Cursed with poor ball on the turn, New Zealand full-back Ben Smith righted himself and took a half step back towards the opposition’s posts just as Lasha Malaguradze bore down on him. Before Smith could escape, the Georgian fly-half detonated on the All Black.
Despite Smith being rocked in this tackle, the Kiwi went on to rack up 106m with ball in hand within a game that ended 43-10 in New Zealand’s favour. It was a hit that shook spectators closer to the edge of their seat but Smith recovered well. Yet, there was something about this incident of sublime Georgia brutality amidst unfamiliar All Black panic that felt so good to witness.
Some will say after seeing New Zealand toil under the Cardiff lights that they will eventually wilt; that this match showed they are not the Rugby World Cup champions-to-be. Frankly, who cares? Nights like this are not about the recognised powers but the unfancied sides who can no longer be patronised, who can no longer expect to take drubbings and be happy with it.
This was the first time Georgia have faced the All Blacks – they’ve still never faced Australia and they’ve only met South Africa once. Yet in that one game, back in 2003 as the Boks clawed to a 46-19 win, the Georgians won over neutral fans as they scored their first ever World Cup try and sneered in the faces of those who expected a cricket score.
Rugby, it is sometimes sad to say, is a sport powered by myths. More often than not that simply means stoking the ghosts of amateurism by proclaiming everything from back in the day – drinking, scrums, pockets on your shorts – was miles better than it is now. But when it comes to World Cups it also means myths about teams and their style.
Before Tests in 2003 the level of detail pundits could give you about Georgia would have been reduced to how nasty a prospect it was tussling with their pack. Before the 2015 event there was not much more meat on those bones. After this game, though, a lot more can be said for the snap and hustle of their play, the way Georgia pressured the World Cup favourites into letting passes hit the deck or sleepwalking into big hits. Yes the Georgian scrum pinched and squeezed and often kneaded the Kiwis back, but we expected it to. What we learned was that away from the set-piece this Test still had two sides in it.
Georgia actually rested a few players for this All Blacks match-up and now head towards a clash with Namibia that could well ensure their place at the 2019 World Cup in Japan, by dint of them finishing third in their pool should they win. They should almost certainly do it. What we cannot let happen, though, is that after all this effort, all the sublime defensive work and scrum graft and snapped passing, we forget about Georgia until 2019.
Their team is too full of talent – there’s more to this side than just the thunderous Mamuka Gorgodze, as imposing and impressive as he is – and their coaching set-up is too strong to be counting years. Their regular Tbilisi Cup shows they are set up to host proper Tests. Their reputation has grown.
Will the established powers give them more regular Tests? Just as the traditional southern powers must be prepared to work with the Pacific Island nations, so too the European big boys must consider helping out the continent’s burgeoning forces to the East.
Perhaps the suits running the Six Nations are just too selfish to change. They have their cash cow. But that doesn’t mean any Tests held in Georgia should be off the cards. Teams like Georgia need regular, meaningful Tests on their own soil if they are to continue detonating myths.