Wednesday 16 October 2019

Relieved Gatland draws a line in the sand under Howley affair

Wales 43 Georgia 14

Georgia’s Miriani Modebadze battles with Wales’ George North
for the ball. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Georgia’s Miriani Modebadze battles with Wales’ George North for the ball. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

The ashen face was gone. Warren Gatland could even afford a smile as the unwieldy process of translating the press conference from Japanese to English and back again took place in the wake of his side's win over Georgia.

He should have been there when a local journalist asked the French-speaking Georgian captain a long and winding tale about how the pitch he had just played on had been grown in an area devastated by a tsunami and shipped to the Toyota Stadium.

Mikheil Nariashvili coped admirably and managed to say the surface was fine. But it was all quite bizarre.

Gatland can finally enjoy the cultural quirks after the build-up he's just endured.

He'd have recognised the strange irony of his team scoring four first-half tries from set-piece plays designed by his now-departed attack coach Rob Howley.

Collateral

Wales' wing George North scores a try. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Wales' wing George North scores a try. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Wales were hit by a bombshell when the legendary former scrum-half was sent home under a cloud, but they showed no signs of collateral damage when blitzing the Tier Two side in a relentless first-half performance.

The Six Nations champions beat the best of the European rest with such ease that it once again raised questions about how the other half can ever close the gap, a point raised articulately by the Georgians' New Zealand coach, Milton Haig.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

But that was far from Gatland's mind when, after a long weekend of watching his team's rivals get stuck in and waiting for their own chance, Wales got their World Cup up and running.

It was, he admitted, strange to look to his left and not have the familiar presence of Howley on his shoulder.

Wales' scrum-half Tomos Williams (lower) and Wales' lock Alun Wyn Jones tackle Georgia's wing Miriani Modebadze. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Wales' scrum-half Tomos Williams (lower) and Wales' lock Alun Wyn Jones tackle Georgia's wing Miriani Modebadze. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

But there is a job to do and Stephen Jones is here to do it. The investigation into gambling irregularities will continue in the background. Wales, however, have Australia in Tokyo on Sunday to worry them.

"It was definitely strange. You've just got to give Stephen as much support as you possibly can," Gatland reflected at the end of it all. "He's fitted in seamlessly. He's been doing a good job.

"It was a little bit strange but you have to think and move forward. It's like losing a key player. We lost key players before we came on tour with Gareth Anscombe and Toby Faletau.

"You've just got to draw a line in the sand and you've got to move on. You can't change the past or what's happened.

"The players have been outstanding the way they have trained, the way the senior players stepped up and took responsibility. We had a good week's training."

It wasn't quite Saipan, but in a country like Wales it caused a storm and had ramifications for everyone involved in the tournament.

They unleashed all pent-up frustration on a Georgia team who couldn't handle the Grand Slam champions' pace and intensity.

Twelve years on from the day they came within inches of beating Ireland, the eastern Europeans remain a team hamstrung by circumstance.

Competing at the U-20 World Cup has helped bring on their young backs, but their over-reliance on the scrum remains, while some of their defending was highly suspect.

Georgia made a nervy start and handed Gatland's men an early lead, with Jon Davies racing on to Dan Biggar's flat pass to score within 130 seconds of the kick-off.

A neat set-piece move exploited poor Georgian tackling to release Gareth Davies, before Justin Tipuric sauntered in untouched.

Josh Adams repeated that move, taking Dan Biggar's inside pass and rounding the last man to score.

When Biggar converted, the Georgians found themselves 22-0 behind before Jon Davies put Liam Williams over in the corner for the bonus-point try.

Georgia got the try their play deserved within three minutes of the restart when Shalva Mamukashvili touched down at the bottom of a maul.

Wales got their fifth try on 65 minutes when Tomos Williams won the race to George North's clever kick before Levan Chilachava powered over for Georgia's second try.

North completed the scoring after good work from Tomos Williams as Wales joined the party and left the controversy behind.

WALES - L Williams (L Halfpenny 60); G North, J Davies, H Parkes, J Adams; D Biggar (R Patchell 67), G Davies (T Williams 48); W Jones (N Smith 57), K Owens (E Dee 57), T Francis (D Lewis 47); J Ball (A Shingler 62), AW Jones; A Wainwright (R Moriarty 52), J Tipuric, J Navidi.

GEORGIA - S Matiashvili; M Modebadze, D Kacharava, T Mchedlidze (L Khmaladze 78), G Kveseladze; T Abzhandadze, V Lobzhanidze (G Aprasidze 60); M Nariashvili (capt) (G Gogichashvili 47), S Mamakashvili (J Bregvadze 47), B Gigashgvili (L Chilachava 47-79); G Nemadze, K Milautadze (S Sutiashvili 51); G Tkhilaishvili (B Saginadze 58), M Gorgodze (O Giorgadze 60), B Gorgadze.

Ref - L Pearce (England).

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Welcome to Irish rugby's biggest week - is an upset on the cards?

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport