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Louis Rees-Zammit shines as Wales snap losing streak in stuttering Georgia victory

The Independent logo The Independent 21/11/2020 Steffan Thomas
a group of football players on the field © Provided by The Independent

Wales ended a run of six straight defeats as they stuttered to a 18-0 victory over a limited Georgia side at Parc y Scarlets.

Despite being under immense pressure from the Welsh public head coach Wayne Pivac stayed true to his word by selecting an experimental side for the visit of the eastern Europeans.  

The former Scarlets coach made 13 changes from the side which went down to Ireland in Dublin with four new caps in the shape of Johnny Williams, Kieran Hardy, James Botham and Ioan Lloyd.

Pivac would have been pleased with the dominance of the Welsh pack who were comfortable in the swirling wind and rain in Llanelli. But he will also be concerned at how Wales struggled to create chances against a lacklustre Georgian outfit.

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There were encouraging individual performances with Botham, the grandson of cricket great Lord Ian Botham, Gloucester speedster Louis Rees-Zammit and powerful second-row Jake Ball who put their hands up for selection against England.

But nothing on show in Llanelli will remotely have worried England who travel to west Wales next weekend for the third round of the Autumn Nations Cup.

Tries from Louis Rees-Zammit and Rhys Webb along with eight points from the boot of Callum Sheedy was enough to secure victory. The Georgians were kept scoreless but managed to frustrate their hosts throughout.

Rhys Webb et al. playing football on a field: Rhys Webb of Wales passes out from the back of the ruckGetty © Provided by The Independent

Rhys Webb of Wales passes out from the back of the ruck

Getty

Wales’ scrum has struggled of late but it’s amazing how much of a difference a change in personnel can make as Scarlets prop duo Wyn Jones and Samson Lee destroyed a Georgian pack with a big reputation.

And the scrum allowed Sheedy to open his international account with a successful penalty from 35 metres out after the visitors were penalised at the set-piece. Georgia were forced to defend for the opening quarter of the game as Wales lay siege to their try line with 79 per cent of action being played in the visiting half.

Wales had to be patient, but they eventually breached Georgia’s defence when a well-timed floating pass from Sheedy to put Gloucester wing Rees-Zammit over for a simple try at the far left-hand corner. Sheedy added the extras with a looping kick from the touchline.

It took half an hour for the Georgia to finally show their teeth with a powerful driving lineout from five metres out forcing the hosts to concede two penalties in succession, but Wales’ defence held firm.

Despite Wales’ forward dominance their attack never quite got going as they more lost their shape after a few phases with a lack of carrying option to get over the gain-line an obvious problem for Pivac’s men.

Abzhandadaze had an opportunity to put the Lelos on the board at the stroke of half-time but his penalty drifted wide meaning the hosts turned around with a 10-0 lead.


Video: Wayne Pivac on whether he's the right man to lead Wales forward (Wales Online)

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Wales began the second-half positively with Sheedy extending their lead with a simple penalty from right in-front of the posts. The hosts finally burst into life with a searing 40 metre break from Rees-Zammit from deep inside his own half.

But the teenagers break came to nothing as captain Justin Tipuric was tackled high after having the ball dislodged by a swinging arm from his opposite number Beka Saginadze. Referee Luke Pearce was forced to consult with his television match official Joy Neville who adjudged Saginadze’s tackle to be high.

But there were enough mitigating factors to award the Georgian openside with a yellow card rather than a red. Tipuric was forced off the field with replacement scrum-half Rhys Webb handed the captaincy after replacing Hardy.

Wales began to build pressure from the resulting penalty but yet again they failed to find a way to unlock the Georgia defence with this attack breaking down after Webb forced a miracle offload which was never on.

The hosts threatened to break away on numerous occasions with Botham on his debut making a powerful run into the opposition 22 but yet again the ball was turned over.

This game had lost all shape and if there had been a crowd present the Mexican waves would have been prevalent throughout given the turgid nature of this contest.

Confidence was clearly lacking in this Wales side and the longer the game progressed the more dangerous the visitors looked with the ball in their hands. But Wales ended the game on a high with a well-constructed try.

A powerful carry from inside centre Williams got Wales over the gainline. The ball was quickly recycled with some neat handling from Sheedy releasing Rees-Zammit who burst clear before drawing his man to put Webb over for the try.

Sheedy’s conversion drifted wide and although it wasn’t a perfect performance Pivac would have been relieved to claim his first win of the autumn.

Wales: L Williams (Lloyd 59); McNicholl (Holmes 43), Tompkins, J Williams, Rees-Zammit; Sheedy, Hardy (Webb 56); Jones (Smith 68), Dee (Parry 71), Lee (Brown 61), Ball, S Davies (Hill 61), Botham, Tipuric (J Davies 56), Wainwright.

Georgia: Khmaladze; Tabutsadze, Kveseladze, Sharikadze, Todua; Abzhandadze, Lobzhanidze (Aprasidze 55); Nariashvili (Gogichashvili 54), Bregvadze, Gigashvili (Kaulashvili 54), Kerdikoshvili, Mikautadze (Tkhilaishvili 38), Giorgadze, Saginadze, Gorgadze.

Replacements not used: Chkoidze, Jaiani, Tapladze, Mchedlidze.

Scorers:

Wales

Try: Rees-Zammit 26, Webb 76

Con: Sheedy 28

Pen: Sheedy 10, 52

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)

Man of the match: Samson Lee (Wales)

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