Georgia have become the latest nation to emerge from the global
qualification process to confirm their place at Rugby World Cup
2011 following a 17-9 victory over Spain at the National Stadium in
Tbilisi on Saturday.
A seventh victory in eight matches in the European Nations Cup 2010 extends Georgia's lead in the standings and ensures they cannot now finish outside the top two places which have direct qualification for RWC 2011.
Georgia currently have 23 points - the only blot on their record a 20-20 draw with Portugal last season - and will pick up at least two more, even if they lose their two remaining matches to Romania and Russia.
Only Russia can still reach 25 points or more, so Georgia were
able to celebrate qualifying for a third successive Rugby World
Cup, even if they do not yet know whether they will join Pool B as
Europe 1 or Pool C as Europe 2.
"Though I am not Georgian, I understand perfectly well how the Georgians must feel now and share with them the excitement any local rugby supporter must experience now that the Georgian national team has won its third RWC ticket in a row and that the word "Georgia" will resound at the international stage once again," said coach and former Wallaby centre Tim Lane.
Surge in popularity
"It was our goal to bring Georgia to the Rugby World Cup again - I am really happy that this goal has been achieved. Now our goal as a team is to make a worthy appearance at the Rugby World Cup."
Ilia Zedginidze, the second row who captained Georgia at RWC 2007 in France, added: "It will be a great honour to take part in the Rugby World Cup again.
"For Georgian rugby, still another World Cup appearance means a big surge in popularity, which will bring a fresh wave of children and teenagers into youth rugby teams, another boost for development, another chance to go ahead. And as regards myself, I am happy to be a part of this process and grateful to everyone who supports us on our way."
Spain did take the lead in Tbilisi with a third minute penalty by centre Jaime Nava, but number 8 Besarion Udesiani crossed for the opening try just after the half hour mark with Merab Kvirikashvili kicking the conversion for a 7-3 half-time advantage.
Five minutes after the restart flanker Lasha Tavartkiladze scored to increase Georgia's advantage, but it was not until 11 minutes from time that prop Goderdzi Shvelidze touched down to enable the home side to breathe easier.
The visitors did have the final say with two more penalties from Nava, but it was Georgia celebrating come the final whistle with qualification confirmed and a successful defence of their European Nations Cup crown within touching distance.