England v Georgia: Teams and Predictions
NATIONS CUP, ROUND ONE: England coach Eddie Jones insisted on Thursday his side’s Nations Cup opener against Georgia will be “no tea party” despite being firm favourites to win at Twickenham on Saturday.
Georgia’s only two previous Tests against England ended in 84-6 and 41-10 defeats, at the 2003 and 2011 World Cups respectively.
But the Lelos are renowned for their scrummage power and Jones still has vivid memories of a brawl with the England pack during an Oxford training session in February of last year.
“We’re playing against a team that’s going to be hell-bent on making the game difficult. Hell-bent on making it a physical wrestle,” he said after naming his team.
“If you have a physical wrestle then it’s hard to move the ball. The game itself we know is going to be a big physical test. We’ve got memories of what happened in Oxford. When the first scrum went down they kept going.
“So this is going to be no tea party, this is going to be a hard, tough, physical game and we’re prepared for that. We’ve picked a side for that.”
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Jones has given a Test debut to “flipping tough” flank Jack Willis as last year’s losing World Cup finalists look to increase their squad depth ahead of the 2023 edition in France.
Willis won both the players’ and the English Premiership’s player of the year award during a 2019/20 season where the 23-year-old’s turnover skill helped Wasps reach the Premiership final.
“Jack has got a good nose for the ball,” said Jones. “He gets himself into good positions. He’s got good natural strength and he’s flipping tough.”
The former Australia coach added: “He reminds me a bit of Matt Cockbain, who played for the Wallabies during their most successful period in the early 2000s.
“In Australian slang we’d call him [Willis] a knockabout bloke. He just gets on with it. Nothing fazes him too much.”
Jones added: “You’ve got to have plenty of courage to put your head over the ball when you consider you’ve got 130 kg blokes ready to clean you out – and he does that consistently and a lot.
“The big thing for Jack will be learning discernment. He has to understand that at international level, he’s probably not going to get the leniency that he’s had at club level in keeping his hands on the ball.”
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‘The strongest teams in the world’
Georgia coach Levan Maisashvili said Thursday that success for his side in the forthcoming Nations Cup would be about far more than raw results.
The Lelos, starved of elite opposition outside of World Cups, face the daunting task of starting the new tournament against Six Nations champions England at Twickenham on Saturday before facing Wales and Ireland on successive weekends.
“It’s difficult to say what will be a success, we cannot measure from wins or losses because we are starting against one of the strongest teams in the world,” said Maisashvili, whose side only joined an event featuring Europe’s Six Nations and Fiji after Japan pulled out due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are playing at Twickenham, it’s a big opportunity for us to play in such a big tournament,” he also told a conference call.
“We will look to take from the experience. We never have such an opportunity in such a small time-frame against so many strong teams. Every year, we have only two games against Tier One countries.”
Having long dominated Europe’s second tier, there have been calls for Georgia to replace Italy in the Six Nations – the Azzurri have not won a match in the tournament since 2015 – or at least have a chance of qualifying via a play-off.
But a wary Maisashvili said: “It’s not for me the measure of whether we play in the Six Nations or not. It’s a first opportunity for us and we need time. It’s not an excuse, but we need time.
“Who knows what will happen? But one thing I exactly promise, Georgia will fight in every game.”
For all their renowned scrummaging strength, the scale of the task facing Georgia was demonstrated by their 48-7 loss away to Scotland last month.
“Until that game, a big game, there was an eight-month gap [from Georgia’s last major match],” Maisashvili said.
“It’s not an excuse for me or the team – I’m not happy because we had a couple of opportunities and we missed those opportunities, but also we had issues at the maul and the breakdown.
“It’s obvious, because a lot of players who are based in Georgia, they hadn’t played since February. That’s a reason.”
Players to watch:
For England: Threre will be loads of eyes on Jack Willis, who will make his England debut at open-side flank. The ever-influential and somewhat controversial Owen Farrell, who will captain the side at flyhalf, never shy away from a good battle. The back three of Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May and fullback Elliot Daly is another combo that ahs the potential to be lethal.
For Georgia: Fans around the world are not expected much from the Georgia side. However, this will be a perfect opportunity for players like Under-20 graduate Sandro Svanidze and the halfback pairing of Tedo Abzhandadze and Gela Aprasidze to show what they can do against experienced campaigners like Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs. Beka Gigashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili and Mikheil Nariashvili along with the rest of the pack can be impressive.
Head to head: England are expected to dominate most aspects of the match. The Six Nations champions might not be in phenomenal shape, however, they will just be too good for the Georgia side. There is certainly one area that’s going to be an intriguing battle and that’s the scrums. It will be great to see how England’s Will Stuart, Jamie George and Ellis Genge fare against the big men Beka Gigashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili and Mikheil Nariashvili of Georgia.
@rugby365com: England win by 25 points
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonathan Joseph, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Henry Slade, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jack Willis, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Joe Launchbury, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge.
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: 15 Lasha Khmaladze, 14 Akari Tabutsadze, 13 Giorgi Kveseladze, 12 Merab Sharikadze (captain), 11 Sandro Svanidze, 10 Tedo Abzhandadze, 9 Gela Aprasidze, 8 Beka Gorgadze, 7 Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, 6 Beka Saginadze, 5 Grigor Kerdikoshvili, 4 Lasha Jaiani, 3 Beka Gigashvili, 2 Shalva Mamukashvili, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili.
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Guram Gogichashvili, 18 Lekso Kaulashvili, 19 Otor Giorgadze, 20 Tornike Jalagonia, 21 Vasil Lobzhandidze, 22 Demur Tapladze, 23 Aleksandre Todua.
Date: Saturday, November 14
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 15.00 (15.00 GMT, 19.00 Georgia Time)
Expected weather: Showers with a high of 15°C and a low of 12°C
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant referees: Craig Evans, Dan Jones
TMO: Ben Whitehouse