Louis Rees-Zammit scores a hat-trick as Wales make it four wins out of four by beating Georgia 43-19 – but injuries to Gareth Anscombe and Taulupe Faletau cast a shadow
So a Wales clean sweep. Fiji, Portugal, Australia and now Georgia, by 43-19, have been defeated as Warren Gatland’s team won their Rugby World Cup pool with a perfect record for the second tournament running.
They now await the runners-up of Pool D, Argentina or Japan, in an enticing quarter-final next Saturday in Marseille.
It wasn’t plain sailing for Wales, Georgia reducing the deficit to five points by the hour mark. But Louis Rees-Zammit ensured there was no hiccup with a devastating hat-trick that owed everything to his extraordinary speed. His third try looked debatable but the winger was rightly credited with getting downward pressure after a kick ahead.
George North had the final say to bring up the 40-point mark for Wales, a slightly flattering outcome against a Georgian side that never relented. “They are a tough team to put away,” said Gatland afterwards.
The downside for Wales were injuries to Gareth Anscombe and Taulupe Faletau, the latter going off late on. He left the ground with his arm in a sling and it was later confirmed that he had broken his arm and is out of the World Cup. Wales will decide on a replacement.
Nantes was the scene of Wales’ shock pool defeat by Fiji in 2007 and the curse struck again before kick-off when fly-half Anscombe injured his groin.
Related: Gareth Anscombe injured in warm-up
Scarlets pivot Sam Costelow, 22, stepped in for his first Rugby World Cup start. He took a while to find his feet but Wales just about edged the kicking exchanges that dominated the first ten or so minutes.
The Mexican wave was not long in coming but on 15 minutes the match burst into life after an attacking flurry sparked by Tommy Reffell’s charge-down. It finished with a shift drive and Tomas Williams going back to the short side to put tighthead Tomas Francis over.
Seven minutes later Wales had a firm grip on proceedings. They moved the ball out from a driving maul and Costelow threaded a delightful pass over the blitzing defender to Liam Williams. The Kubota Spears full-back should probably have passed to Rees-Zammit but crossed fairly comfortably regardless.
Costelow converted both and added a penalty for 17-0. Job done? It seemed so. And the ITV commentary team began discussing Wales’ selection issues for the knockout stage.
However, Georgia are made of sterner stuff. The match-day 23 contained 15 survivors from the squad that beat Wales last autumn and they hit back before half-time.
A Georgian maul looked to have become gummed up but Mikheil Gachechiladze suddenly broke free, ball in hand. Wales repelled the next drives but were powerless when the ball was moved out to centre Merab Sharikadze. The centre touched down under the posts for a try that Luka Matkava converted for a 17-7 interval scoreline.
Skipper Sharikadze, one of five Georgians recalled after the narrow loss to Fiji, was winning his 99th Test cap.
If he got a pat on the back for that, he may have received daggers looks from his team-mates just after the break. With Matkava forced to play nine at a ruck, Sharikadze stood in at ten and sent a loose pass to no one in particular.
George North collected the ball, fed Rees-Zammit and the winger – the fastest player at this World Cup – was able to stroll home from his own 10m line.
Commentator Martin Gillingham likened the atmosphere to “after the tea break at Edgbaston – a bit restless”. But that changed dramatically in the space of three minutes.
First, replacement hooker Vano Karkadze crashed over from a lineout drive. Then wing Davit Niniashvili exploited a mismatch in the Welsh line, shrugged off Gareth Davies and scorched home for a try in the corner. 24-19.
But there’s a reason why Rees-Zammit is one of just two players to have started all of Wales’ pool matches. On 67 minutes, he took Liam Williams’s chip kick in his stride and dotted down for the bonus-point try – giving Wales the one point they needed to guarantee they couldn’t be caught at the top of the pool.
A comical moment followed as Mathieu Raynal showed a yellow card to Will Rowlands after a big dust-up involving most of the players. Rowlands was innocent! The real culprit, Taine Basham, was subsequently dispatched to the sin-bin alongside Ninashvili.
It was left to Rees-Zammit and North to finish things off and Wales stride confidently towards Marseille. Injuries or no injuries, they will take some beating.
Georgia coach Levan Maisashvili said: “I’m not happy about our performance during the World Cup. We wanted to win at least two games, but every game we tried hard to win. We never gave up. We had a game plan which we couldn’t stick with. But we were facing one of the best teams in the world and I wish them all the best for the World Cup.”
Wales Liam Williams; Louis Rees-Zammit, George North, Nick Tompkins, Rio Dyer; Sam Costelow, Tomos Williams; Gareth Thomas, Dewi Lake (capt), Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Dafydd Jenkins, Aaron Wainwright, Tommy Reffell, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements 16 Elliot Dee, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Christ Tshiunza, 20 Taine Basham, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Mason Grady.
Georgia Lasha Khmaladze; Akaki Tabutsadze, Giorgi Kveseladze, Merab Sharikadze (capt), Davit Niniashvili; Luka Matkava, Vasil Lobzhanidze; Gurum Gogichashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Beka Gigashvili, Nodar Cheishvili, Konstantine Mikautadze, Mikheil Gachechiladze, Beka Saginadze, Tornike Jalagonia.
Replacements 16 Vano Karkadze, 17 Nika Abuladze, 18 Irakli Aptsiauri, 19 Vladimer Chachanidze, 20 Giorgi Tsutskiridze, 21 Gela Aprasidze, 22 Tedo Abzhandadze, 23 Demur Tapladze.
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