History lessons aplenty for Wales and Georgia

6 months ago 119
Georgia's victory over Wales in November 2022 is their only success having lost three previous games in the head-to-headGeorgia beat Wales for the first time in November 2022
Venue: Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes Date: Saturday 7 October Kick-off: 14:00 BST
Coverage: Live BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, BBC Sounds, BBC Sport website & app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app.

The words Nantes and Georgia both send shivers down the spines of Welsh rugby fans for separate occasions but similar reasons.

The World Cup nightmare of Nantes will remind people of Wales' spectacular group exit in 2007, when Gareth Jenkins' side were dumped out of the tournament by Fiji.

A low point for Welsh rugby was followed by another 15 years later.

As Georgia prepare to face Wales in Nantes this weekend in their World Cup finale, conversations this week have often referred back to the last time the two nations met 11 months ago.

Georgia's famous 13-12 win in Cardiff shocked the rugby world and effectively ended the tenure of head coach Wayne Pivac.

"I can proudly say that is the biggest win of Georgian rugby history," said captain Merab Sharikadze.

"I am proud I have been part of it and this memory is going to stay in our heads for our lifetimes."

The victory was masterminded by head coach Levan Maisashvili who a year earlier had been seriously ill after slipping into a coma after contracting Covid-19.

In the backroom staff was forwards coach and Cardiff cult hero Paul Tito who described it as one of the "great days" of Georgian rugby.

Wales v Georgia: Match preview, team news, kick-off time & Pool C standings

Wales revival

A lot has changed since.

Gatland was working as a pundit when Wales lost to Georgia but that day was analysing England and New Zealand rather than being pitch-side at the Principality Stadium.

"I only watched the first half, I was on my way to Twickenham," said Gatland.

"I was confident Wales would win. Unfortunately things came unstuck in the last 10 minutes, that sometimes happens."

The following month, Wales called Gatland to replace Pivac and he has led his adopted nation to a World Cup quarter-final in France with a game to spare.

Gatland insists that Georgia defeat has not been referenced in the build-up this week.

"We're not looking back and we haven't spoken about that," he said.

"We're completely looking forward. We're pleased with the position we're in and the progress we've made as a group."

Vikings and defenders

Warren Gatland oversaw a 2019 World Cup win over Georgia in JapanWarren Gatland oversaw a 2019 World Cup win over Georgia in Japan

Gatland has not abandoned history as he compared Wales and Georgia's love affair with rugby.

"We had a little bit of a history lesson looking at some of the things about Georgia," he said.

"They're a small, proud nation. We like to think when we're at our best, it's sometimes with our backs to the wall and never giving up.

"We talked about how Georgia defend and the Welsh boys are very similar.

"Georgia epitomise that attitude with what rugby means to them. It's their national sport.

"The great thing about Georgia is seeing rugby grow in their country and continue to develop."

It is not just rugby that Gatland has referenced this week. He has also compared how Georgia and Wales have reacted to previous attempted invasions of both countries.

"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," said Gatland.

"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 aware of that and how proud they are as a people and that was a bit of our messaging [to the Wales players]."

Different Wales players

Georgian captain Sharikadze knows his side are facing a different proposition this weekend with only four Wales starting survivors from the team that lost 11 months ago.

"It's a different team," said Sharikadze.

"They [Wales] are playing much better than they did last year in November and you can tell.

"Belief is a big thing, we will have the belief we can win because we have done it already so it's possible we can do it again."

Tito is still helping prepare the Georgia side.

"History shows Welsh teams that go to World Cups are well-prepared, super fit and strong and they play for each other," he said.

"That's what we have seen with Wales here with the changes they have made.

"They have made the most strides out of any team from before the World Cup.

"On their previous form you would not have given them much chance of achieving much but they have shown they are willing to work harder than any other team in pre-season.

"They are the fittest and strongest team in the group and are going well. Gats [Gatland] knows what he wants."

Georgia defence coach and ex England flanker Joe Worsley used to play under Gatland at Wasps and is also a former team-mate of Wales attack coach Alex King.

"Warren has a way of working and he can get a group mentality to do with hard work," said Worsley.

"He lets coaches and players get on with things and it's a nice mentality which has worked in numerous places and it seems to be working now with Wales again."

Missed opportunities

Pool C

So what about Georgia in this tournament in France? They had ambitions of proving dark horses in Pool C which has not materialised.

"Frustrating would be the word that sums it up," said Tito.

"We have shown when we get it right we can be a dangerous team but putting that together for 80 minutes has been a real work-on for us.

"We have created opportunities but have not been able to finish the job. With a little bit more confidence and finishing ability we could have made a big dent in this pool."

Georgia have traditionally been regarded as a forward-orientated side with a strong scrum.

The emergence of exciting runners like Akaki Tabutsadze and Davit Niniashvili has helped facilitate a change in style.

"The set-piece is still their DNA but you have seen with exciting backs these days they are not playing that 10-man rugby they used to play," said Tito.

Current head coach Levan Maisashvili was part of the Georgia staff in their first game against Wales in 2017Current head coach Levan Maisashvili was part of the Georgia staff in their first game against Wales in 2017

Maisashvili outlined why change was required.

"If you watch our game, not only at the World Cup but in the last year or two years ago, we started to play a more balanced game," said Maisashvili.

"Everyone understands if you want to go and win big games against tier-one countries you cannot play only this heavy game with just scrummaging or mauling."

Pride and purpose

Georgia are playing for pride following defeats to Australia and Fiji and a draw with Portugal.

It will be a rare chance to face a tier one nation as they attempt to keep reminding people why they should one day play in the Six Nations.

"We are under no illusions how tough it will be to beat Wales but Georgia are a proud country and the boys will be in the fight," said Tito.

"They will want to play for families and their country. It is also critical for them to grow and be comfortable with playing tier one nations so you have to play them more regularly.

"When you go to a World Cup there is no room for error, so you need to be playing those top teams more frequently.

"So it's important to go out of the World Cup on a good note."

Paul TitoPaul Tito is a former Cardiff Blues captain

That includes Tito also who will be involved in his final match with Georgia before heading back to New Zealand to continue his coaching career with Auckland Blues.

"It has been awesome," said Tito.

"It has been frustrating at times but I've enjoyed the opportunity to coach a proud nation like Georgia."

Tito has been part of one shock upset against a Wales side. Welsh fans will be hoping there is no "Nightmare of Nantes" sequel this weekend.

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