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Everything you need to know as Wales take on Georgia with top spot in Pool C up for grabs

06 Oct 2023 10 minute read
Wales players celebrate following victory in the Rugby World Cup 2023, Pool C match at the OL Stadium in Lyon, Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Simon Thomas

Wales go into their final World Cup group match against Georgia in Nantes with the luxury of having already qualified for the quarter-finals.

In fact, they only need a point to finish top of Pool C and set up a last eight clash against either either Argentina or Japan.

But they will want to make it four out of four to carry the winning momentum into the knock-out stages and also to gain revenge for last November’s shock 13-12 defeat to the Georgians in Cardiff.

So here’s everything you need to know about Saturday afternoon’s encounter in Brittany.

Match details
The setting for the match will bring back dark memories for Welsh fans. It was at the Stade de la Beaujoire in Nantes that Wales infamously lost 38-34 to Fiji at the 2007 World Cup.

It was a result that saw them bow out at the group stage and it cost coach Gareth Jenkins his job.
Close on 16 years to the day, Wales return to the ground in buoyant mood having already qualified for the quarter-finals.

The birthplace of French writer Jules Verne, Nantes is renowned for its unique Verne-inspired Machines of the Isle, which include a giant mechanical elephant that takes visitors for rides across the city.

That’s one for Welsh fans to try out!

Opened in 1984, the Stade de la Beaujoire, which has a capacity of around 35,000, is the home of the city’s Ligue 1 side FC Nantes.

Kick-off will be at 3pm local time – 2pm back here – when the temperature in the north west of France will be a very pleasant 26 degrees.

The team selections explained

After what happened in Cardiff last November, Wales probably didn’t need reminding that Georgia are highly physical, resilient and downright awkward opponents. But just in case a refresher was required, it was provided by the Lelos’ heroic display against Fiji in Bordeaux where they led 9-0 after 50 minutes before ultimately going down 17-12, having a try controversially disallowed along the way in a game where they made 197 tackles amid a monumental defensive effort.

It was confirmation they are not to be taken lightly and, as such, there were never going to be wholesale changes to the Welsh team. But, at the same time, Warren Gatland would have wanted to give more game-time to players who could yet have important roles to play deeper into the tournament.

The formula he has hit upon is selecting a strong side while also handing starts to men who could very well be in the 23 come the knock-out stages. It also sees him giving a complete rest to some who have had a gruelling work-load thus far, in bloodied skipper Jac Morgan, hooker Ryan Elias and wing Josh Adams.

Dewi Lake picture by Mike Egerton / PA Wire

With Morgan and Elias taking a breather, Dewi Lake comes in as captain and hooker. He will be straining every sinew to earn involvement in the quarter-final, having been omitted altogether from the Australia game. If he can hit his lineout targets and make his usual impact on the carry and at the breakdown, it will provide Gatland with a welcome selection headache.

With Dan Biggar still recovering from his pectoral injury, Gareth Anscombe wears No 10 and will be looking to back up his super-sub showing against the Wallabies to make himself a hard man to leave out of the side.

There are also starts for Rio Dyer, Tomos Williams, Dafydd Jenkins and the fit-again Tommy Reffell, while the likes of Nicky Smith, Henry Thomas, Sam Costelow and Mason Grady will be looking to grab opportunities off the bench after limited tournament time thus far.

Wing Louis Rees-Zammit and No 8 Taulupe Faletau are the only players who have been selected to start all four of Wales’ group matches.

As for Georgia, they have been hard hit by injuries, with full-back Miriani Modebadze, hooker Tengizi Zamtaradze and lock Lasha Jaiani all requiring surgery following the bruising encounter with Fiji.

However, skipper Merab Sharikadze is back fit again to lead the side from inside centre.

Head coach Levan Maisashvili has made five changes in all, with loosehead Guram Gogichashvili, hooker Shalva Mamukashvili and lock Nodar Cheishvili coming into the front five, while 35-year-old full-back Lasha Khmaladze makes his first appearance at this World Cup after playing three times in the 2011 tournament and four in 2019.

There are 15 survivors in the match-day 23 from the victory in Cardiff last year, including 11 in the starting XV.

If Wales do finish top of the group – as seems odds on with just a point required – they will face the runners-up from Pool D in the first quarter-final in Marseille on Saturday October 14. The identity of their opponent would be decided by Sunday afternoon’s winner-takes-all clash between Argentina and Japan in Nantes.

Wales: Liam Williams; Louis Rees Zammit, George North, Nick Tompkins, Rio Dyer; Gareth Anscombe, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Dewi Lake (capt), Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Dafydd Jenkins, Aaron Wainwright, Taulupe Faletau, Tommy Reffell.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Nicky Smith, Henry Thomas, Christ Tshiunza, Taine Basham, Gareth Davies, Sam Costelow, Mason Grady.

