A new competition and a first appearance at Twickenham for East Europeans Georgia. England, fresh from their 2020 Six Nations triumph, will expect a convincing win
Autumn Nations Cup England v Georgia preview
The Autumn Nations Cup (ANC) is a new competition, manufactured for these times. It has no history or tradition. Nor do the competition’s results have any impact on seedings for the 2023 World Cup because the rankings cut-off point has already passed.
So more than any other time, this month’s eight-team ANC is an opportunity for national coaches to experiment. And none more so than for England on Saturday when they host Georgia (3pm) in their first match at Twickenham since March.
It will be Georgia’s first visit to the famous stadium and it’s fantastic to see them there.
“I’m so glad that Fiji and Georgia are getting exposure in this competition,” former England fly-half Paul Grayson told Rugby World. “Georgia get to stake a claim – are they good enough for the Six Nations if you introduce promotion and relegation?
“Up front they’ll leave their mark. It gives them an opportunity to move the dial in terms of the next conversation about what the international scene should look like.”
The East Europeans have regularly been top dogs in the second-tier Rugby Europe Championship. This year was no different, wins over Romania, Spain, Belgium and Portugal giving them an unassailable lead in the table. The final round was postponed due to Covid-19.
Their record against leading nations is stark but all the more reason why their participation in the ANC is so important.
Statistically they had the second-best scrum at last year’s World Cup, behind South Africa. However, the ease with which Scotland rumbled over from driving mauls in Georgia’s most recent match, a 48-7 defeat at Murrayfield three weeks ago, will be a source of concern.
Saturday will bring their third encounter with England, the previous meetings resulting in defeats by 84-6 (2003) and 41-10 (2011).
Watch highlights of that 2003 match against the eventual world champions here.
Not too much should be read into Eddie Jones’s selection for a match England, the newly crowned European champions, seem sure to win. There are several players in the match 23 with very few caps, and in the case of Jack Willis and replacement Max Malins none at all.
So good has Willis, 23, been in the past three years or so – a period that included major knee surgery – that this match might easily mark the launch of one of the great England careers.
“I don’t know whether he spent any time around George Smith but he’s got something extra,” said Grayson. “He’s been sensational, operating at international level in a club jersey.”
There will be a moment’s silence before kick-off to mark Remembrance Day. As well as a giant poppy in the stands, about 300 club shirts will be displayed in one of the lower tiers to recognise the importance of the grass-roots game.
There will also be a moment’s applause in honour of those in the rugby community who have been lost in recent times. The tribute will include a special mention for the life of Sergeant Matt Ratana, head coach of East Grinstead RFC, who was tragically killed in the line of duty.
England will face Ireland at Twickenham and Wales at Llanelli in the following two weeks. They return to Twickenham for a tournament placing match on Sunday 6 December.
What’s the big team news?
The headline news is that Wasps flanker Willis makes his England debut at openside. Anything less would have been a travesty after his form of the past 12 months.
More surprisingly, Maro Itoje, probably the world’s best lock, starts at six after 25 consecutive Tests in the engine room. His last England game in the back row was three years ago against Samoa.
That allows two club captains, Bath’s Charlie Ewels and Wasps’ Joe Launchbury, to pair up in the second row. Ewels last started for England in Paris last February while Launchbury hasn’t started since the World Cup game against USA in September last year.
Bath’s Will Stuart wears the No 3 shirt for the first time after four caps off the bench.
In the back division, George Ford’s injury means skipper Owen Farrell will steer the ship from fly-half. Henry Slade wears 12, as he did against Italy two weeks ago, and will be partnered by Worcester’s Ollie Lawrence, whose dozen or so minutes off the bench in Rome was his first taste of senior international rugby.
Anthony Watson’s ankle injury forces a reshuffle, with Jonathan Joseph shifted to the wing. Elliot Daly returns to the side after injury at full-back in place of George Furbank.
A hugely powerful bench includes two flat-mates, the uncapped Malins joining his fellow Bristol loanee Ben Earl as one of Eddie Jones’s fabled ‘finishers’.
Georgia coach Levan Maisashvili has mixed things up, with eight changes from the side beaten by Scotland on 23 October.
Half of them are in the pack: Beka Gigashvili has recovered from injury to line up at tighthead, hooker Shalva Mamukashvili and flanker Giorgi ‘Koki’ Tkhilaishvili are promoted from the bench, and second-row Lasha Jaiani comes in to win his third cap.
There’s a new face in the back-line, where Sandro Svanidze makes his debut on the left wing. Some may recall Svanidze scoring a long-range try against Ireland in the 2018 Junior World Cup, when he intercepted a pass in his own 22.
