Autumn Nations Series preview: Wales to get the better of Georgia in Cardiff

Wales v Georgia preview pic Autumn Nations Series 2022.jpg Credit: Alamy
Wales v Georgia preview pic Autumn Nations Series 2022.jpg Credit: Alamy

After getting their Autumn Nations Series campaign back on track with a hard-fought win over Argentina, Wales will be determined to build on that result when they host Georgia in Cardiff on Saturday.

Wales were comprehensively beaten by the All Blacks in their opening November Test before bouncing back with that victory over Los Pumas – a result which would have boosted their confidence ahead of their clash with the Lelos.

After that win over the South Americans, Wales head coach Wayne Pivac has rested several of his first choice players for this encounter, ahead of their final Test of the year against Australia on November 26.

That means most of the players in action against Georgia will be out to make an impression on Pivac with the aim of being involved in that showdown with the Wallabies.

A Wales win against the Lelos will be a momentous one for Pivac and his charges as it will be the first time they have notched back-to-back victories this year. Apart from that recent triumph over the Pumas, they only managed one victory – against Scotland – in the Six Nations and suffered a 2-1 series defeat against the Springboks during their tour of South Africa.

Although Georgia come into this fixture as overwhelming underdogs, they have once again been competitive in all the fixtures they have played in during the year. They face a tough task, however, as the majority of their matches in 2022 have been against the game’s minnows.

However, they will take confidence from the fact that the only other time they faced a tier one nation this year they claimed a 28-19 win over Italy in Batumi in July.

This will only be the fourth time these teams have met each other with Wales being victorious in their three previous encounters, while this weekend’s match will also be a dress rehearsal for next year’s Rugby World Cup. The respective countries were drawn in Pool C at the global showpiece in France, alongside Australia, Fiji and Portugal.

Where the game will be won

Although Wales come into this match as favourites, they can expect a big onslaught from the visitors up front as the Georgians are renowned for their forward play. The Lelos will target the scrums and lineouts and don’t be surprised if they dominate those exchanges.

However, despite that dominance, the Welsh should still receive their fair share of possession and with their backline being far superior to their opponents’, Pivac’s troops should eventually take control of proceedings. Adding to that, Wales have far more quality on their replacements bench and the likes of the vastly experienced Taulupe Faletau and Leigh Halfpenny should play crucial roles when they take to the field.

Last time they met

What they said

Although they are yet to lose in this fixture, Wales have had some tough battles against the Lelos in recent years, and head coach Pivac is expecting another difficult duel.

“We’ve looked at them very closely and I think they are trying to move a bit more ball than they used to,” he said.

“They’ve got a very handy full-back, he’s got some good footwork and likes to play a bit, so we are going to have to keep an eye on them. There’s no doubt about that.

“They are very physical, and you saw that in the game against Samoa. Two very physical teams going at it.

“We are going to have to front up as we did last week physically with the ball and without the ball. That’s our challenge and we need to back up last week and go again for another 80.

“If we don’t go for the full 80, we’ll be in trouble like any side.”

Meanwhile, despite some injuries in his squad, Georgia head coach Levan Maisashvili said his team is ready for the game and looking forward to it.

“Wales will play against us with a strong line-up, which is a sign of respect from their side,” he said. “They expect a strong resistance from us, which is an honour and an opportunity for us. It is the third week of fixtures and we had relatively less training.

“Unfortunately, we lost several players due to injuries, and several could not train fully. Nevertheless, I think we are ready for the next game and we are looking forward to the start of it.”

Players to watch

All eyes will be on Wales number eight Josh Macleod, who is set to make his Test debut more than 18 months since he was initially set to play his first game for his country – against Scotland in the 2021 Six Nations. The 26-year-old suffered a horrific ruptured Achilles tendon injury while at his first Wales training session and after a lengthy stint on the sidelines, he has worked his way back into his country’s Test squad. He will be determined to deliver a polished display to show that he belongs in the international arena.