Georgia: Lasha Khmaladze; Akaki Tabutsadze, Giorgi Kveseladze, Merab Sharikadze (capt), Davit Niniashvili; Luka Matkava, Vasil Lobzhanidze; Guram Gogichashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Beka Gigashvili, Nodar Cheishvili, Konstantine Mikautadz, Mikheil Gachechiladze, Tornike Jalagonia, Beka Saginadze.

Replacements: Vano Karkadze, Nika Abuladze, Irakli Aptsiauri, Vladimer Chachanidze, Giorgi Tsutskiridze, Gela Aprasidze, Tedo Abzhandadze, Demur Tapladze.

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)

Georgian players to watch out for

Merab Sharikadze

Having missed the Fijian game through injury, the skipper is now back to lead his country and win his 99th cap. A former student at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire, he made his international debut way back in 2012, aged just 18. Deceptively strong in attack, defence and at the breakdown, the Moscow-born centre spent six years in France, primarily with Aurillac.

Mikheil Gachechiladze

The blindside flanker made no fewer than 25 tackles in the defiant defensive display against Fiji, by some distance the most from any player on the pitch. Now 32, he had a lengthy spell with Russian club Enisei-STM, before heading home to join Tbilisi-based Black Lion. Alongside him, No 8 Tornike Jalagonia has not missed a tackle at this World Cup, completing all 48 attempts. The back row duo will again be key figures in the rearguard action this weekend.

RC Toulon’s Beka Gigashvili celebrates with the trophy following the ECPR Challenge Cup final. Photo Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Beka Gigashvili

On the books of Toulon since 2019, he was rated the best tighthead prop in the Top 14 by Midi Olympique last season, being described as a “nightmare” for opponents in the scrum. A try-scoring Man of the Match in the EPCR Challenge Cup semi-final victory over Benetton, he then helped Toulon beat Glasgow in the final at the Aviva Stadium in May. Had previous stints with fellow French clubs Chambéry and Grenoble.

Luka Matkava

Welsh fans will be all too familiar with the fly-half as he was the man who kicked the 78th minute penalty from 45 metres to secure a famous victory for Georgia at the Principality Stadium last November. He was a replacement that day, but now he’s in from the start at No 10. He had a fine game in the opening group match against Australia and landed two shots at goal as he helped establish a surprise lead over Fiji last weekend.

What the coaches are saying

Warren Gatland (Wales head coach)

“We know we’re in the quarter-finals, but we want to finish top of the group and it’s about trying to win four from four. The boys have been really focused. They’ve been outstanding. I couldn’t be more pleased with their approach to this game.

“The team selection was about giving players an opportunity with a settled side and wanting players to have that continuity, even with some changes coming in. We want to keep building on the confidence and I think we can do that with the guys we’ve brought in. It’s a real opportunity for them.

“I think earlier in the tournament we didn’t get enough credit for what we had done. I think when people look back, it’s not an easy group. There are actually some tough sides in this group. We know how tough Fiji were, but Georgia are a good side as well and they will be a good challenge for us.

“We’ve got a huge amount of respect for them. Traditionally, in the past, they were very much a set-piece oriented team and relied on their forwards up front and their scrum. They’ve definitely developed their game. They throw the ball around and were really good against Fiji last week. They were unlucky not to convert a few more opportunities that came their way. They could easily have been more than nine points ahead at half-time.

“They’re a small, proud nation. They epitomise that attitude with what rugby means to them. When the Vikings came to England, they didn’t want to come across the border to fight the Welsh because of how mad they were and how much they wanted to defend their own territory and space. The Georgians are very much like that. If you look at their history, they’ve had their own battles and wars as well. We’re very aware of that and how proud they are as a people.

“We’re expecting a tough challenge from them. We know they’re a side that never give up. They’ll go to 80 minutes. We’ve got to make sure we’re really focused.

“We’re pleased with the position we’re in at the moment, with the progress we’ve made as a group. We’re excited about where we are and we’re looking forward to going deep into this tournament.”

Joe Worsley (Georgia defence coach)

“I know quite a few of the Wales staff. The last time I faced one of Warren’s teams it was four years ago at the last World Cup when I’d just got involved with Georgia.

“This Georgia team has evolved a lot since then. It’s far more dangerous now and far more capable of playing against the best teams.

“It will be interesting to see how far we’ve come against Wales because a lot of the guys who will be playing will be second or third choice because of injuries in the last two weeks. It’s going to be difficult.
“The guys really gave it their all against Fiji. It was more like the real Georgian team. The players pushed themselves to the limit and then a bit more. It wasn’t quite enough.

“We missed quite a few opportunities. It’s been a bit of an issue for us at this World Cup. We’re creating entries into the 22 and opportunities but not realising them. Against Wales, we’re going to get fewer opportunities. They’re a very controlled team playing a very tight game at the moment and doing it really well. We’ll need to take every chance that comes our way.”

What are the bookies’ predicting?

Wales win – 1/14
Georgia win – 13/2
Draw – 33/1
Odds via William Hill.

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7 months ago

I see that our esteemed leader has managed to fit in a trip to France as Wales take on Georgia.

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