Fit-again Lasha Khmaladze comes in at full-back for Soso Matiashvili, who had a particularly difficult day against the Scots. And scrum-half Gela Aprasidze and centre Giorgi Kveseladze are promoted off the bench.
What have the two camps said?
England head coach Eddie Jones: “We’ve had a really good week of training. We know there are a lot of expectations on us and we’ve applied ourselves hard and put a lot of pressure on ourselves in the early part of this week.
“Georgia will be a tough opponent, so we have a team with some real power in midfield. We have a good mix of youth and experience across the squad and they are completely focused on putting in an excellent performance.
“We’re looking forward to being back at our home. We are humbled by the opportunity and want to give people a reason to smile during such a tough time for the country.”
On debutant Jack Willis: “Jack has a good nose for the ball, gets himself in good positions, has good natural strength and he is flippin’ tough. He’s one of the few forwards in English rugby that has a good pick and go.”
Georgia debutant Sandro Svanidze (who helped Georgia finish ninth at the 2018 U20 World Cup): “It is less difficult to defeat teams at junior level. There are completely different strengths and speeds but these victories have boosted my confidence quite strongly.
“Hopefully, Autumn Nations Cup will be successful for us. In any case, I can say with confidence that each of us will not spare themselves on the pitch.”
Georgia No 8 Beka Gorgadze: “The game against Scotland clearly showed what to expect at the Autumn Nations Cup and what we should focus on during the preparations. Mostly we lacked confidence in contact area. Our attacking or defending maul performance was bad too.
“The game also showed that we have to work on the areas which previously were considered as our strong side. This was obviously caused by the lack of game practice.
“This tournament is a massive opportunity for us because even at the World Cups we don’t play against Tier One nations all the time. Playing against England at Twickenham is a very special occasion for any rugby player. Unfortunately, there will be no fans at the stadium, which will make the match environment very unusual.”
Any interesting statistics?
* England have won 25 of their previous 28 home games. New Zealand and Ireland (both 2018) are the only sides to prevail at Twickenham in that time.
* England come into the match on the back of a record seventh Six Nations title.
* Jack Willis will be the tenth different player to start an England Test at openside flanker under Eddie Jones. No other position has seen such change.
* Georgia’s only win against one of the current Tier One nations came against Japan in 2014.
* When England beat Georgia at RWC 2003, they had ten different try-scorers. Only New Zealand (twice) and Australia have surpassed that in a World Cup match.
* With 29 tries, Jonny May needs one try to draw level with Jeremy Guscott in fourth place on England’s try-scoring list. The Gloucester wing has gone four Tests without scoring.
* Ben Youngs is the only player in the current England squad who played in the 41-10 defeat of Georgia at the 2011 World Cup.
* Akaki Tabutsadze has scored five tries for Georgia in 2020. France captain Charles Ollivon is the only player to match that in Tests this year. Tabutsadze scored four against Belgium in February and one against Scotland last month.
* Giorgi Kveseladze was the only player to play every minute (320) of Georgia’s RWC 2019 campaign. He missed 17 tackles in the tournament – only Owen Farrell (19) missed more.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
England v Georgia, Saturday 14 November, Twickenham
The match kicks off at 3pm and will be broadcast live on Amazon Prime and Premier Sports Ireland. There is also live match commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds.
If you’re outside the UK and Ireland, check out our guide to Autumn Nations Cup coverage around the world.
It’s an all-Welsh officiating team for this match. Referee Nigel Owens takes charge of his 99th Test, assisted by Craig Evans and Dan Jones on the touchline. The TMO is Ben Whitehouse.
What are the line-ups?
England: Elliot Daly; Jonathan Joseph, Ollie Lawrence, Henry Slade, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (capt), Ben Youngs; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje, Jack Willis, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Ben Earl, 20 Tom Curry, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Max Malins, 23 Joe Marchant.
Georgia: Lasha Khmaladze; Akaki Tabutsadze, Giorgi Kveseladze, Merab Sharikadze (capt), Sandro Svanidze; Tedo Abzhandadze, Gela Aprasidze; Mikheil Naraashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Beka Gigashvili, Lasha Jaiani, Grigol Kerdikoshvili, Beka Saghinadze, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, Beka Gorgadze.
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Guram Gogichashvili, 18 Lexo Kaulashvili, 19 Otar Giorgadze, 20 Tornike Jalaghonia, 21 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 22 Deme Tapladze, 23 Sandro Todua.
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