AFTER taking the lead in the fourth minute, Scotland kept their noses in front all the way through to the 75th minute, but it ended in heartbreak for Carl Hogg’s men when an overthrown line-out handed Georgia a late try, which condemns the boys in blue to playing in the bottom tier ninth to twelfth place play-offs next week.
It won’t be officially confirmed until the final round of pool games are completed later today, but Scotland now appear set to face Italy in the first of their knock-out matches on Monday, and then either Fiji or Georgia (again) in their final outing of this U20 World Championship next Saturday – knowing that two losses will leave them at the bottom of the final standings and therefore relegated out of next year’s tournament. Two wins will see them finish ninth and therefore improve on last year’s 10th place showing.
As anticipated, the Scottish scrum was under serious pressure throughout this encounter, but the pack made a pretty good fist of minimising that problem by securing quick strikes and getting the ball away fast. In contrast, they dominated the line-out, stealing possession seven times, however at this level one error can be devastatingly costly – and so it proved.
The biggest frustration for Hogg and his team as they look back at this match is that they failed to control possession in open play with anywhere near the precision they managed against South Africa and New Zealand. In mitigation, it was a hugely physical encounter, and the morning dew (kick-off was 10.30am local time) meant the ball was slippery, but it was still frustrating that they couldn’t stretch their heavier opposition in the way they had planned.
“Very disappointed, we didn’t perform anywhere near where we were in the first two games,” reflected a despondent Hogg afterwards. “We needed to play the game on our agenda and play with multi-phase with ball in hand against a big set-piece orientated side and we just weren’t able to execute, we lacked accuracy. We couldn’t retain the ball beyond two or three phases and we let Georgia into the contest.
“We got off to a good start, a good first 20 minutes, but our ability to go beyond two or three phases was very poor. We got that driving line-out try, but our inaccuracies let Georgia back into the game. We spilled too many balls, we lost the ball too many times in contact and so we could never get to the multi phase rugby we wanted to play.
“Our lack of ability to look after the ball meant that it was just about an arm wrestle after that. We couldn’t get it into a game of rugby, the arm wrestle suited them.
“We have to go away and really work out why in our most pivotal game we had our poorest performance. We don’t have time to dwell on it, our next game is on Monday and we have to go again. We have to raise our spirits and do the simple things well again.
It started so promisingly. After Georgia fired the kick-off out on the full, Scotland secured quick scrum ball on the halfway which Ross Thompson sent towards the corner to force a close-range line-out, from which referee James Doleman awarded a try to Euan McLaren, but the TMO intervened to point out that the prop had been stopped just short, and a penalty against Georgia for an earlier offside was given instead.
Thompson kicked to the corner again, and repeated the trick for a third time after another Georgia penalty, before Scotland’s perseverance was finally rewarded when Georgia’s maul defence splintered and hooker Ewan Ashman motored home. Thompson added the extra points.
The remainder of the first half was a stalemate, with Georgia pushing hard but hamstrung by nine handling errors and five turnovers conceded in the face of some resolute Scottish defence.
Reinforcements make their mark
Georgia changed their entire front-row and their half-backs at half-time, and the new faces made an immediate impact with replacement stand-off Tedo Abzhandadze kicking his team’s first points a few minutes after the restart after McLaren was penalised for dropping a knee at a back-pedalling scrum directly in front of the posts.
But the Scots recovered and extended their lead when Cameron Henderson – not for the first time – pinched a Georgian line-out, and after a couple of big carries from Marshall Sykes, Cameron Anderson and Tom Marshall, Ashman appeared on the scene to bustle over for try number two.
The Scottish hooker was perhaps lucky that referee Doleman did not pick up on a shove on a Georgia player a few minutes later, which caused a painful collision, but the Sale Sharks Academy prospect was generally excellent both sides of the ball, making several important tackles, securing some valuable turnovers at the breakdown and striking channel one ball to neutralise the pressure his pack was under at scrum-time.
Georgia roared back into it. After a sweeping attack from a dominant scrum, spearheaded by replacement scrum-half Mikehail Alania and winger Otar Lashkhi, Abzhandadze scooted under the posts then added the conversion to reduce it to a two-point game.
It looked like Jack Blain had put Scotland back into the driving seat with 67 minutes played when a slick attack from off-the-top line-out ball sent the winger clear, but the TMO once again intervened to correctly identify a forward pass Matt Davidson to Rory McMichael during the build-up.
Blain was soon back in action at the other end of the park, when he saved the bacon with e a try-saving tackle on Alania after Davidson was mugged in contact, but his team could not escape the danger zone, and they paid the price when an overthrown line-out was latched onto by replacement hooker Luka Nioradze, who could hardly believe his luck as he scuttled home unchallenged.
Scotland rallied. McMichael and Robbie McCallum broke down the left touchline but Henderson couldn’t hold onto a low pass, and although Scotland kept battling to the end they lacked composure and just couldn’t find a way through.
Georgia: D Papunashvili; O Lashkhi, D Tapladze, I Simsive, K Marjanishvili; A Margiani (T Abzhandadze 40), G Margalitadze (M Alania 40); N Gvaladze (L Azariashvili 40), V Karkadze (L Nioradze 40), Z Tevdorashvili (G Kharaishvili 40), L Gelashvili, V Jincharadze, P Burchuladze, B Koriauli, I Iashagashvili.
Scotland: M Davidson (L MacPherson 75); R McMichael (L MacPherson 57-66), C Anderson, G Hughes (R McCallum 14-23, 34), J Blain; R Thompson R Frostwick (M Scott 74); M Walker (A Nimmo 60), E Ashman, E McLaren (W Hurd 60), E Johnson, C Henderson, M Sykes (K Van Niekerk 59), C Boyle, T Marshall.
Referee: James Doleman (New Zealand)
Georgia: Tries: Abzhandadze, Nioradze; Con: Abzhandadze 2; Pen: Abzhandadze
Scotland: Tries: Ashman 2; Con: Thompson
Scoring sequence (Georgia first): 0-5; 0-7 (h-t) 3-7; 3-12; 8-12; 10-12; 15-12; 17-12.