

Around 15,000 spectators braved the exposed Lokomotiv stadium as evening fell on the Georgian capital and the natives were treated to a rousing pre-match ritual – the traditional Samoan challenge the siva tau. Akin to a war dance, it stirred the home crowd and set the scene perfectly for what would be an engrossing match.

Despite having been thrashed by Ireland the previous week, Samoa’s pedigree in global rugby is strong as demonstrated by recent wins against Italy, Scotland, Wales and – two years ago – Australia.

Georgia meanwhile were still smarting from a last minute loss to USA in Rustavi. Eager to make amends for that setback, it was the home side who struck first blood in Tbilisi as Kvirikashvili kicked an early penalty to put Georgia 3-0 ahead.

The lead lasted only a few minutes though as Georgia’s defensive frailties were exposed, as Jack Lam burst through some unconvincing tackles to set up Alpati Leiua for Samoa to score the first try of the evening.

The conversion was missed by stand-off Tusi Pisi and Georgia soon regained the lead despite having Mamuka Gorgodze sin-binned for a high tackle. In the captain’s absence, Georgia powered forward, with the 14 men yielding a penalty which was dispatched effortlessly by Kvirikashvili.

In the 26th minute, the visitors again prospered from sloppy Georgian tackling to add their second try of the game as flanker Lam flew across the line to hand Samoa a 10-6 lead, which soon became 12-6 when Pisi successfully kicked the conversion.

The scoreline stayed the same until half-time although Kvirikashvili nearly halved Georgia’s arrears when his long-range penalty attempt fell a couple of meters short of the Samoan posts.

The opening period had seen Samoa take full advantage of Georgia’s weakness in the backs department and it was difficult to imagine that the visitors would not add further scores in the second-half.

However, Georgia re-emerged after the interval, a team reborn. Whatever New Zealander head coach Milton Haig had said at half-time had achieved the desired effect as if in the first-half Georgia resembled an obedient spaniel, in the second they roared like a Caucasian shepherd.

Number 8 Girogi Chkhaidze drove through the Samoan backline and sharp passing from Giorgi Begadze and Lasha Khmaladze set up Sharikadze to tear his way to the line and score a try of great tenacity and technique a meter wide of the Samoan posts.

When Kvirikashvili added a straightforward conversion, the hosts were back in front. Suddenly, with a 13-12 lead to cheer, the Georgian faithful found their voices and chanted their heroes towards what would be a stunning success.

The hosts’ hopes appeared to have been dashed when Pisi’s penalty restored Samoa’s advantage with less than 15 minutes remaining.

However, with the cries of “SA-QART-VELO” now ringing around not just the stadium but the whole country, the Lelos were determined to grasp this historic opportunity.

After a weak attempt at a drop-goal, Kvirikashvili stepped up to score the decisive penalty following some untimely ill-discipline among the Samoan forwards. For Georgia’s record points scorer, they were perhaps the most precious of the 478 points he has accumulated in his international career.

Victory was in sight, the home crowd was now as animated as they had been all day but there was still work to do.

As the clock ticked 80 minutes, Samoa piled on the pressure, edging closer and closer towards the Georgian try-line. All the hosts needed to do was get possession and kick the ball into touch, or pray for a Samoan error.

We were ten minutes beyond the 80 before Samoa dropped the ball15 meters from the line, and French referee Romain Poite’s final whistle triggered scenes of delirious jubilation on the pitch and in the stands.

After the match, ecstatic captain Gorgodze praised the Georgian fans for their relentless support. He beamed: “The fans have a special influence on the players and I want to thank them all. We won this match together.”

President of the Georgian Rugby Union Giorgi Nizharadze explained that, as the match had taken place on Giorgoba (St George’s Day) it had special significance. He noted: “Of course, the grace of St George helped us.”

Nizharadze added that the victory had been miraculous, saying: “Today was a miracle and Georgia played sensationally. I have never seen such creative play from us.”

Defeated Samoan coach Stephen Betham claimed that Georgia had proved that they deserve to play against the world’s best more often.

He stated: “Well done to Georgia on a brilliant and deserved victory. They, along with other second tier teams, must have the chance to regularly play the top teams.”

 

 

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