Late missed kick denies Portugal their first World Cup win in a belting Pool C clash
What a match, what drama. Portugal had never won a Rugby World Cup match but Nuno Sousa Guedes, with the last kick of this Pool C clash, had the chance to earn immortality for his nation. His penalty kick drifted wide and we were left with a thrilling 18-18 draw.
It was the fourth draw between these familiar Rugby Europe Championship rivals – the last had been 25-25 in Tbilisi last year – and it left both teams dreaming of what might have been. Both teams’ hopes of progressing to the knockout stage, already slim, are realistically over.
Portugal hadn’t beaten Georgia since 2005 – a run of 17 matches – but they had been within touching distance of victory with three minutes left when they led 18-13. Then Georgia rumbled over from a driving maul and replays showed that replacement hooker Tengizi Zamtaradze had got the ball down. Luka Matkuva missed the wide conversion.
It seemed that was that but from the restart, Portugal won a turnover penalty and punched the air in glee. However, Portugal’s main kicker, Samuel Marques, had been substituted. Nuno Guedes has an 80% success rate this year but was unable to apply the coup de grâce.
Earlier, two wonderful finishes by wing Raffaele Storti had turned this match in Toulouse on its head after Georgia had dominated the first 30 minutes.
Yet initially it all looked so unpromising for Portugal and their hordes of noisy fans.
There was a rousing rendition of A Portuguesa before kick-off, but barely had the strains of the anthem died down than Georgia scored an electrifying try.
Notions that the Georgians favour ten-match rugby are hopelessly outdated. And they emphasised the point with some slick handling to the right, where Davit Niniashvili offloaded skilfully to Akaki Tabutsadze. The right-wing tore over the line for his 30th try in 33 Tests, Tedo Abzhandadze converting.
Perhaps Portugal were shellshocked because the score was the prelude to a half of heavy Georgian pressure. Abzhandadze landed a penalty after a breakdown offence, then Gela Aprasidze had a try chalked off after replays showed Tornike Jalagonia’s offload to him had been knocked on by the scrum-half via a deflection off tackler Jerónimo Portela.
On 31 minutes, centre Pedro Bettencourt went offside and Abzhandadze kicked the three easy points. 13-0 seemed the least that Georgia deserved but now came a twist.
We had to wait 33 minutes for Portugal to carve out a chance and when it came it was special. The threat seemed minimal when Storti got the ball on the right but he stepped sharply off his right foot and scorched away from the covering Niniashvili on an angled run.
Both teams were contributing marvellously to an open, attacking game. It was a shame, then, that Portugal prop Francisco Fernandez rather spoiled the mood with a very poor no-arms tackle on Shalva Mamukashvili that left the hooker needing treatment. Fernandez was rightly banished to the bin and placed on review. It remained as a yellow.
Georgia’s return of just one try from ten visits to the red zone meant Os Lobos were still very much in it as the second half began.
And boy did they turn it on. All of a sudden it was Portugal players flooding forward, Georgia defenders being stretched.
Marques slotted a penalty after a high tackle by Vladimer Chachanidze on Portela, then slotted another as Georgia went offside.
On 56 minutes, a lovely offload by Portela put Storti in space and the wing streaked clear once more to score his and Portugal’s second try – the first time they have scored two tries in a RWC match. Marques converted for an 18-13 lead and the stadium was jumping.
Portugal managed the final quarter admirably. There was a brilliant defensive tackle on No 8 Beka Gorgadze that saw the ball held up over the try-line.
But that aside, it seemed we were counting down to an historic Portugal win – until the breathtaking drama that unfolded in the last two minutes.
Portugal captain Tomás Appleton, who twice came close to scoring during his team’s dynamic second half, told ITV: “We are happy with the result, not the performance itself. But we have built a base for the future and especially next week (against Australia). We had many mistakes and we had many opportunities to win the game, but overall we are happy.
“For young kids in Portugal to start to play rugby and have a team that they can follow, in the next few years we want to have a great team and be on top of the world.”
Levan Maisashvili, Georgia’s head coach, said: “I think the key was the collisions. At the breakdown we lost a lot of penalties – three in the first half. We did not fix it.
“In the maul we had a couple of times when we had the chance to drive but they stopped us. If you are prioritising our issues, it was the breakdown where we lost our attacking play.”
Georgia Davit Niniashvili; Akaki Tabutsadze, Giorgi Kveseladze, Merab Sharikadze (capt), Alexander Todua; Tedo Abzhandadze, Gela Aprasidze; Mikheil Nariashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Beka Gigashvili, Vladimer Chachanidze, Konstantine Mikautadze, Tornike Jalagonia, Beka Saginadze, Beka Gorgadze.
Replacements 16 Tengizi Zamtaradze, 17 Guram Gogichashvili, 18 Guram Papidze, 19 Nodar Cheishvili, 20 Giorgi Tsutskiridze, 21 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 22 Luka Matkava, 23 Demur Tapladze.
Portugal Nuno Sousa Guedes; Raffaele Storti, Pedro Bettencourt, Tomás Appleton (capt), Rodrigo Marta; Jerónimo Portela, Samuel Marques; Francisco Fernandes, Mike Tadjer, Diogo Hasse Ferreira, José Madeira, Steevy Cerqueira, João Granate, Nicolas Martins, Rafael Simões.
Replacements 16 David Costa, 17 Lionel Campergue, 18 Anthony Alves, 19 Martim Belo, 20 David Wallis, 21 Thibault de Freitas, 22 Pedro Lucas, 23 Manuel Cardoso Pinto.
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