Once again, Georgia indicates the balance of power in eastern European rugby is swinging away from Romania after a composed 25-9 victory.
Georgia forwards overpower Romania at Rugby World Cup
PALMERSTON NORTH, NEW ZEALAND // Georgia once again indicated that the balance of power in eastern European rugby is swinging away from Romania after a composed 25-9 victory.
In a match where both teams cited that this was the one match they desperately wanted to win at the Rugby World Cup, the Georgians were comfortable in front of Nikoloz Gilauri, their prime minister, and a capacity crowd of 14,000, scoring the only try through the flanker Mamuka Gorgodze.
"It was really the game we wanted to win," said Georgia's Irakli Abuseridze. "It was really hard [for Romania] after three days rest after England. Hopefully, it will be better for them for next time.
"I want to thank my guys [and] I want to thank these wonderful spectators who came here."
Iulian Dumitras, the Romania full-back, had likened the rivalry to the one between France and England, while their vice-captain, Cristian Petre, called this "a reference match, the match we have to win, a man's match, of life and death."
Their rivalry has been as close as it has been fierce, Romania having won eight and Georgia six of their 14 previous matches. Georgia, who face Argentina in their final Pool B match on Sunday, have now won five of their last six matches against Romania.
Merab Kvirikashvili, the Georgia fly-half, added a conversion and five penalties for 17 points with Malkhaz Urjukashvili added a late penalty. Marin Dumbrava kicked two penalties and Florin Vlaicu one in reply for Romania.
It was only the second tournament win for Georgia, who defeated Namibia in 2007 and the victory will likely hand Romania the wooden spoon in Pool B, having only finished last once in their previous World Cup appearances.
This encounter might not have been seen as one of the great attractions of this World Cup. As the tournament gears up for next week's knock-out stages, enlivened by a series of must-win matches between teams on the verge of qualification, the contest between these rivals might have been viewed a footnote.
But the match galvanised this rural town of 75,000 which last hosted a World Cup match in 1987. Spectators grabbed every vantage point at the Manawatu Arena, expanded beyond its normal capacity by temporary seating, and a further 12,000 watched the match on large screens in the town's main square.
The Arena serves part-time as the home of the Manawatu provincial rugby team, at other times as a venue for speedway racing: the rugby field surrounded and separated from the grandstands by a narrow dirt racetrack. The "Bucketheads", fervent fans who show their support for Manawatu by wearing on their heads plastic buckets painted in the green and white colours of the local team, instead sported buckets in Georgian and Romanian colours.
There may not have been a deep-seated expectation that the match would rise to heights of spectacle. Both teams have a style of play centred on their powerful forward units, built around the set pieces and often emphasising pick-and-go rugby at the breakdown.
Instead, the contest held the crowd enthralled through its physical forward play and its occasional, if not always effective, forays in the backs. There was a good deal of kicking, not always to effect, and the ambition of both sides was often undermined by poor execution: there were eight handling errors and 14 penalties in the first half.
Kvirikashvili managed the Georgian team well in the first half, sending reaching kicks into both corners. Romania chose a more direct approach with kicks through the middle of the field which, too often, they was not able to reclaim.
Penalties streamed from breakdowns and while they reduced the game to a staccato tempo, they provided opportunities for the fly-halves Kvirikashvili and Dumbrava to demonstrate their goalkicking prowess.
Kvirikashvili kicked four out of four, Dumbrava two out of three as Georgia took a 12-6 lead to half-time.
Romania had heat on the Georgian scrum for much of the match, though it was always able to turn that advantage to any tangible benefit. Georgia, in fact, exerted steady territorial pressure on Romania through the second half.
Gorgodze's try came in the 56th minute at the end of a sustained attacking movement in which Kvirikashvili, always willing to take the ball into contact, handled twice and Gorgodze on three occasions.
Kvirkikashvili and Vlaicu exchanged penalties and Urjukashvili added the last points five minutes from full-time.
"I want to say to everyone for this night I feel at home," said the Romania captain Marius Tincu, who played in his 50th Test. "It's bad because we lost. We worked very hard for this game but we didn't win. That is rugby, that is the game. The best team won."