The Wallabies will be looking to finish off the group stages on a high when they face Georgia on Friday night. Their path to the quarters was secured after Wales overcame Fiji on Wednesday night and they will be hoping to build their confidence before they likely take on England (unless Uruguay pulls off another massive upset).
They face the 13th ranked Georgia, who will be looking to secure qualification for the 2023 World Cup with a win. Georgia has had a less than ideal World Cup campaign, with the Milton Haig-coached side eager to show their class and cause an upset over the Wallabies before they head home.
The Wallabies got off to a slow start in 2019, losing 35-17 to the Springboks at Ellis Park in a sloppy performance that saw the side waste possession and opportunities. The side would bounce back over the next fortnight, defeating the Pumas 20-16 and producing their greatest performance since the last World Cup to dominate the All Blacks 47-26 at Optus Stadium.
Unfortunately, this dream turned into a nightmare, with the All Blacks dominating from the opening whistle the following week, shutting out the Wallabies 36-0 in a disappointing performance with the Bledisloe on the line. They would regain some form in their final warmup game, with a second-string side defeating Samoa 34-15.
The Wallabies got their World Cup campaign off to a shaky start, with a come-from-behind 39-21 victory against Fiji to open their Rugby World Cup campaign. They trailed for the majority of the match, before the injection of halfback Will Genia and a double to hooker Tolu Latu changed the contest, with the Wallabies scoring 27 points in the second half to secure victory.
This continued into their following game, falling to a narrow three-point loss to Wales. The Aussies were unable to overcome a slow start and some questionable refereeing decisions, which all but shattered their dreams of topping the group. They bounced back with a dominant 45-10 win over Uruguay, with Tevita Kuridrani and Dane Haylett-Petty pressing their case for selection with a double.
Georgia started 2018 on a low note with loses against Fiji, Japan and Italy. However, they followed this with an impressive 7 game winning streak, which saw them secure wins over the likes of Samoa, Tonga and Russia. They were brought back down to Earth with two crushing losses to Scotland in their final warm-up games before the World Cup.
Their tournament got off to a sour note after a thumping 43-14 loss to Wales who blew them off the park in the opening half. However, they would show their class against Uruguay, avoiding a similar fate to Fiji with a dominant 33-7 victory. They then had their dreams of making the knock-out stages crushed with a 45-10 loss to Fiji.
The Wallabies have switched up the majority of the team, highlighted by the selection of David Pocock as captain and openside flanker. Pocock has relieved Michael Hooper of the captaincy, with Waratah Jack Dempsey slotting in as the other flanker.
Only five players from the starting side that defeated Uruguay have retained their position, with Dempsey, Nic White, Matt To’omua, Kurtley Beale and Jordan Petaia the only players retained from the starting line-up, with the 19-year-old sensation swapping to the right-wing after his incredible debut.
The other big change that has been implemented is the selection of Matt To’omua at flyhalf, with Christan Lealiifano selected on the bench.
UPDATE: Michael Hooper and Adam Coleman have been ruled out of the squad, with Lurkhan Salakaia-Loto and Rob Simmons taking their place on the bench.
Georgia coach Milton Haig has selected virtually the same starting XV who lost against Fiji. Scrum-half Gela Aprasidze replaces Vasil Lobzhanidze, and Beka Saginadze comes in for Giorgi Tkhilaishvili in the back row. Both Lobzhanidze and Tkhilaishvili drop to the bench.
Merab Sharikadze v Samu Kerevi
Samu Kerevi will be hoping for a big game against Georgia after coming off the bench in the win over Uruguay. With the flyhalf position still uncertain, Kerevi needs to relieve pressure on his inside man and improve his distribution. He passed just twice during the loss against Wales, so he needs to spread the ball and help create more width in their attack.
He comes up against Merab Sharikadze, who represents the emerging talent that is coming through the Georgian system. The 26-year-old plying his trade for Stade Aurillacois in the Pro D2 and he shapes as their main threat in attack. He needs to command possession and take the game on if Georgia wants to compete against their much-fancied rivals.
Mamuka Gorgodze v David Pocock
The big change in the Wallabies side was the inclusion of David Pocock as the starting openside flanker and captain. I noted in my last preview that I feel that Australia plays better with a specialist blindside, which was backed up by Dempsey’s strong showing against Uruguay. It will be interesting to see how the pair play together, and a dominant performance by Pocock could leave Michael Hooper nervously looking over his shoulder.
He faces Mamuka Gordgodoze, who profiles as more of a lock/blindside with his impressive size and strength. “Gorgodzilla” came out of his almost two and a half year retirement for this tournament and he will be looking to finish off with a high. Expect him to try and bully the Wallabies back-row and control the advantage line.
Numbers that matter (Thanks to Opta Sports)
22: The game marks the first team that both teams will meet, marking the 22nd different nation that Australia has played
18/18: Australia’s record against tier two nations, with the average margin of victory in these games sitting at 46 points
8/8: Australia have never lost their final pool stage game at a World Cup, winning all eight by an aggregate total of 314-98
57,8: Georgia have scored their most points (57) and tries (8) in a single Rugby World Cup campaign at this year’s tournament.
151: Australia averages 151 carries throughout the World Cup, the second-highest behind New Zealand.
240: Giorgi Kveseladze is the only player from Georgia or Australia yet to miss a minute of the action at this year’s Rugby World Cup,
I think the Wallabies should win pretty comfortably against Georgia, putting together a relatively dominant performance to build their confidence heading into the knock-out stages. Whilst Georgia have the quality to trouble the Aussies when they’re at their best, I think their minds will already be back home after a disappointing campaign and I expect Petaia and O’Connor to cause havoc.
Match Prediction: Wallabies by 26
Bold Prediction: Jordan Petaia/James O’Connor 3+ tries
Wallabies (15-1): Kurtley Beale, Jordan Petaia, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Matt To’omua, Nic White, Isi Naisarani, David Pocock (c), Jack Dempsey, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio
Reserves: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Lurkhan Salakaia-Loto, Will Genia, Christian Lealiifano, Dane Haylett-Petty
Georgia (15-1): Soso Matiashvili, Giorgi Kveseladze, David Kacharava, Merab Sharikadze (c), Alexander Todua, Lasha Khmaladze, Gela Aprasidze, Beka Gorgadze, Mamuka Gorgodze, Beka Saginadze, Konstantine Mikautadze, Giorgi Nemsadze, Beka Gigashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili
Reserves: Jaba Bregvadze, Guram Gogichashvili, Giorgi Melikidze, Otari Giorgadze, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, Vasil Lobzhanidze, Lasha Malaguradze, Tamaz Mchedlidze
Date: Friday October 11
Venue: Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Shizuoka Prefecture
Kick-off: 9:15 pm AEDT (7:15pm local time)
Where to Watch: Fox Sports 3 (Channel 503), RWC 4K (499) and Channel 10 (Free To Air)
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Fiji)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)