Meanwhile, after an underwhelming performance in Wales’ defeat to New Zealand in their Autumn Nations Series opener a fortnight ago, Rhys Priestland returns to the run-on side after being relegated to the bench for the Argentina Test. Usually solid as a playmaker, the Cardiff fly-half was not at the races against the All Blacks and will have to show considerable improvement on that effort when he lines up against Georgia.

For Georgia, their scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze will have an important role to play if the Lelos want to seal their first ever victory over Wales. With Georgia set to be competitive in the forward battle, it’s important that Lobzhanidze takes the right options so that the visitors can make full use of the possession they receive. The 26-year-old is also expected to keep the home side’s defence busy as he has a keen eye for a gap, especially around the fringes of the rucks.

Elsewhere, the Lelos’ forward play will be important to their cause and leading the onslaught for the visitors is experienced back-row Beka Gorgadze. The 26-year-old will be expected to give his side much needed momentum as a ball carrier and will also be a valuable source of possession as a lineout jumper. Adding to that, he has also impressed with his defensive abilities and with Wales favoured to take control of proceedings, Gorgadze will have to be at his best in that department.

Main head-to-head

Both sides have strengths in various departments but the contest between the full-backs should be an interesting one as it pits two genuine excitement machines in Wales’ Louis Rees-Zammit and Davit Niniashvili of Georgia against each other. Rees-Zammit gets his second opportunity in as many weeks in the number 15 jersey after also featuring there in his side’s triumph over Argentina. Blessed with searing pace and an astute rugby brain, the 21-year-old has the ability to change the course of the match with his outstanding attacking ability and he is sure to test Georgia’s defence with some barnstorming runs.

Although Niniashvili is just 20 years old, he plays with a maturity beyond his years and is firmly entrenched in the Lelos’ first choice side. Like Rees-Zammit, Niniashvili has plenty of pace and is a tricky customer who will prove difficult to stop once he builds up a head of steam on attack. He has made massive strides since making his Test debut as an 18-year-old against Scotland in 2018. Since then, Niniashvili joined Top 14 outfit Lyon in 2021 and has gone on to establish himself in their senior team. His attacking brilliance will be crucial for the Lelos in this fixture and he will be eager to finish his 2022 Test campaign with a strong performance.

Prediction

Although Georgia have been competitive in all their recent Tests, they will find the going tough against a Wales side who will be highly motivated in front of their home crowd. The Lelos will put up a brave fight but will run out of steam as the match progresses. Wales to win by 15 points.

Previous results

2020: Wales won 18-0 in Llanelli
2019: Wales won 43-14 in Aichi
2017: Wales won 13-6 in Cardiff

The teams

Wales: 15 Louis Rees-Zammit, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 George North, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Josh Macleod, 7 Justin Tipuric (c), 6 Jac Morgan, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Ben Carter, 3 Dillon Lewis, 2 Ken Owens, 1 Gareth Thomas
Replacements: 16 Bradley Roberts, 17 Rhodri Jones, 18 Sam Wainwright, 19 Dafydd Jenkins, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Dane Blacker, 22 Sam Costelow, 23 Leigh Halfpenny

Georgia: 15 Davit Niniashvili, 14 Mirian Modebadze, 13 Demur Tapladze, 12 Merab Sharikadze (c), 11 Alexander Todua, 10 Tedo Abzhandadze, 9 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 8 Tornike Jalaghonia, 7 Beka Gorgadze, 6 Beka Saghinadze, 5 Konstantin Mikautadze, 4 Nodar Cheishvili, 3 Guram Papidze, 2 Giorgi Chkoidze, 1 Guram Gogichashvili
Replacements: 16 Shalva Mamukashvili, 17 Nika Abuladze, 18 Alexander Kuntelia, 19 Lado Chachanidze, 20 Sandro Mamamtavrishvili, 21 Luka Matkava, 22 Lasha Khmaladze, 23 Lasha Lomidze

Date: Saturday, November 19
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Pierre Brousset (France), Gianlucha Gnecchi (Italy)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)

READ MORE: Autumn Nations Series: Five storylines to watch including a titanic clash at Twickenham

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