By James Beringer
Scotland have won finally won a game against a tier 1 side that isn’t Italy. Hopefully this will be the point where the team gels, they can continue the upward trajectory they have begun under Vern Cotter, and hopefully enjoy a little more success on the international stage. Leapfrogging Argentina in the world rankings will also give them a boost ahead of the World Cup draw next year, hopefully giving them a chance to avoid a ‘group of death’. The Scottish team now moves to Kilmarnock for their final game against Georgia, another important match for the development of the game in the tier 2 nations. Georgia have followed their impressive World Cup campaign, which saw them finish third in their group, qualifying automatically for Japan in 2019, by stringing together an impressive set of results. They have steadily risen up the World rankings and sit in 12th place, they have toured the Pacific Islands unbeaten, and they won against Samoa in Tbilisi last weekend. Scotland would underestimate them at their peril.
The two teams have met only once before, in the group stage of the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The game was a tight nervy affair, with Scotland winning 15-6. Georgia have improved greatly since then, so this could end up as another nail-biter. Scotland’s team have been dealt a blow after Huw Jones, arguably their best player over the last two games, was ruled out with a foot injury, his replacement will be team GB’s Mark Bennet. Richie Gary has recovered from his concussion and takes his place in the Scottish second row. Ross Ford returns at hooker, and Rob Harley and Ryan Wilson come in to the back row. For Georgia, their gargantuan pack remains unchanged from the game against Samoa, however winger Giorgi Aptsiauri comes in at wing to replace Tamaz Mchedlidze- who moves to inside centre. Outside centre Giorgi Koshadze is dropped with Merab Sharikadze taking his place.
Georgia’s tactics are simple, but play to their strengths and rugby identity. They will be looking to turn this into a bruising forward-dominated battle, preventing Scotland from running the ball quickly. The scrum will be a crucial; Scotland struggled last weekend against Argentina, losing the ball on one occasion as the Pumas swarmed over them. If Georgia can dominate Scotland in a similar fashion, they will have an excellent platform to attack the Scottish defense. Scotland will need to effectively play the opposite way, moving the ball quickly between the backs, and capitalizing on Georgian errors. Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw will need to be much quicker in distributing the ball from the ruck than he has been against Argentina and Australia, giving Georgia little time to organize themselves defensively. They need to get their speedy backs running. Stuart Hogg, and Tommy Seymour are both players that can cause Georgia problems, but this is all contingent on having a solid platform for them to express themselves fully.
Scotland will have gained some confidence from their win against Argentina and will be looking at this game as a springboard to a successful Six Nations campaign. They certainly have the players to beat Georgia, but must be careful not to play the game on their terms. If Georgia can turn the screw in the scrum, they will have the potential to cause Scotland a whole host of issues.