THIS loss should not come as a huge surprise given that Georgia had won the only two previous encounters between these nations at this level, but the one-sided nature of the contest was horrifying from a Scottish perspective and needs to be the catalyst for a serious external inquest which gets to the roots [plural] of the problem.
We’ve heard lots of positive things recently about Jim Mallinder‘s restructuring of Scottish Rugby’s Performance Department, but why has it taken so long to get going on this? Scotland have now lost 13 games on the bounce at this level and been so far off the pace during their three pool matches in this ‘Summer Series’ that you can’t help but worry that the horse has already bolted. With private equity money flooding into the sport, and new global competitions now an inevitability, this is the worst possible time for the Scottish men’s game to fall off the side of a cliff.
If Scotland has not already been left behind then it is holding onto the top nations’ coat-tails with an increasingly strained grip. At least the boss man – who has been in situ since 2011 – managed to get his new contract which will run until June 2025 signed, sealed and delivered last month.
As for this young Scottish team – lambs thrown to the wolves – the ordeal isn’t yet over. They must now take on Ireland in a cross-pool play-off next Tuesday. They lost 59-5 to that opposition during the Six Nations, and it will take a Herculean effort and miraculous change in fortunes for them to make it more of a contest this time.
“[That was] torture, to be honest with you,” conceded head coach Kenny Murray afterwards. “We started off well and got ourselves into a decent position, but then just made some errors. We lost a line-out on their five-metre line when we were 12-0 up and if we had scored that we would have been 19-0 up.
“We got into that cycle of scrum, penalty, driving line-out, which put us under pressure – and they just completely outmuscled us.”
As disappointed as Murray clearly was, he was at pains to protect his players from shouldering the blame, highlighting that they are victims of a player development system which has not only fallen behind Scotland’s Six Nations rivals, but also the likes of Georgia, who are considered a second tier rugby nation and barred from dining tab the top table.
“This is what people maybe don’t get: that Georgian team are full-time rugby players, every one of them, whereas we’ve got guys who are not, so we’ve got to redress that balance quickly,” he pointed out.
“I think we just need to get the pathway we are bringing the boys into better, we’ve got to make the pipeline stronger to develop players to make sure we are developing big men. Rugby at this level is a really physical sport, so at the moment we are way off that.
“At the moment there is a whole host of things we need to get better at, and it is not just this under-20 group it is the whole performance pathway.
“The big thing for me when watching these Georgian, Italian and Welsh teams – they are all really big men and in a collision sport we are not able to compete physically at this level.
“I think what we are asking of some of our players is really tough. We’ve got to make sure that the programmes are helping the boys play at this level, because at the moment they’re not.
“We’ve all got to be better. It is not the players’ fault. It is all of us in Scottish Rugby need to be better.”
Looking ahead to the Ireland game, Murray added: “We don’t have a choice, we’ve got to get back. We’ve got probably our hardest game coming up next week now, so it is going to be tough. We’ve got another couple of day’s training to get ready, but the games don’t get any easier – this is international rugby.
“That’s the learning curve for a lot of our guys and for us as a country – we need to be better, we need to be so much better in everything we do.”
“I just spoke to them in the changing room and kept it pretty low key. I’ve asked them all to go away and look at their individual games and see what they think they need to work on. We’ll have one-to-one review meetings because we don’t have time to sit alone and feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to get on with it and be honest.
“But we’re not going to solve things overnight. There are guys here who are probably not conditioned to play at this level, and we’ve got challenges we need to tackle from a skills perspective as well.”
It started so brightly. Scotland drew first blood when Christian Townsend looped round scrum-half Ben Afshar then sent an excellently weighted kick down the tramlines, before showing impressive pace against Georgian winger Shalva Aptsiauri to win the race to touch down, claiming the opening try and hopefully giving pause for reflection to some of those who have chosen to scapegoat a 19-year-old because of his family background.
Things got even better for the Scots when Andy Stirrat charged down a lacklustre Petre Khutsishvili clearance and managed to ground the ball before it bounced over the dead-ball line, with Townsend adding the conversion.
But Georgia bit back in the 19th minute when forward power squeezed a sequence of penalties, leading to an attacking line-out which powered over the line with ease, for Rati Zazadze to get the downward pressure and Khutsishvili to add the extras.
