Wales (17) 43
Tries: Francis, L Williams, Rees-Zammit (3), North Cons: Costelow (5) Pens: Costelow
Georgia (7) 19
Tries: Sharikadze, Karkadze, Niniashvili Cons: Matkava (2)
First-half tries from Tom Francis and Liam Williams had put the Welsh comfortably ahead at the break despite Merab Sarikadze reducing the scoreline just before the interval.
Rees Zammit would punish a misplaced pass to run through to seemingly put the game to bed minutes into the second period with the games script seemingly going to plan.
Wales, however, would switch off and let the Georgians back into the contest and would find themselves punished in quick succession with wings Demur Karkadze and Davit Niniashvili scoring with the Welsh defense static.
Warren Gatland’s side, however, would have too much in the tank for the Eastern Europeans and would respond with further tries for Rees-Zammit and George North securing a convincing bonus win in the end for Wales as both teams finished with 14 men.
It would by no means be perfect for the Welsh as they would count the cost of a physical contest seeing an injury amongst the chaos to Toby Faletau with a nasty-looking arm problem, nevertheless, the Kiwi will be pleased with the game’s outcome with the job done as Wales march on to the last-eight with four wins from four.
Head-coach Gatland had chosen to make six changes for the clash with emphasis on the importance of continuity and momentum ahead of their quarter-final tie next Saturday at the Stade de Marseille.
Co-captain Jack Morgan and Scarlets scrum-half Gareth Davies would be rested, whilst Dan Biggar would be deemed unfit and given more time focus on healing a pectoral strain in the 40-6 hammering of Australia.
In would have come Gareth Anscombe at fly-half to deputise for Biggar from the start having scored 23 points as a replacement against the Wallabies. However, visibly upset in the warmup, Anscombe would suffer a groin injury to rule him out of the match, with Scarlets club teammate Sam Costelow given the chance to shine.
Ospreys’ hooker Dewi Lake would come in to skipper the side, whilst there would also be chances handed to Dafydd Jenkins, Rio Dyer, Tomos Williams and a first start of the tournament for Tommy Reffell.
After an even start to the match, both sides were keen to make an impression but couldn’t find their feet to make an opening. Physical in the challenge, the Georgian forwards would frustrate the Welsh who would struggle to find second gear.
Wales would build momentum in their play and would be rewarded on the quarter-hour mark opening the scoring. The unlikely figure of front-rower Francis going over for his third try for his country on his 76th appearance after captain Lake and North had taken three men out of the equation, crashing through the midfield after a break from the maul.
The try would give Gatland’s side confidence to spread the play with ball in hand. Georgias frequently faltered off the lineout proving the catalyst for Wales to gain their second score.
Costelow receiving quick ball to spread the play to experienced full-back Liam Williams to comfortably skip past his man and go over under the posts to take his personal tally for his country to 100 points.
Georgia would fight and would pull back a try of their own minutes before the break as they looked to make a fist of the match. Captain Sharikadze the beneficiary of a driven lineout after Lake had been punished for an infringement. The centre stretching passed Francis’ tackle to score under the posts.
It would be a short-lived reprieve for Georgia as Wales would regain their advantage two minutes after the break. A loose pass in the Georgian midfield picked up by North whose quick offload to Rees-Zammit would see the Gloucester wing sprint clear from just inside the opponent’s half to effortlessly gain his first try of the tournament.
After a stop-started period of Georgian replacements saw a lull in the game, the Eastern Europeans thought they had pulled back a second try. Wing Akaki Tabutsadze denied by TMO after Rees-Zammit’s last-ditch tackle forced his opposite number into touch.
Wales would become disjointed and would give away cheap penalties. With a sniff of a chance, pure bruising power would see the physicality of their opposition reducing the deficit to ten points. Replacement hooker Karkadze bulldozering his way through after the set piece had been won and recycled.
With confidence growing, and the Welsh defense faltering, the Georgians would score a third try as the last quarter started to look a lot less comfortable than to be expected for Gatland’s side. Lyon wing Davit Ninashvili bursting free to jubilantly dive over into the corner with a lack of conviction in the tackle by several Welsh players.
Any thoughts of an upset would be short-lived as Wales would strike back just as the pressure would rise. Liam Williams clever chip outfoxing the Georgian defense but not Rees-Zammit who would gather superbly and run into the corner. A second score for the wing and confirmation of the all-important bonus point to send his country through as pool winners.
With the Welsh shackles loosened and Georgian tempers fraying, both sides would be forced to end the match with players in the sin bin. Taine Basham’s high tackle resulting in a mass brawl seeing the flanker and Ninashvili yellow carded.
With gaps opening, Rees-Zammit would then complete his hattrick and score a fifth for the Welsh, grounding after gathering the ball from his own clever footwork and North would score sixth from a flowing team move.
It would be less than perfect for Wales, but after a second-half wobble would be a convincing and resounding win for Gatland’s side as they march on to the quarter-finals as Pool C winners.
Wales XV: L Williams (Grady 68), Rees-Zammit, North, Tompkins, Dyer, Costelow, T Williams (G Davies 59), G Thomas (Smith 51), Lake (captain) (Dee 51), Francis (H Thomas 51), Rowlands, D Jenkins, Wainwright (Basham 61), Reffell, Faletau (Tshiunza 68).
Georgia XV: Khmaladze (Tapladze 41), Tabutsadze, Kveseladze, Sharikadze (captain), Niniashvli, Matkava, Lobzhanidze, Gogichashvili (Abuladze 41), Mamukashvili (Karkadze 41), Gigashvili (Aptsiauri, 49), Cheishvili, Mikautadze (Chachanidze 49), Gachechiladze (Tsutskiridze 68), Saginadze, Jalagonia.
[Lead image: Welsh Rugby Union]
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