Georgia win the Rugby Europe Championship 2022 and Romania have sealed a place in the Rugby World Cup repechage event
It was fitting after an amazing tournament of ups and downs which has run since February 5, that the Rugby Europe Championship 2022 title decider in the Dinamo Stadium in Tbilisi on Sunday was an absolute cracker.
Spain, who led the standings by two points heading into this game, were right in the game for 50 plus minutes at just 21-15 down, but then Georgia turned on the style and scored three converted tries to finish thing at 49-15.
It means head coach Levan Maisashvili’s men lift the silverware that they have become familiar with once again, finishing top on 20 points with Spain second on 17 points. Both countries are safely through to the Rugby World Cup in France in 2023.
Romania finished third on 14 points, Portugal fourth on 12 points and then the Netherlands (four points) and Russia (one point) after a brilliant few weeks of action.
After the match Maisashvili said: “We played well when it mattered in this game and it means everything to win the trophy again. Spain are a golod side, they played well, but we played better and now we start building up to the World Cup next year.”
And Spain head coach Santiago Santos said: “We have to congratulate Georgia, they performed better and deserve to be champions.
“It is disappointing to lose this game, but the bigger picture is that we are going to the World Cup and we cannot wait to grow the sport in our country.”
In Tbilisi on Sunday, after the ground staff had worked hard to get the pitch playable after some cold weather and snow, the home side took the lead early on when scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze knocked over a drop goal.
Spain levelled things up a few moments later through a penalty from stand-off Manuel Ordas and it was clear that it was going to be really tricky to separate these sides.
Georgia made it 6-3 in the 15th minute when stand-off
Tedo Abzhandadze kicked a penalty, but straight from the next restart they gave Spain a chance.
The Georgian defence did nod deal with things in their own ‘22’ and, in possession, Spain went close to scoring a try until their tighthead prop Joel Merkler knocked it on.
Spain did not have to wait too long for a try though, winger Jordi Jorba the man going over on the right after some tidy handling. Ordas missed the conversion.
However, just as Georgia had failed to deal with a restart previously, Spain did the same in the 26th minute just after that try in the tough conditions.
And Georgia made them pay, a Lobzhanidze break eventually seeing winger Akaki Tabutsadze going over for five points a couple of phases later. Abzhandadze converted and they were 13-8 up with the half hour mark approaching.
Before half-time Georgia used their forward power to give themselves a 18-8 cushion after 40 minutes.
A lineout drive was controlled by hooker Shalva Mamukashvili and then back-row Otar Giorgadze spun off and went over for a try. Abzhandadze could not convert this time.
It was certainly ‘game on’ in the 50th minute.
Spain had started the second half with purpose and their second try of the game came through hooker Santiago Ovejero after a brilliant forward drive. Ordas converted and it was 18-15.
The Georgian lead was extended to six points a few minutes later when Abzhandadze kicked a penalty.
And the big moment in the game came on the hour mark.
A lovely snipe by the impressive Lobzhanidze put skipper Merab Sharikadze, the centre, in for a try under the posts and when Abzhandadze converted it was 28-15 and the hosts were in control.
With the crowd behind them, Georgia had their tails up and the next score came from Tabutsadze, a quite excellent finish by the red scrum-capped flyer. Abzhandadze converted from out wide and it was 35-15 and ‘game over’.
With nine minutes to go a converted try by Giorgadze made it 42-15 and, in the closing seconds, Spain back-row Matthew Foulds was yellow carded for a high tackle.
And the icing on the cake came for Georgia and their jubilant supporters when replacement hooker Giorgi Chkoidze powered over. Abzhandadze converted and it finished 49-15 to spark amazing celebrations.
Meanwhile, Romania made sure of finishing third in the World Cup European qualifying table after a comfortable win over the Netherlands on Saturday in the Championship.
The visitors to the National Rugby Center in Amsterdam knew that a positive result would see them earn a spot at the final World Cup repechage qualifying event.
And Andy Robinson’s men made sure of that by seeing off the plucky hosts, who have certainly learnt a lot at this level in the last few months, 38-12.
That means they have some big games to come once the repechage schedule is put in place and the World Cup European qualifying table - which takes in points from the last two Championships - saw Georgia finish top on 39 points.
Spain were second on 29 points, Romania third on 28 points, Portugal fourth on 26 points, Russia fifth on 10 points and the Netherlands sixth on four points.
After the game Robinson said: “We were 26-0 up and then let the Netherlands back into things. When we play well we are good, but we switch off at times and it is a lesson for us.
“Now we will build towards the repechage with some games in the summer and then it will come around in November - as a squad we need to be fitter, but we can grow from here and we will get better.”
And the Netherlands head coach Zane Gardiner said: “We just need time at this level, we are able to compete just now in patches of games, but need to compete for 80 minutes at a time.”
By Gary Heatly
Images: Georgian Rugby Union and Dennis van de Sande