SCOTLAND Under-20s couldn’t build on their impressive victory over Ireland five days ago in this final match of their World Rugby U20 Championship campaign in Beziers, meaning that they finish the tournament in 10th place while Georgia secure their best ever seeding of ninth.
That will be a disappointment in the immediate aftermath of the game but on a practical level, the result doesn’t actually make a difference to the seedings for next year’s tournament in Argentina because number nine and number ten seeds tend to be placed in the same pool, where they will be up against the number three and number four seeds of New Zealand and South Africa.
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Scotland can have no real complaints about the outcome, Georgia were not only hugely physical but excellently disciplined in their tactical approach to the match. Injuries and a yellow-cards meant they ran out of steam towards the end, but a dominant third quarter meant that they had opened up enough of a lead on the scoreboard to hold on for the win.
Several of this Scotland squad – including half-backs Ross Thompson and Callum McLelland, flanker Rory Darge, second-rows Charlie Jupp, Marshall Sykes and Ewan Johnston, and props Sam Grahamslaw and Murphy Walker – will be eligible for next year’s championship in Argentina, when they will benefit from already having been through the gruelling challenge of playing five huge games inside two and a half weeks.
Georgia took an early lead with almost indecent ease thanks to their line-out drive, which blasted through the Scottish first-up resistance and rumbled home from well over 20-yards, with giant prop Luka Japaridze the man to ground the ball.
But Scotland recovered well and after five minutes of pressure they pulled the scores back to even by committing 12-men to their own line-out drive for Robbie Smith to score. Then – after a brief pause while a flair-up between the two sides was resolved with Scottish flanker Guy Graham and Georgian scrum-half Gela Aprasidze both being sent for a ten-minute break – the boys in blue grabbed the lead when Logan Trotter bamboozled Lasha Lomidze with a devastating change of direction and then showed plenty of pace and power to streak home from 20 yards.
Georgia showed that they are not all about forward power with some excellent handling out of contact sending Kote Marjanishvili hurtling down the right touchline, and he finished excellently in the corner.
The Eastern Europeans continued to build the pressure, and a third try was beginning to look like an inevitability, but they then shot themselves in the foot when trying to run a quick penalty from right in front of the posts, with Trotter reading Kote Abzhandadze pass to Lasha Lomidze brilliantly to pluck the ball out the air and romp the length of the pitch for a 95-yard score.
That gave Scotland a seven-point lead at the break, but they were playing the second half into a strong wind so really needed to be focussed and disciplined. What they didn’t want to do is concede a soft penalty almost straight away which allowed Georgia to kick to the corner, and it got even worse when Jamie Hodgson got up to deflect the line-out back onto his side, but nobody reacted to the loose ball and Tengiz Gigolashvili pounced to score.
Abzhandadze slotted the conversion to tie the scores, and then belted home a long-range penalty to edge Georgia into the lead. The Scots continued to make life hard for themselves with some loose kicking, sloppy handling and cheap penalties, and they soon fell further behind when replacement loose-head Guram Gogichavili rumbled over for Georgia’s fourth try.
A blocked box kick from Charlie Chapman was punished a few phases later when Marjanishvili scuttled down the right wing to snatch his second and his team’s fifth try of the encounter, with 15 minutes still to go. The Georgian winger really should have had his hat-trick after an excellent break from Tornike Jalagonia, but the final pass did was fumbled over the line.
With Arsen Machaladze in the sin-bin for a high tackle, and Marjanishvili clearly struggling with injury – but unable to be replaced due to Georgia having no subs left – the Scots pulled a try back through Kyle Rowe with nine minutes to go, and suddenly there was a glimmer of hope for the Scots.
Replacement flanker James Miller got the ball down from a close-range line-out drive and replacement stand-off Ross Thompson nailed the conversion, which made it a five-point game. But Georgia dug deep into the reserves to snaffle back possession from Fraser Strachan after the restart, and they managed to run the clock down before luring Scotland into conceding an offside penalty, which Abzhandadze coolly sent home to secure the win, and ensure their highest ever finish in this tournament.
Scotland: P Dewhirst; L Trotter (F Strachan 58), C Hutchison S McDowall, K Rowe; C McLelland (R Thompson 65), C Chapman (C Gowling 68); R Dunbar (S Grahamslaw 47), R Smith (F Scott 47), F Richardson (M Walker 68), J Hodgson (C Jupp 47), M Sykes, G Graham (J Miller 65), R Darge, D Onojaife.
Georgia: B Mamukashvili; D Tapladze, S Svanidze (G Tsiklauri 34), L Lomidze, K Marjanishvili; T Abzhandadze, G Aprasidze (L Dhalishvili 65); G Nutsubidze (T Zamtaradze 60), L Papidze (L Azariashvili 47), L Japaridze (G Gogichavili 40), A Machaladze, L Jaiani (G Kharaishvilie 47), B Saghinadze, T Gigolashvili, T Jalagonia (T Tchitchienadze 67).
Scotland: Tries: Smith, Trotter 2, Rowe, Miller; Cons: Chapman 2, Thompson.
Georgia: Tries: Japaridze, Marjanishvili 2, Gigolashvili, Gogichavili;Con: Abzhandadze 4; Pen: Abzhandadze 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 5-5; 10-5; 12-5; 12-10; 12-12; 17-12; 19-12 (H-T) 19-17; 19-19; 19-22; 19-27; 19-29; 19-34; 19-36; 24-36; 29-36; 31-36
Updated 18:25 - 17 Jun 2018 by Hugh Barrow