By Ed Osmond
Georgia are determined to rise to the occasion in their first ever game against the mighty All Blacks, who can book a World Cup quarter-final place with victory in the Pool C match at the Millennium Stadium on Friday (10pm).
The Georgians began their campaign well with a 17-10 win over Tonga before finding themselves on the wrong end of an emphatic 54-9 scoreline against Argentina. Now they face a task of even greater magnitude against defending champions New Zealand.
“For Georgian rugby it is pretty historic and being in a World Cup makes it even more special,” Georgia coach Milton Haig told a news conference.
New Zealander Haig will have no divided loyalties when he leads his side against the country of his birth.
“My loyalty and responsibility is to my team,” he said. “It will be a special occasion for me and I am looking forward to it.”
Haig believes Georgia has a passion for rugby similar to that in his homeland.
“They love the game in Georgia and there is a great camaraderie in our team,” he said.
“We have a very forward-orientated game and we have worked hard on our discipline, but we must play with fire in our belly, too.”
Haig is resting several first-team regulars with an eye on the final group game against Namibia next Wednesday but insists their focus and ability to give a good showing against the All Blacks remains undiminished.
“We have worked very hard to create depth in our squad and there is not a lot of difference in the players we put out,” Haig said. “We are looking for a bit of energy to face the All Blacks and it is right to make some changes.”
New Zealand beat Argentina 26-16 before a second-string team overwhelmed Namibia 58-14, but they have yet to find their smoothest attacking rhythm in the tournament.
“This game gives us an opportunity to build on our previous performances,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said.
“Although we don’t know a lot about them, we know enough. They’re big, strong athletes and should contribute to what will be a great occasion at the Millennium Stadium.”
The All Blacks suffered a shock World Cup 2007 quarter-final defeat against France in Cardiff, but flyhalf Dan Carter loves playing at the city’s impressive arena, where he has scored a total of 106 points.
“I’m often asked which is my favourite stadium to play,” the 33-year-old said. “I always say the Millennium. I’ve got a lot of great memories of playing here. It’s an amazing place with an awesome atmosphere.”
New Zealand: 1-Wyatt Crockett, 2-Dane Coles, 3.-Charlie Faumuina, 4-Brodie Retallick, 5-Sam Whitelock, 6-Jerome Kaino, 7-Richie McCaw (captain), 8-Kieran Read; 9-Aaron Smith, 10-Daniel Carter, 11-Julian Savea, 12-Sonny Bill Williams, 13-Conrad Smith, 14-Waisake Naholo, 15-Ben Smith
Replacements: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Tony Woodcock, 18-Owen Franks, 19-Victor Vito, 20-Sam Cane, 21-Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22-TJ Perenara, 23-Malakai Fekitoa
Georgia: 1-Karlen Asieshvili, 2-Shalva Mamukashvili, 3-Levan Chilachava, 4-Levan Datunashvili, 5-Giorgi Chkhaidze, 6-Shalva Sutiashvili, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze (captain), 8-Lasha Lomidze; 9-Giorgi Begadze, 10-Lasha Malaguradze, 11-Alexander Todua, 12-Tamaz Mchedlidze, 13-Davit Kacharava, 14-Giorgi Aptsiauri, 15-Beka Tsiklauri
Replacements: 16-Simon Maisuradze, 17=Mikheil Nariashvili, 18-Anton Peikrishvili, 19-Konstantine Mikautadze, 20-Viktor Kolelishvili, 21-Vasil Lobzhanidze, 22-Merab Sharikadze, 23-Murazi Giorgadze