By Andrew Hogan in Tbilisi
A 2,000-strong capacity crowd were treated to two excellent games of rugby in round one of the inaugural Tbilisi Cup at the Avchala Stadium on Friday evening.
The tournament, which is the newest of the IRB's fifteen-a-side competitions aimed at increasing the competition calendar for Tier 2 and 3 Nations, saw two very keenly contested matches.
Uruguay and South Africa President’s XV kicked off the tournament with the South Americans making a blistering start. Full back, Jeronimo Etcheverry landed a 50-metre drop goal before extending his side’s lead shortly afterwards with a well-struck penalty.
The South Africa President’s XV responded emphatically after going behind early. Powerful back row forwards Renaldo Bothma and Uzair Cassiem put them in front. Adriaan Engelbrecht extended that lead with a third try following good build up play by the backs. Etcheverry kicked a second penalty to make it 15-9 to South Africa President’s XV at half time.
The second half was a very physical affair. With the wind against them, the Uruguayans opted to keep the ball tight and work the big South African pack around. The possession South Africa did have, they used to full effect. Cassiem bundled his way over for his second try of the match to secure the bonus point on 52 minutes.
Ricardo Croy kicked his first penalty of the match on 71 minutes before Wilmaure Louw benefited from good work from Rosko Speckman to score two minutes later and subsequently seal victory.
Prop forward Khwezilokusa Mkhafu crashed over for his side’s sixth try on 80 minutes to make it 37-9 to South Africa President’s XV at the final whistle.
South Africa President’s XV coach Jimmy Stonehouse was happy his side could claim victory in their opening encounter.
“Our overall performance was good,” he said. The Uruguayans performed well at the scrum which made that part of our game difficult. Nevertheless, we scored some good tries and kept them out in defence which was pleasing.”
Pablo Lemoine, Uruguay coach, said: “We were close at half time, but the wind was against us in the second half which made it difficult.”
Scoring sequence: (Uruguay first): 3-0, 6-0, 6-5, 6-10, 6-15, 9-15, 9-20, 9-23, 9-30, 9-37
Uruguay 9: Penalties: Etcheverry (6, 31); Drop goals: Etcheverry (2)
South Africa President’s XV 37: Tries: Bothma (13), Cassiem (22, 52), Engelbrecht (27), Louw (72), Mkhafu (80) ; Penalties: Croy (70); Conversions: Croy (2)
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon
Georgia, who currently top the European Nations Cup Division 1A standings, came into the tournament in buoyant mood. They took on an Emerging Ireland side with plenty of talent in their ranks.
The first half was a closely fought contest. Munster fly half Ian Keatley kicked two penalties to put Emerging Ireland in front. Georgian full back Beka Tsiklauri replied with three points of his own to put his side back in contention.
The hosts dominated the final 10 minutes of the half and were duly rewarded with a try from Giorgi Ckhaidze. Tsiklauri converted to give the Lelos the lead at the break.
Emerging Ireland came out fighting in the second half and scored within four minutes of the re-start through full back David Kearney. Keatley kicked his third penalty to give Emerging Ireland a 14-10 lead.
The Lelos fought back magnificently. Fly half Lasha Malaguradze made a superb line break and passed out wide to Tamaz Mchedlidze who scored Georgia’s second try.
The home side defended valiantly in the final 10 minutes but two late Keatley penalty goals denied them victory.
Emerging Ireland coach Allen Clarke said: “Tonight’s game reflected what we prepared for. The Georgians are a very committed, physical and passionate side and they showed they can play a little wider than just up the middle of the field. It was a massive challenge for our guys, but all credit to them. They showed great mental character and resilience to get the win.”
Milton Haig, the Georgia coach, added: “I was happy with the boys’ performance. We are playing better rugby and matches like this are good for our development and tonight was another step towards the rugby we want to play.”
Scoring sequence (Georgia first) 0-3, 0-6, 3-6, 10-6, 10-11, 10-14, 15-14, 15-17, 15-20
Georgia 15: Tries: Ckhaidze (40), Mchedlidze (58); Conversions: Tsiklaur; Penalties: Tsiklauri (28);
Emerging Ireland 20: Tries: Kearney (44), Penalties: Keatley (11, 25, 55, 78, 79)
Referee: Nick Briant