Rugby World Cup
Georgia vs. Tonga: Gloucester set for powerful encounter
Rob Bartlett
September 18, 2015
Will Tonga surprise people?

Georgia against Tonga may be the opening fixture in Pool C, but it is already being billed as the battle for third place in the group. New Zealand and Argentina will likely hold sway in the race for a place in the World Cup quarterfinals, but with third place comes automatic qualification for Japan in 2019. Milton Haig has set his Lelos side the goal of winning two pool matches and finishing third in the pool. While beating Tonga might be seen as a realistic task for the Georgians, the Pacific Islanders are a huge threat in their own right. Saturday's clash will be a battle of strength and will likely go down to the wire.

Team news

Georgia have suffered three defeats in their warm-up preparations since arriving in England; as a result, head coach Haig has opted to name the most-experienced World Cup side in their history. However, while his starting XV boasts 617 Test caps, all eyes will be on scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze - the 18-year-old will become the youngest player in World Cup history when he takes to the field in Gloucester. There is also special mention for Merab Kvirikashvili. The fullback has played in every one of Georgia's World Cup matches and will be appearing in his fourth tournament finals. He is currently their record points-scorer and, by earning an 86th Test cap against the Tongans, will become their most-capped player too.

Tonga have made five changes to the side that beat Romania in their final warm-up game. Telusa Veainu comes in on the wing while Vunga Lilo has been named at full-back. Steve Mafi is preferred in the second row, with Sione Kalamafoni moved to blindside. Viliami Ma'afu starts at number eight.

Key head-to-head

Former Exeter winger Fetu'u Vainikolo needs just one try to become Tonga's all-time leading Test try-scorer. However, this was always going to be a battle of strength and in front of him will be one of the strongest packs in world rugby. It is no secret that Georgia's power lies in their forwards -- the likes of Mamuka Gorgodze and Merab Kvirikashvili will have to be at their best to keep the Tongan attack at bay.

Key stats

* Tonga hold a slight head-to-head advantage over Georgia, with two victories to one in their three previous meetings.

* The Tongans have averaged 1.71 tries per match in the World Cup - scoring 36 tries in 21 matches.

* Merab Kvirikashvili is Georgia's leading World Cup scorer with 63 points to his name - 40 more than his nearest challenger.


Unibet have Tonga as 11/50 favourites to claim victory at Kingsholm, while the same firm prices a Georgia win at 100/30. You can get odds of 6/1 on Lobzhanidze scoring a try at any time - surely a fairytale World Cup storyline for the teenager is worth a punt at that price. The Lelos also have a habit of starting well, so odds of 6/5 on them scoring the first try of the game look more than inviting.


After the morning fog lifts, expect plenty of cloud with the occasional sunny spell. Little or no rain is forecast for the 12pm kickoff time, with temperatures set to be around the 14 degrees Celsius mark.


Georgia will have their work cut out but they've had the best World Cup preparation in their history. This is a real winnable clash for Haig's side -- but it is hard to look past Tonga's superior tournament experience. Tonga to edge it in Gloucester -- although a draw isn't out of the question.

Play ESPNfootytips Rugby World Cup Tipping

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