In a day which was dominated by Japan’s stunning triumph over the giants of South Africa, Georgia produced a major shock of their own in overcoming Tonga 10-17 at Gloucester’s Kingsholm Stadium.
With the country still reeling from England’s opening-night triumph on Friday, an enthusiastic crowd greeted both sides in Saturday’s opening fixture before an underwhelming Tonga side slipped to defeat, a result which many are calling Georgia’s greatest ever result.
After surviving a late fightback from the pre-game favourites to seal a memorable win, Head Coach Milton Haig was left delighted with the outcome.
“This has been four years of planning and it’s been four years of work from everybody involved,” Haig told the assembled media. “It has obviously been a focus we have had in the last two years since we qualified for Pool C and we knew, if we were going to have a chance to create history for Georgian rugby, we had to win this game together.
“There is still a long way to go in this group but, as you can see, we are delighted by the result.”
A typically raucous pre-game war cry preceded Tonga making a good start, drawing first blood courtesy of a Kurt Morath penalty ten minutes in.
But, in a tense opening quarter, Merab Kvirikashvili made it three apiece soon after.
Fierce defence from both sides had wowed the neutral audience before the first try arrived through the impressive Mamuka Gorgodze, who used his sheer strength to breach the Tonga line before reaching over. Kvirikashvili then converted before Viliami Ma’afu had a try disallowed soon after.
And after all the excitement, the Georgians had a 10-3 lead to protect going into half-time.
The fierce hitting continued in the second period as the south sea islanders looked for a decisive foothold in the game, but Georgia’s ferocious commitment to defence ensured that never came.
And they extended their lead with the final quarter approaching, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili attacking down the short side before forcing his way it at the corner.
Kvirikashvili continued his fine form with the boot to make it 17-3 going into the final 20 minutes.
But Tonga’s trademark fighting spirit didn’t wane, however, and after another disallowed try, they got their reward as Fetu’u Vainikolo went over, setting up a tense final eight minutes. The winger also became his country’s record try scorer in the process, touching down his 15th Test try.
Morath then struck a fine conversion to put his side within a converted try of leveling, but Georgia held their nerve to unleash a period of steely play and hold on to their advantage, sending their sizeable travelling fans into raptures.