Ireland meet the Lelos for the 4th time in their history, and the 3rd in Dublin, though both previous matches were at the old Lansdowne Road. Their most recent battle was the famous Battle of Bordeaux, where the Georgians pressed a full strength Irish side to the death, falling just short by a mere 4 points at the 2007 World Cup. Joe Schmidt has opted to throw out a mostly reserve selection this time, though many of the Irish players will have seen their opposites before in the Tbilisi Cup as part of the Emerging Ireland development team.
Only Mike Ross and Simon Zebo remain from the team that upset the Springboks. The inclusion of Ross, who could probably have done with a week off, suggests that Schmidt’s primary concern is the scrum, which is certainly the main strength of the Georgians. This week’s loosehead David Kilcoyne will be under the microscope up against the very formidable Davit Kubriashvili, a first class operator who plies his trade with Stade Français.
Two debutants start in the pack, with aggressive but lightweight Munster lock Dave Foley joined by athletic flanker Dominic Ryan, selected on the blindside despite playing most of his rugby for Leinster in the no7 jersey. Robin Copeland hasn’t quite had the immediate impact on the Pro 12 that was envisioned of him and in fact wasn’t named in the original Irish training squad, but finds his way onto the bench anyway hoping to win his first cap. Similarly Darren Cave, who looked to have been discarded, is selected outside Gordon D’Arcy is a decent looking midfield.
Eoin Reddan captains from and partners Ian Madigan in an all-Leinster halfback combination. Madigan has spent more time in the midfield than out-half this season with Jimmy Gopperth starting more often than not, and he will have to re-acquaint himself with his spacing quickly. Munster duo Conor Murray and Ian Keatley are ready to patch things up if it gets a bit scrappy, and promising Ulster centre Stuart Olding hopes to get a run at some point as well.
Georgia have made three changes to the side that were overrun by Tonga. Giorgi Nemsadze and Dimitri Basilaia are improvements to the pack, while Sandro Todua starts on the wing in place of captain Irakli Machkhaneli, sadly ruled out with a shoulder injury. Classy centre Davit Kacharava takes over the leadership in his stead, and both he and Merab Sharikadze will be pleased to not see gargantuan midfielders across from them after the wreckage in Tbilisi. Irish fans might have difficulties pronouncing some of the names, but they should remember the all-action style of Clermont flanker Vito Kolelishvili, who should be the centre of attention for Georgia in the absence of powerhouse Mamuka Gorgodze.
The Lelos are certainly up against it but won’t be that intimidated having beaten Emerging Ireland by 24 points in June, albeit at home and against a less prepared side. They will keep things simple, focussing on the scrum and maul, and Schmidt may again opt to avoid engaging at the lineout to scuttle the drive before it starts. Georgia may make a mess of the first half, but Ireland need only stay composed and go through the phases and the gaps will open up. Look for their superior backline to put a few under the posts. Ireland by 25.
IRELAND vs GEORGIA
Sunday, November 15, 14:30 GMT, Dublin
Referee: J.P. Doyle (RFU)
Assistants: Luke Pearce (RFU) & Federico Anselmi (UAR)
TMO: Jim Yuille (SRU)