Australia beat Georgia 27-8 in an error-strewn affair to go top of Pool D at the Rugby World Cup.
Battling the elements and a stiff Georgian defense, it took the Wallabies more than 20 minutes to finally break the deadlock as Nic White snuck over.
Georgia wasn’t able to capitalize on a Isi Naisarani yellow card on the stroke of half time, and Australia extended its lead with an excellent individual Marika Koroibete try.
A Georgian comeback looked on the cards as Alexander Todua crossed, but two late tries from Jack Dempsey and Will Genia gave Australia the bonus-point victory.
The result means Wales must beat Uruguay Sunday to ensure it finishes top of the group.
Defeat for Georgia means it finishes fourth in Pool D and misses out automatic qualification for the 2023 edition of the tournament in France.
In a wet and windy Shizuoka, both teams struggled with handling the ball and finding solid footing.
And in the 14th minute, Australia’s Kurtley Beale suffered as a result of the conditions, getting an elbow to the head from a Georgian player who had slipped. He was withdrawn for a head injury assessment and did not return.
Despite the conditions, the Wallabies dominated the play, forcing Georgia to make 76 tackles in the opening 17 minutes.
Australia eventually made its pressure count as a quick snipe from scrum half White broke the deadlock with his third try for the Wallabies.
Georgia finally got on the board with a Soso Matiashvili penalty and soon had a man advantage as Australia’s No. 8 Naisarani was shown a yellow card for a high tackle.
However, a Matt Toomua penalty once again extended Australia’s lead to seven on the stroke of half time.
There were more concerns over a head injury as Georgia scrum half Gela Aprasidze was stretchered off after clashing heads with his teammate.
In a messy game, with knock-ons and drops aplenty, it took Australia 20 minutes after half time to extend its lead, as a slaloming run from Koroibete resulted in the Wallabies’ second try.
Georgia didn’t go easily, though, as Todua scored after a quick break, but Dempsey hit back for Australia, touching down from a rolling maul before Genia wrapped up the result.
“It was a tough old game,” said Australia captain David Pocock. “First game against Georgia and they certainly delivered with their set piece physicality and it was a perfect day for set-piece play.
“Their defense was really solid and credit to them. Throughout the whole game, they were very solid. It’ll be a big week, we all know we have to go up a gear.”
Through, but not convincing
Australia may already have been assured of a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals, but its performance against Georgia will not fill head coach Michael Cheika with confidence.
In a game where 25 handling errors were committed, the world No. 3 side contributed 16 of them, and despite its overwhelming possession, Australia’s attacking play at times looked disjointed.
But it was an attritional game in the first ever Test match between the two sides, and a game from which there is plenty to learn from.
“I wanted the forwards to get a big hit-out tonight,” Cheika said. “Conditions were a bit tricky, but we’ve really built our pack, our depth tonight.
“We need to be sharper in attack, pick the holes better – but it’s easy for me to say, I’m sitting in the grandstand.”
Out with their heads held high
Georgia may be going home, but it leaves Japan with its dignity firmly intact.
The Lelos have scored their most points and tries in a single campaign, crossing the white line nine times as they have accumulated 65 points — their previous record was 53 points 2015.
It was the perfect send-off for Georgian rugby stalwart Mamuka Gorgodze, who came out of retirement for the World Cup and retired for the second time after this game.
And although Georgia couldn’t finish with a win, its performance against Australia earned it many plaudits.
“We wanted to make sure that we represented ourselves pretty well in the last match,” said head coach Milton Haig. “Obviously, the 2019 World Cup was important for us to show who we are as a people and as players.
“So, I’m proud of the boys. We did our country proud. In the long run, we’ve had our ups and downs but as long as we’ve gone out and represented ourselves well and played to our capacity.
“Sometimes we have, sometimes we haven’t. But today, I can’t fault them. They defended with their hearts, and that’s all you can ask for.”