Wales ended their defeat but could hardly prevail against a team armed only with hearts. Georgia posed no threat of attack – unlike Japan, which without the pandemic would have been opposed – and they fought to hold back a vastly changed team that made up for their inexperience with drive and a touch of the devil.
The conditions were created for a roof. A steady drizzle had fallen throughout the day, accompanied by a swirling wind, and the players tried to keep their position off-screen. Wales’ first attack ended when Seb Davies lost the ball in contact, the first of many spills, but a team that lost their previous six Tests and couldn’t afford the shame of a seventh brought the game up from the start Georgia.
Making its first Test start, Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit scored the opening attempt of the night after being held on the line minutes earlier and also delivered its best moment when he ran six defenders on a weave his place hit 22 in the second half.
Debutant James Botham added ballast to the glitch of holding strong over the ball and quick to ball carriers, and the fly half Callum Sheedy showed the assurance of someone with much more than two internationals.
Wales feared his initiation would take some time as he plays for a club that would rather stay in possession than kick it, but on a night when the shoe seemed like a safer option than that Hands, he proved adaptable His long pass after Nick Tompkins attacked the line from a scrum made room for Rees-Zammit’s opener.
The attempt came after 26 minutes as Wales led through Sheedy’s early 45-yard penalty and dominated in terms of territory and possession, not least because they received the game’s first seven penalties for Georgia being too quick to take get started their feet after a duel and just couldn’t scratch.
Sheedy’s cross-kick in Georgia 22 caused panic in the defense but there was enough body to stop Rees-Zammit, Tompkins was stopped near the line three times and Johnny Williams delivered a midfield goal on his debut that hit something muffled. Wales showed more variety, wit and willingness than in the previous three games after the lockdown, but on the other hand they were up against a team that had no way of winning the game.
Conditions should have been right for Georgia as most of their squad played for clubs in the top 14, but their scrum was invariably illegal and their driving behavior had no impact. Most of their players play in a domestic league, which was reflected in their lack of attack ideas and a strikingly ineffective kick game. All they had was desire and neither the rain nor purposeful opponents dampened that. They were never far off in terms of points, Sheedy’s penalty kick in the 50. It made it 13-0 in the minute, and it was only late when Wales scored their second attempt. But Georgia was nowhere near in terms of odds.
The heat on Wayne Pivac is reduced but with England here on Saturday the relief may be temporary. The Wales head coach will have to decide how many of the seasoned players who were ineffective against Scotland and Ireland will be recalled against the group leaders and six-nation champions. If a game that fell victim to the elements in the second half showed something, it has to invest in the future, not the past.
The debate in Wales over the past few weeks has been about the future of Pivac, but the four regions that supply the players in the national team need to be taken into account.
Pivac’s main concerns were injuries to Liam Williams and Justin Tipuric in the second half. The latter landed on the head after a counter-attack from Rees-Zammit and a temporary blow from Beka Saghinadze, which earned the flanker a yellow card. Rhys Webb’s belated attempt at Johnny Williams’ carry and Rees-Zammit’s inside pass ended a muted evening. Wales still doesn’t shout enough.
« Delighted to see a team of 13 changes made to a result in difficult conditions, » said Pivac before looking to the next game in Wales. “England are an impressive team and will be a challenge. I thought the yellow card justified more, a bad forearm on the face. ”
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Wales national rugby team, Georgia national rugby union team, Wayne Pivac
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