2 Oct 2015

All Blacks have Georgia on their mind

11:35 am on 2 October 2015

OPINION: Georgia is one of the real anomalies of the Rugby World Cup. A nation that has no links whatsoever to Britain, hasn't got a massively funded pro league like Japan and doesn't rely on grabbing any stray New Zealander that comes floating by to give it some credibility (apart from the coach).

Victor Vito and Richie McCaw at a training session in Cardiff,  earlier this week.

Victor Vito and Richie McCaw at a training session in Cardiff, earlier this week. Photo: AFP

They're a shining rebuttal to any claims that rugby isn't a truly global sport, plus they're getting pretty good at it.

So how do they even know what rugby is?

Turns out the Soviet Union was pretty keen on footy, but their participation in regular Test matches was limited due to the Cold War. They were actually supposed to take part in the first Rugby World Cup, but withdrew before they were officially invited (sporting boycotts were pretty trendy back in the 1970s and 1980s).

Georgia was a part of the aforementioned former superpower, and their rugby governing body survived the subsequent breakup and Georgian Civil War.

Right now the Lelos (their official team name) are arguably the most rapidly improving team in world rugby. They can boast recent Test wins over Manu Samoa, Canada and Japan, plus a 2015 RWC victory over Tonga.

This will be the first time the All Blacks have met the Lelos in a Test match, however had a guy with a Georgian name had his kicking boots on four years ago we'd probably be cursing it to this day. French halfback Dimitri Yachvili, whose grandfather found his way to France from Georgia via a Nazi POW camp, missed a crucial penalty in the 2011 World Cup final. As we all know, one kick made all the difference in that game, but who knows if they would've made a heartwarming TV movie about Yachvili like they did with Stephen Donald.

The All Blacks have named a pretty strong team for this one.

The most interesting selections are in the front row. Charlie Faumuina and Wyatt Crockett both get a start, which is clearly a sign that they are both in the hunt for top XV starting jerseys. Faumuina in particular has a chance at ousting 116-Test veteran Tony Woodcock from his spot. Crockett would need something pretty drastic to happen for him to get over Owen Franks, but stranger things have happened.

Sonny Bill Williams is playing like a flat out beast right now and gets another chance to push his case, with Ma'a Nonu out injured for what would have been his 100th Test. SBW will have Dan Carter inside him, the latter better not get hurt as there is no first five cover on the bench. Apparently TJ Perenara is the back up goal kicker, and we're all hoping he'll bust out one of these:

The Lelos have named their most experienced lineup in their Test history, but this team isn't their top XV as they're saving their big guns for their match against Namibia. Most of their squad are contracted in France, where Georgians have a reputation as being uncompromisingly brutal forwards. However, their lack of pedigree in the backs (any time their wingers have touched the ball in the tournament has been by accident rather than design) will mean they'll struggle to get past the All Black defence.

Their game will revolve around gigantic captain Mamuka ''Gorgodzilla'' Gorgodza, who has shifted from No.8 to openside. Have fun tackling all 119 kgs of him, Richie.

Man to watch: Waisake Naholo's previously broken but now miraculously healed leg gets its first run around. An impressive performance here could do a lot for Naholo's cause (to say nothing of what it could do for the reputation of traditional Fijian medicine).

Prediction: Almost top All Black team, second string Georgian one. Those descriptions really should be the other way around, but even that wouldn't make much difference. Don't get me wrong, the All Blacks are definitely going to feel like they've been in a game because the Lelos will be putting in the hits, but it'll still be a comfortable victory.

Predicted score: All Blacks 50 Georgia 6

Georgia's head coach Milton Haig 
and captain Mamuka Gorgodze lead the captain's run at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff.

Georgia's head coach Milton Haig and captain Mamuka Gorgodze lead the captain's run at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff. Photo: AFP

How they line up:

All Blacks: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw(c) 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 TJ Perenara, 23 Malakai Fekitoa

Lelos: 15 Beka Tsiklauri, 14 Giorgi Aptsiauri, 13 David Kacharava, 12 Tamaz Mchedlidze, 11 Alexandr Todua, 10 Lasha Malaguradze, 9 Giorgi Begadze, 8 Lasha Lomidze, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze (c), 6 Shalva Sutiashvili, 5 Giorgi Chkhaidze, 4 levan Datunashvili, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Shalva Mamukashvili, 1 Karlen Asieshvili Reserves: 16 Simon Maisuradze, 17 Mikheil Nariashvili, 18 Anton Peikrishvili, 19 Konstantine Mikautadze, 20 Viktor Kolelishvili, 21 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 22 Merab Sharikadze, 23 Murazi Giorgadze

Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

Saturday October 3rd (NZT)

8am kick off

The Benchwarmer's Comment logo

Jamie 'The Benchwarmer' Wall grew up in Wellington and enjoyed a stunningly mediocre rugby career in which the sole highlight was a seat on the bench for his club's premier side. He's enjoyed far more success spouting his viewpoints on the game to anyone who'll care to listen.

The Benchwarmer's Comment will run throughout the World Cup on radionz.co.nz