Ireland grind their way to grisly win over Georgia
Andy Farrell’s side only score three points in the second-half of Autumn Nations Cup clash
Ireland 23 Georgia 10
Neither the scoreline nor the performance which Ireland were seeking. They move on to next Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup concluding game and a third place play-off against Scotland having recorded their 20th win in 21 home matches, and their eighth in a row, but they will need a significant improvement to extend that run.
The game wasn’t without its positives or some good individual displays, but after a bright enough first-half and despite 72 per cent possession and 80 per cent territory Ireland’s attack became very easy to read for a Georgian team that has shown its spirit and organisation in defence in previous games.
It doesn’t help that the running lines seemed quite lateral and Ireland didn’t vary the point of attack or use trail runners or decoys. They also seemed to lose their energy in the collisions and, again, had increasing problems at the breakdown.
The set-pieces were a mixed bag. The Irish lineout, with CJ Stander used at the front and Tadhg Beirne at the tail as further options, and Rob Herring very accurate, looked much more secure and defensively also put consistent pressure on the Georgian throw.
The laid back Mathieu Raynal was in a particularly pedantic mood. He is rated as a good scrum referee - indeed Warren Gatland, for one, regards him as the best in this sphere - but not here. The game’s first eight scrums, many of which took an age to set, all resulted in penalties - four apiece to each side in a tiresome tally of 14-10 overall against Georgia.
Billy Burns only played the first 45 minutes, and it says much about his performance that it was disappointing to see him taken off after a promising effort with what seemed a groin strain. This must now make him doubtful for next Saturday.
He took the ball to the line and varied his game well, fairly fizzing his passes out and ensuring Ireland played with plenty of width.
Iain Henderson was the freshest and hungriest of the Irish forwards, while Stander showed up for 24 carries and Beirne was prominent in his time on the pitch. Jacob Stockdale also demonstrated his attacking abilities as a fullback with his running and passing off both hands, while Hugo Keenan and Keith Earls worked hard as they lived off scraps. But Stockdale was also beaten one-on-one for Georgia’s try, which happens too often.
But for having one try disallowed for a very marginal forward pass, they would have been further in front by the time Burns went off. Alas, thereafter, Ireland’s attack lost its way and they only added three points in the second period.
At the outset Ireland had been quick to look for space in behind with attacking kicks, Burns chipping over the defensive line for Farrell to reclaim the ball before Farrell himself, a phase later, slightly overcooked his grubber kick.
Stuart McCloskey made a strong first carry but, in looking to offload, the ball was dislodged by the excellent Beka Gorgadze.
Ireland were soon in front though, Farrell pirouetting and deftly pulling the ball back for Burns to speed through the gap on the wrap.
He converted and added a penalty before, somewhat out of the blue, the Lelos carved open the Irish defence, fullback Soso Matiashvili took a long skip pass by outhalf Tedo Abzhandadze to put outside centre Giorgi Kveseladze through a gap between a slightly blocked Beirne and Stander just inside halfway.
Kveseladze eluded a diving Andrew Porter before dummying Stockdale and then stepped the covering Billy Burns to score under the posts for a fine 50 metre finish. The Georgians were understandably elated with their first points of the Autumn Nations Cup. Abzhandadze added the conversion.
Ireland responded with another Burns penalty before Keenan chased a caught a superb box kick by Murray and McCloskey angled a long touch-finder to within five metres of the Georgian line.
After a crooked throw, a scrum penalty to touch and a lineout drive, Ireland pounded the Georgian line before Burns skip passed to Stockdale who, in turn, gave Keenan a run-in for his third try in Test rugby when fizzing a skip pass off his left hand.
It wasn’t long before he was demonstrating the same skill off his right hand to seemingly put McCloskey away for a fine finish from halfway, but on review Reynal adjudged that the pass was fractionally forward. Given the modern interpretation of what constitutes a forward pass, it looked like a ridiculous decision.
Attacking off a scrum penalty up the touchline, the half ended with a frustrated James Ryan held up over the try line when clearly though he’d scored or, at any rate, the ball was about to be recycled.
Certainly Ireland deserved a bigger interval lead than 20-7, but that was soon trimmed to 20-10 when Will Connnors and Stander couldn’t shift Tornike Jalagonia off the ball and Farrell was pinged for not releasing. Abzhandadze landed the penalty.
After Burns’ departure and another interminable scrum and penalty against Ireland, Henderson won a penalty in the jackal and, after Ryan decreed that taking the three points was a better option, Ross Byrne bisected the posts.
After Reynal missed at least one, if not two, deliberate knock-ons, he then pinged Connors for offside when chasing Byrne’s chip after, remarkably, the ninth and first completed scrum of the game without a penalty.
During a prolonged stoppage before Gorgadze was strapped up and taken off on a motorised stretcher, Peter O’Mahony - who had assumed the captaincy when Quinn Roux replaced Ryan at the same time - called the players in to a huddle where an animated Byrne spoke at length.
Alas, upon the resumption, the penalties and stoppages continued apace until, in the final assault, Stander was again employed in a quick peel around the pack after a fake maul set-up, but he was held up over the line before their final attack ended, fittingly, with Stander being pinged by Reynal for holding on, with the ball in Kieran Marmion’s hands.
Scoring sequence: 7 mins Burns try and con 7-0; 14 mins Burns pen 10-0; 19 mins Kveseladze try, Abzhandadze con 10-7; 23 mins Burns pen 13-7; 34 mins Keenan try, Burns con 20-7; (half-time 20-7); 48 mins Abzhandadze pen 20-10; 58 mins Byrne pen 23-10.
IRELAND: Jacob Stockdale; Hugo Keenan, Chris Farrell, Stuart McCloskey, Keith Earls; Billy Burns, Conor Murray; Finlay Bealham, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter; Iain Henderson, James Ryan (capt); Tadhg Beirne, Will Connors, CJ Stander. Replacements: John Ryan for Porter (half-time), Ross Byrne for Burns (46 mins), Cian Healy for Bealham, Kieran Marmion for Murray (both 56 mins), Quinn Roux for Ryan, Peter O’Mahony for Connors (both 62 mins), Shane Daly for Earls (63 mins), Dave Heffernan for Connors (67 mins).
GEORGIA: Soso Matiashvili; Akaki Tabutsadze, Giorgi Kveseladze, Merab Sharikadze (capt), Tamaz Mchedlidze; Tedo Abzhandadze, Vasil Lobzhanidze; Mikheil Nariashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Beka Gigashvili; Nodar Cheishvili, Lasha Jaiani; Beka Saginadze, Tornike Jalagonia, Beka Gorgadze. Replacements: Giorgi Chkoidze for Mamukashvili (10-19 and 64 mins), Lexo Kaulashvili for Nariashvili (50 mins), Giorgi Javakhia for Nodar Cheishvili (62 mins), Mikheil Gachechiladze for Gorgadze (63 mins), Giorgi Melikidze for Gigashvili, Demur Tapladze for Mchedlidze (both 64 mins), David Niniashvili for Sharikadze (68 mins), Mikheil Alania for Lobzhanidze (75 mins).
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)