Buoyed by this, Georgia continued to turn the screw up front, with the Scotland front-row spoken to after a scrum wheeled then fell apart, and the Eastern Europeans motored home a line-out maul from 25 yards out a few minutes later, the score going to Beka Shvangiradze.
Townsend then immediately gave away a penalty in the middle of the park for flopping over the tackled man, and although Scotland managed to stem the line-out drive this time, they were then shoved off their own ball at the resulting scrum, allowing Alexandre Kuntelia to claim Georgia’s third try inside a 13 minute window. Khutsishvili converted again.
Scotland steadied the boat briefly, but conceded a fourth try just before the break when Georgian forward power once again squeezed resistance out of the side in blue, although this time the score was finished off by some neat handling which sent winger Shalva Aptsiauri over on the right, with Khutsishvili adding the touchline conversion.
After such a bright start, it had been a bruising second quarter to this match for the Scots, but they showed resilience to finish the half driving a line-out towards the Georgian try-line, even if they didn’t have the firepower to get the job done.
With Ollie Leatherbarrow and Patrick Harrison coming off the bench to add ballast up front, Scotland started the second half brightly, and celebrated the collection of a scrum penalty like they had scored a try. A great rip by Max Williamson also helped set the tone during this period. But there was an awful lot of handling errors, loose line-outs and misjudged kicks, meaning the deficit stayed at 14 points.
And then Georgia, with a completely changed front-row, roused themselves and stretched further ahead with a second try for Zazadze; before a Khutsishvili penalty from in front of the posts, awarded against Harrison for not rolling away, stretched it out to a 24-point game.
The Scots rallied again and Williamson pulled a try back when he claimed a line-out on Georgia’s 22, providing quick ball for some powerful driving play from Duncan Munn and Leatherbarrow, before Williamson got involved again to muscle over.
Alas, the prospect of an audacious comeback was short-lived because Georgia bounced right back with Aptsiauri making the initial break before a sublime offload sent Shvangiradze in for his second and his team’s sixth try of the contest.
Replacement Paata Galdava‘s try, converted once again by Khutsishvili, brought up the half century for the Georgians with 10 minutes still to play, and more maul misery for Scotland saw Nikoloz Babunashvili claim the next try four minutes later.
The match ended with a fairly innocuous bout of handbags, leading to Leatherbarrow and Tornike Kakhoidze being sent to the sin-bin.
Scotland: K Clark; K Johnston, D Munn, A Stirrat, G Jones (R Daley 68); C Townsend (E Cunningham 40), B Afshar (M Redpath 59); I Carmichael ( A Rogers 34), G Hiddleston (P Harrison 4o), G Scougall (C Norrie 54), J Taylor (J Spurway 68), M Williamson, L McConnell ( E Groenewald 71), T Brown (O Leatherbarrow 40), R Tait (M Deehan 61).
Georgia: S Liparteliani; S Aptsiauri (L Sakhelashvili, 71), T Kakhoidze, I Metreveli (G Chikovani 8), G Kevkhishvili (N Babunashvili 59, V Iremadze 64); P Khutsishvili, D Khuroshvili (K Iashvili 64); G Mamaiashvili (S Abramishvili 44), G Maisuradze (N Sutidze 48), A Kuntelia (B Tsikhistavi 48), A Burduli, G Kervalishvili ( P Galdava 54), L Tshikhistavi, R Zazadze (T Baikhoidze 71), B Shvangiradze (B Gelkhvidze 68).
Referee: Ollie Cross (Ireland)
Scotland: Tries: Townsend, Stirrat, Williamson; Con: Townsend.
Georgia: Tries: Zazadze 2, Shvangiradze 2, Kuntelia, Aptsiauri, Galdava, Babunashvili; Con: Khutsishvili 6; Pen: Khutsishvili
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 10-0; 12-0; 12-5; 12-7; 12-12; 12-17; 12-19; 12-24; 12-26 (h-t) 12-31; 12-33; 12-36; 17-36; 17-36; 17-41; 17-43; 17-48; 17-50; 17-55.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Leatherbarrow (79mins)
Georgia: Kakhoidze (79mins)