Rugby World Cup 2019
Australia 27-8 Georgia
Job done for Australia as they beat a resilient Georgia in the driving rain and gusting wind in Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on Friday. But despite a strong set-piece and moments of brilliance in the loose, the Wallabies have plenty to work on as they march on to the quarter-finals.
Two tries in the final six minutes added some welcome gloss to the scoreline for the two-time world champions but it was never easy against a Georgia side defined by their relentless line speed in defence.
After a dominant but ultimately frustrating opening quarter for the Wallabies, they finally scored in the 22nd minute. To no one’s surprise, livewire Matt To’omua was largely responsible.
Starting at fly-half for the first time in 12 months, the play-maker broke clear from his own half. As the gold shirts poured first left and then right, even a succession of hard Georgia hits could not hold back the tide. Scrum-half Nic White finally wriggled over from a metre out to give the Wallabies the lead their territory and possession, if not their accuracy, deserved. A confident To’omua added the extras.
But just as Australia appeared to be building some momentum, their recurring problem with ill-discipline returned. First, hooker Tolu Latu was pinged for yet another high tackle, giving Georgia full-back Soso Matiashvili the easiest of chances in front of the posts after 27 minutes. Seven minutes later number eight Isi Naisarani received Australia’s third yellow card of the tournament, again catching the referee’s attention for a high hit.
To’omua did cap off an impressive first 40 minutes with a sweetly struck penalty from just the wrong side of the 10m line but a score of 10-3 at the break was scant reward for a half in which the Wallabies boasted 79 per cent possession and 85 per cent of territory. In the first 34 minutes alone Georgia were forced to make a staggering 124 tackles.
One area of play that would have delighted coach Michael Cheika was the Wallabies’ ascendancy in the scrum. Again and again the green and gold squeezed Georgia back, denying the Europeans one of their traditional strengths. The pressure was so severe that Georgia’s coach, Milton Haig, replaced his entire front row with just 50 minutes on the clock.
Despite this Australia, for whom second-row Izack Rodda was Player of the Match, struggled to make such dominance pay. Georgia’s continually aggressive line speed forced handling error after handling error, with even the Wallabies’ second try coming from a dropped ball – though that should take nothing away from winger Mariaka Koroibete, whose footwork and natural speed produced one of the standout individual tries of this or any World Cup.
There seemed to be little danger for Georgia with the ball bobbling around their 10-metre line after another Australia attack had petered out in the rain but the former rugby league man had other ideas. After an outrageous step had done for replacement back Giorgi Melikidze, Koroibete flew past several static defenders before rounding winger Alexander Todua with ease.
Much to the crowd’s delight, however, Georgia were not done. The Lelos’ lineout struggled throughout, losing five over the 80 minutes, but after finally securing their own ball, Georgia moved it wide at pace with fly-half Lasha Khmaladze popping up at outside-centre to draw his man and set his winger Todua free.
The score seemed to spur Australia back on to the front foot. First the forwards pounded over, blind-side Jack Dempsey emerging from the back of a driving maul in the 74th minute, then the Wallabies bench combined for a fine try. Second-row Rob Simmons, on for his 100th cap, slipped a neat ball into the hands of powerhouse prop Taniela Tupou before he looked inside and deftly released scrum-half Will Genia to diving over.
The final score, however, will not paper over the cracks for a Wallaby side that continues to delight and frustrate.