By Padraic Halpin
Georgia won plenty of new fans in their gutsy defeat to New Zealand but coach Milton Haig has warned his players it will count for nothing if they do not secure automatic qualification for the next World Cup with victory over Namibia.
Despite fielding a virtual shadow side – keeping their powder dry for Wednesday’s final match when third spot in Pool A and a place at the 2019 World Cup within their grasp – Georgia gave New Zealand a tough time last Friday.
Trailing 29-10 with less than 10 minutes left before a late All Blacks burst widened the gap, the tough-tackling Georgians are now targeting two wins at a World Cup for the first time, having won only twice in the previous three tournaments.
“We made a lot of new fans because of the heart we showed against New Zealand. But I said to the boys all the hard work, all the blood, sweat and tears that they’ve shed these past four months in training and playing, will be worth nothing if we don’t finish the job,” said Haig.
“My focus the last four years has been to create history for Georgia, all my thoughts and energy have been going into this moment.”
After resting the likes of Merab Kvirikashvili, Giorgi Nemsadze and Davit Zirakashvili for the All Blacks’ clash, New Zealander Haig said his experienced men were “running around like spring chickens” ahead of what he described as the most important game since he took over in 2011.
Namibia, whom Georgia recorded their first World Cup win against in 2007, are still looking for their own maiden victory five World Cup tournaments in and performed ably against New Zealand before going down 35-21 to Tonga last time out.
“Namibia like to use the ball and counter-attack. They’ll run the ball from anywhere if they see an opportunity. So defensively we’re going to have to be on our toes,” Haig warned.
Georgia: 1-Mikheil Nariashvili, 2-Jaba Bregvadze, 3-Davit Zirakashvili, 4-Giorgi Nemsadze, 5-Konstantine Mikautadze, 6-Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, 7-Viktor Kolelishvili, 8-Mamuka Gorgodze (captain), 9-Vasil Lobzhanidze, 10-Lasha Malaguradze, 11-Alexander Todua, 12-Merab Sharikadze, 13-Davit Kacharava, 14- Tamaz Mchedlidze, 15-Merab Kvirikashvili
Replacements: 16-Shalva Mamukashvili, 17-Karlen Asieshvili, 18-Anton Peikrishvili, 19-Levan Datunashvili, 20-Lasha Lomidze 21-Giorgi Begadze, 22-Giorgi Aptsiauri, 23-Beka Tsiklauri
Namibia: 1-Johnny Redelinghuys, 2-Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 3-Raoul Larson, 4-PJ Van Lill, 5-Tijuee Uanivi, 6-Jacques Burger, 7-Tinus Du Plessis, 8-Renaldo Bothma, 9-Eugene Jantjes, 10- Theuns Kotze, 11-Russel Van Wyk, 12-Darryl De La Harpe, 13-Danie Van Wyk, 14-David Philander, 15-Chrysander Botha.
Replacements: 16-Louis van der Westhuizen, 17-Jaco Engels, 18-Johannes Coetzee, 19-Wian Conradie, 20-Rohan Kitsoff, 21-Johan Tromp, 22-Damian Stevens, 23-Heinrich Smit
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland) (editing by Justin Palmer)