Georgia pulled off a dramatic and improbable victory over the USA in Tiblisi Saturday, scoring in the 89th minute to win 19-17 over a brave Eagles team.
The USA led for most of the match and played a tough-minded game in a match that saw little open, running rugby.
In fact the Americans led throughout the second half until right at the end, when the Georgians turned the ball over following a USA scrum on the American line, spun it wide and scored. Flyhalf Lasha Malaguradze, without whom Georgia would have been nowhere near the USA, hit the conversion for the 19-17 win.
The game seemed in USA hands as the clock ticked past 80, then 81, and on and on. But the referee is the sole arbiter of time, and referee Peter Allen of Scotland allowed the match to go until 90 minutes before blowing the long whistle, this despite a series of scrums that looked to be the final play. The USA players could well feel a victory was snatched from them today.
The USA opened up the match hoping to avoid penalties and scrums, and promptly started the game committing a penalty. Georgia kicked for lineout, won it and drove, but USA defense held.
But the first big scrum didn't go well for the USA. Just inside their half, they were penalized, and Beziers pro Malaguradze was good for the three points.
The USA restart went directly into touch and Georgia seemed on the brink of really capitalizing early, but the USA defense held against, and did for almost the entire game.
The game was punctuated by some massive tackles and plenty of fractiousness between the players, and the USA suffered for their emotion at one point - Hayden Smith earned a yellow card for a high tackle.
At 18 minutes the Eagles got their best attacking move yet and crashed up the midfield. Georgia stops them, but commits a penalty. Nese Malifa lined up the 30-meter attempts, but missed.
Georgia came back from that, got a series of penalties, and Malaguradze punished one for a 6-0 lead.
The USA attacked right off restart and got close to Georgia line. The Lelos were stressed but a run by Swiryn is stopped.
Georgia got a scrum but their attack down the weakside was snuffed out by flanker Lou Stanfill. Tim Usasz pounced on the ball for a quick lineout and the Eagles put together one of their few pieces of open running. Andrew Suniula crashed up the middle and quickly offloaded to a looping Todd Clever. Clever drew his man and fed Taku Ngwenya, who burst down the right side from the Georgia 22 to about six meters from the line, garnering the attention of at least three Lelos.
Right on his hip was Paul Emerick, who took Ngwenya's feed, shrugged off the tackle around his neck, and scored. That made it 6-5 at 30 minutes.
From there the game really started to go the USA's way. However they failed to get any more tries. The Eagle lineout worked well and allowed them to attack, but Goergia slowed ball down effectively (and to referee Allen's satisfaction). Still, Georgia is forced to infringe and Malifa hits the penalty in front of the posts to make it 8-6.
The Eagles received the restart and kick to touch, and from that lineout their swarm in on the Georgia team, forcing another lineout. Americans keep agttacking and from near the 22, with time up on the clock, Malifa hits a sweet drop goal to give the USA a lead of 11-6 going into the locker rooms.
Georgia took the initiative in the opening minutes of the second half, putting pressure on the Eagles and forcing a penalty about 40 meters out that Malaguradze punished without problem. 11-9.
Georgia got another penalty attempt soon thereafter for a silly USA mistake - offside on a kick. But this time Malaguradze missed. The Eagles did well to pressure from the 22 dropout, and earned a penalty of their own about 42 meters out. This time Malifa was good to make it 14-9.
It was clear at this time that tries were going to be very hard to come by. Georgia especially concentrated on their set piece. That didn't mean they didn't like to run, and a promising run from Lekso Gugava was stymied only by an impressive flying tackle from Taku Ngwenya.
But it also was clear that after any prolonged period of play, a Georgia player would crash to the ground. The Lelos ability to cover the field was clearly suspect, and they looked to slow the game down any way they could. Too often referee Allen was convinced, and stopped his watch far, far too many times.
It was at scrum time that Georgia continued to be strong. Rarely did the scrums end up with free ball coming out for an attack. Instead, it was all the USA could do not to get steamrolled, and often they committed penalties. One such infraction set up a long-range Malaguradze attempt, which the flyhalf converted to make it 14-12.
