Since their Grand Slam triumph over Ireland Wales has had an uneven run of World Cup warm-ups that saw them lose twice to Ireland and once to England, not to mention the shock of assistant coach Rob Howley being sent home over alleged breeches of the betting code. But all that was put behind them at the Toyota Stadium, before 15,000 travelling fans as they played the first of their Pool “D” games.
Wales’ world cup campaign got off to a high octane start, with a first half that saw them scoring a point pretty much for every minute on the clock. Jonathan Davies set the try-scoring tempo in the second minute of the match, accepting a textbook flat pass from scrum-half Gareth Davies to cross the line, followed by an untypical failed conversion by Dan Biggar, possibly dazed as the result of a knock to the jaw he’d received during the warm-up.
Davies was also involved in the second try. A strong scrum for Wales saw Adams connecting with Davies who put in a real burst of speed before being tackled, Tipuric then picking up the ball to totally outflank some lumbering defenders.
A Welsh line-out then gifted Adams, his boots seemingly on fire, with both a useful ball and plenty of space, to allow him to run forty metres unchecked to cross the line.
Welsh confidence was also evident in their running mauls from way out with many fans, therefore, expecting to see Georgia’s stamina dissipate in the second half.
The new, and newly-arrived backs’ coach Stephen Jones had had seemingly precious little time to inject the flair and vigour amply demonstrated in the Scarlets’ style of play these past four seasons, having attended just two Wales’ training sessions in Japan. But one of the most heartening aspects of the game was the try-scoring, showing that the Welsh defensive line built solidly over many seasons by Sean Edwards could be complemented by intelligent, hole-in-defence-punching open play.
Captain and one-man pumping house Alun Wyn Jones gained his 129th cap for Wales and once again proved talismanic for his work rate alone. While Justin Tipuric was simply everywhere, playing the effective jackal as he always does, but also winning line-out ball and sometimes giving the appearance that there were two of him on the pitch. Just before half-time Wales Liam Williams benefitted from clever interplay between Gareth Davies and Jonathan Davies to score Wales’ fourth try.
The second half was very different with two tries coming Georgia’s way, suggesting coach Milton Haig must have delivered some stern words at half-time. His players came out of the traps with a determination hardly seen in the first forty minutes. Two pulsing, aggressive mauls got them to the line and huge hooker Mamukashvili grounded.
By way of response, Wales set up their own surging maul at the other end of the pitch which was illegally brought down, to the sound of collective protestation. Replacement hooker Jaba Bregvadze was duly sin binned for ten minutes, when Wales should have capitalised and really racked up the points. But crunching tackles and a spirited defence by Georgian players who had had some extra Weetabix neutralized some lacklustre Welsh attack.
George North then put in a kick to make any Number 10 proud, chased along a perfect line for no fewer than 40 metres by replacement scrum-half Tomos Williams who grounded it. He could have won a sprinting medal for his effort. As if by way of thank you Williams later managed to slalom his way past a clump of defenders, going one way then another, before offering a basketball, one-handed pass over the top of a player to North who duly scored. Late replacement Leigh Halfpenny then slotted the conversion.
If Warren Gatland went to sleep last night with Georgia on his mind, his focus will now turn to Australia who were well and truly rattled by Fiji in their first pool game, trailing the South Pacific islanders until well into the second half.
Wales meet the Wallabies on Sunday with a few things to fix and lessons to learn, as captain Alun Wyn Jones attested in the post-match TV interviews, especially from an unstructured second half when they went off the boil rather.
But a half-dozen tries and a bonus point is more than a good start. This, combined with individual displays of talent such as Justin Tipuric’s footwork as he danced along the touchline like a ballet dancer, or George North’s 39th international try would have definitely helped settle collective nerves. As would the scoreline. Wales 43. Georgia 14. Game on. Sorry, pool-deciding game on.