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Clinical Georgia demolish Portugal en route to European Championship

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images)

Georgia have claimed the 2023 Rugby Europe Championship with an impressive 38-11 win over Portugal in Badajoz, Spain.

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Georgia entered the match as favourites courtesy of their 11 titles from the past 12 competitions but fellow World Cup qualifiers Portugal certainly hadn’t been written off heading into the match.

Indeed, it was Portugal who started the stronger side, needing just six minutes to get their first try of the match, with captain Tomas Appleton profiting from a quick tap and crashing over in the wider channels. While the try wasn’t converted, Portugal still had the early lead.

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Georgia dominated territory for the next 10 minutes, with Portugal having to defend their line for phase after phase and the penalties began to pile up. Eventually, No 14 Akaki Tabutsadze was able to touch down in the corner off a wide pass from Lyon’s Davit Niniashvili. Tedo Abzhandadze added the points off the tee to give Georgia a two-point lead.

It wasn’t long before Georgia were in again – with Tabutsadze again grabbing the spoils. An expertly placed kick deep inside Portugal’s 22 saw the defensive cover scragged over the sideline, and a nicely worked move from the ensuing lineout saw Georgia take their lead to 12-5.

Portugal were able to reclaim possession from the kick-off, with a penalty eventually coming their way for a dangerous tackle. Captain Merab Sharikadze was sent to the bin and Simao Bento made no mistake with the kick. Seconds later, Georgia infringed again and Bento brought the Portuguese to within a point of their more fancied opposition, with the scoreline remaining unchanged for the rest of the first half.

What looked like a Georgian try was snuffed out almost immediately after the break, with the referees ruling there had been a knock-on before the try was scored. That didn’t dampen the Georgian’s spirits, however, with hooker Shalva Mamukashvili crashing over from the next lineout.

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With the final entering a crucial period, tempers flared – and, somewhat comically, both halfbacks were handed yellow cards for getting in each others’ faces.

In a major win for Portugal just minutes later, Os Lobos were able to hold their opposition up over the line, preventing what looked like another certain try. Back-to-back penalties helped Portugal march their way down the field, but they couldn’t capitalise on their field position, and it was Georgia who struck next off another driving maul through reserve tighthead Guram Gogichashvili. With the conversion from Abzhandadze, Georgia took a commanding 24-11 lead with 15 to play.

From that point on, the Lelos took control of the game.

A nice attack down the right-hand flank ended in a try to centre Demur Tapladze with Luka Matkava adding the extras. Replacement hooker Giorgi Chkoidze also got his name on the scoresheet from a driving maul, leading to the final score of 38-11.

In a smorgasbord of action, the Rugby Europe Championship’s earlier finals matches saw Spain take on Romania – also in Badajoz – the Netherlands tackle Germany and Poland face off with Belgium.

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The inexperienced Spanish side, playing in front of a home crowd, raced out to a 10-0 lead after half an hour, only for Romania to grab a penalty and a try of their own to bring some respectability to the half-time score.

Momentum fell Romania’s way early in the second spell, with flanker Cristi Chirica somehow managing to rein in a skip pass from Spanish No 10 Gonzalo Vinuesa and then racing 60 metres to touch down for the first points of the half. Following two more tries to the Oaks, it looked like Los Leones were done and dusted but two charge-downs deep inside Romanian territory both resulted in scores to the home side – and the game was all locked up 25-all with just minutes left on the clock.

A Spanish infringement saw Gabriel Pop kick a penalty goal, giving his side the lead and forcing Spain to chance their arm from inside their own 22. The home side couldn’t rally to take the win, however, eventually conceding a penalty, and Romania took the points on offer to secure the 31-25 victory.

In the first ranking final – both of which were played in Amsterdam – the Netherlands raced out to a sizeable 28-0 lead over Germany at halftime, scoring one of the fastest tries in Test rugby in the process, with Dutch halfback Hugo Scholler touching down just 10 seconds after kick-off.

The Schwarze-Adler came back into the fight in the second spell, eventually managing 28 points of their own, but they couldn’t prevent the Netherlands from banking a few extra points, with the game finishing 50-28 in the home team’s favour and securing the Dutch 5th place -their highest-ever finish in the Rugby Europe Championship.

Belgium reversed their group-stages loss to Poland with a tight 18-17 win in the first match of the day.

Both sides scored tries in the opening 10 minutes but while Poland dominated the majority of the first half, they weren’t able to convert their favourable territory and possession into points. Wing Robert Wójtowicz made a great dart down the right-hand side of the pitch, weaving between multiple defenders, but had the ball dislodged as he dived over the line. Later in the game, Poland looked to have scored from close range but referee Cristian Serban ruled the ball had been held up.

Belgium struck with just 12 minutes to play through man-of-the-match Florian Remue and looked to have wrapped up the result, only for Poland to score following the sin-binning of Belgian flanker Toon Deceuninck. Ultimately, however, Poland left it too late to grab a victory, with the Black Devils claiming the win – and 7th place in the competition.

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Jon 7 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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