The Eagles attacked right back from the restart and again put Georgia under duress in open play. Georgia infringed, but a 38-meter attempt from Malifa was just barely wide of the posts.
The USA was still in Georgia territory, though, and kept working the phases. When the Georgia defense held, Chris Wyles whacked a brilliant long drop goal majestically through the posts to get his team's five-point cushion back 17-12.
And that seemed it. The Eagles kept working the phases and held on defensively well past 80 minutes.
At 85 minutes Georgia took a lineout from a penalty, and tried to drive it. The USA defense held. Georgia spun off around the maul and then sent it out to the centers. Andrew Suniula was up quickly and appeared to for a knock-on - the ball caroming forward about seven meters into the hands of USA captain Todd Clever, who caught the ball just in front of the tryline. Clever tried to run ahead and was slammed into the posts. Referee Allen called a scrum five meters from the line. USA players Chris Biller and Kevin Swiryn tried to argue the scrum should be further back, because that's where the initial knock-on happened, but were rebuffed.
When the scrum was set, Georgia clearly drove early, but Allen simply reset the scrum. Finally when the scrum occurred as Lou STanfill, playing No. 8 after Inaki Basauri went off injured, tried to control the ball at the back scrumhalf and captain Irakli Abuseridze pounced on it and managed to squeeze it back in the ensuing ruck. Wing Merab Kvirikashvili spun the ball wide to Lekso Gugava, who was unmarked and scored easily.
Kvirikashvili hit the conversion and that was (finally) the final whistle. The USA players were desponded. Chris Wyles clearly wanted something from the officials ... possibly arguing that Kvirikashvili's high kick might have missed. The players all congratulated each other, but the pain on the USA faces, and jubilation on those of Georgia, was clear.
Pens: Malifa 2
DGs: Malifa, Wyles
Pens: Malaguradze 3, Kvirikashvili
1 Mate Moeakiola (Bobigny 93), 2 Phillip Thiel (Life University), 3 Shawn Pittman (London Welsh), 4 Samu Manoa (San Francisco Golden Gate), 5 Hayden Smith (Saracens), 6 Louis Stanfill (Mogliano), 7 Todd Clever* (Suntory), 8 Inaki Basauri (L’aquila), 9 Tim Usasz (Nottingham), 10 Nese Malifa (Glendale), 11 Kevin Swiryn (Agen), 12 Andrew Suniula (Chicago Griffins), 13 Paul Emerick (Ulster), 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 15 Chris Wyles (Saracens)
16 Chris Biller for Thiel at 64 3:23 AM 11/27/2010(San Francisco Golden Gate), 17 Mike MacDonald (Leeds Carnegie), 18 Scott Lavalla (Dublin University), 19 Nic Johnson (Denver Barbarians), 20 Mike Petri (Sale), 21 Taivalu Enosa (Belmont Shore), 22 Setareki Tuilevuka (Montpelier)
1 Goderdzi Shvelidze (Montpellier), 2 Akvsenti Giorgadze (Castres), 3 David Kubriashvili (Toulon), 4 Shalva Sutiashvili (Massy), 5 Levan Datunashvili (Figeaque), 6 Simon Maisuradze (Villeurban), 7 Giorgi Chkhaidze (Montpellier), 8 Beasrion Udesiani (Maccon), 9 Irakli Abuseridze* (Auxerre), 10 Lasha Malaguradze (Beziers), 11 Lekso Gugava (Lelo), 12 Tedo Zibzibadaze (Perigueux), 13 Irakli Chkivakdze (Aia), 14 Irakli Machkaneli (Maccon), 15 Basiki Khamashuridze (Aia)
16 Iuri Natriashvili (Farul Constanta), 17 David Zirakishvili (Clermont), 18 Viktor Kolelishvili (Lelo), 19 Giorgi Nesadze (Montauban), 20 Bidzina Samkharadze (Farul Constanta), 21 David Kacharava (Nice Cote d’Azur), 22 Merab Kvirikashvili (Figeaque)