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Keatley Kicks Emerging Ireland To Hard-Fought Win

Keatley Kicks Emerging Ireland To Hard-Fought Win

Emerging Ireland came through a tough examination of their IRB Tbilisi Cup credentials as two late Ian Keatley penalties guided them past tournament hosts Georgia on a 20-15 scoreline.



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Allen Clarke's young Irish side lost their grip on an early 6-0 lead and leaked tries to Giorgi Chkhaidze and Tamaz Mchedlidze as Georgia put in a determined display in front of their vocal home support.

The Lelos, coached by New Zealander Milton Haig, led 15-14 entering the closing stages at Avchala Stadium, but a late streak of indiscipline, with Giorgi Nemsadze ending the game in the sin-bin, allowed Ian Keatley kick Emerging Ireland to a first round victory.

The game failed to catch fire until Georgia produced a rousing finish to the first half with a pushover try from number 8 Chkhaidze handing them a 10-6 lead.

The Tarbes clubman was one of only three survivors from the Georgian team that gave Ireland an almighty fright at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

Beka Tsiklauri converted, adding to an earlier penalty, as the rugged hosts rubbed out Emerging Ireland’s six-point advantage from two Keatley penalties.

The Irish outfit turned around with a wind advantage and a concerted spell of pressure in the Georgian 22 set up David Kearney for an unconverted try after being fed by scrum half Michael Heaney.

A third Keatley penalty preceded a strong period of play from Georgia with some brittle Irish defending allowing Lasha Malaguradze to shoot through initially and an angled run from winger Mchedlidze secured their second try of the night.

However, full-back Tsiklauri missed the conversion – he left eight points behind him in all – and Emerging Ireland became more cohesive as the match wore on, the decisive period seeing Keatley take his kicking record to five successes from seven attempts.

With Keatley, captain Rhys Ruddock and Michael Bent the three senior-capped players included, Clarke's charges put some early pressure on after Georgian captain Irakli Machkhaneli had kicked out on the full.

The lively Kearney did well to gather two testing high balls and he provided the impetus for a pacy attack which led to Keatley's opening 11th-minute penalty.

The Georgian response was a good one, a run of busy phases earning Tsiklauri his first shot at the posts but the full-back pulled a long range kick wide.

Emerging Ireland soaked up some pressure in a cagey opening quarter, defending smartly with Ulster's Rob Herring, Lewis Stevenson and Michael Allen putting in some hard hits.

A clever kick from Eoin Griffin, gobbled up by his Connacht team-mate Tiernan O'Halloran, sent the Irish back into the hosts' 22 and better structure from the forwards was rewarded by Keatley's second three-pointer.

Tsiklauri got the Georgians off the mark from a left-sided penalty and hooker Revaz Belkania earned his corn when stealing a ruck ball as the Irish pressed from two close-in lineouts.

The initial maul was kept out and lock David Foley was unable to break through on a solo burst, with Georgia turning the tables as the interval approached.

A midfield break from experienced centre Davit Kacharava brought a noisy response from the 2,000-strong crowd and the pack got the nudge on in a late scrum, allowing Chkhaidze to muscle his way over with support from Shalva Sutiashvili.

Emerging Ireland edged back in front within three minutes of the restart, Heaney scooping a long pass wide for Kearney to slip in between two covering forwards and score in the left corner.

Keatley was off target with a difficult conversion attempt, while Georgian place-kicker Tsiklauri fluffed his lines badly when presented with a penalty straight in front of the posts.

A deliberate block by Toulon’s Kote Mikautadze on the advancing Kearney allowed Keatley to move the Irish 14-10 ahead nearing the hour mark.

But the Georgians, with ten of their starting line-up playing their club rugby in France, notched a timely second try to set up a tasty final quarter.

Malaguradze took advantage of some poor Irish defence on a fine midfield run, and the tackling was sloppy again when Mchedlidze came in off his wing to touch down – despite some question marks over the grounding of the ball.

Tsiklauri was unable to convert from the right, leaving the Lelos one point to the good. At this point, Emerging Ireland knuckled down with Jack McGrath and replacements Ian Nagle and John Cooney all making an impact as they forced the Georgians onto the defensive.

The wind-assisted Irish pinned the home side back but there were precious few scoring chances, Keatley missing a penalty from the right amid a chorus of boos.

As the visitors pressed for a match-winning try, the grizzled Georgian defence was just about holding firm. Emerging Ireland's decision making was slightly off at times and there was disappointment when Noel Reid's floated pass wide for Robbie Diack proved too high.

But the pressure on the Georgians told in the end as they dropped a scrum and Keatley split the posts with the resulting penalty in a tricky wind.

Back in front at 17-15, Emerging Ireland were now showing greater control of possession – particularly in the forwards – and following replacement lock Nemsadze's sin-binning for an off-the-ball incident, Keatley landed his fifth penalty of the game to seal the result.

Giving his reaction afterwards, Allen Clarke said: “Tonight's game reflected what we prepared for. The Georgians are a very committed, physical and passionate side and they showed they can play a little wider than just up the middle of the field.

“It was a massive challenge for our guys, but all credit to them. They showed great mental character and resilience to get the win.”

Milton Haig, the Georgian boss, admitted: “I was happy with the boys' performance. We are playing better rugby and matches like this are good for our development and tonight was another step towards the rugby we want to play.”

The South Africa President's XV top the table following their six-try 37-9 victory over Uruguay, and their clash with Emerging Ireland at the same venue next Tuesday (5pm local time/2pm Irish time) could prove to be the title decider.

TIME LINE: 11 minutes – Emerging Ireland penalty: Ian Keatley – 0-3; 14 mins – Georgia penalty: missed by Beka Tsiklauri – 0-3; 25 mins – Emerging Ireland penalty: Ian Keatley – 0-6; 28 mins – Georgia penalty: Beka Tsiklauri – 3-6; 40+2 mins – Georgia try: Giorgi Chkhaidze – 8-6; conversion: Beka Tsiklauri – 10-6; Half-time – Georgia 10 Emerging Ireland 6; 43 mins – Emerging Ireland try: David Kearney – 10-11; conversion: missed by Ian Keatley – 10-11; 47 mins – Georgia penalty: missed by Beka Tsiklauri – 10-11; 55 mins – Emerging Ireland penalty: Ian Keatley – 10-14; 58 mins – Georgia try: Tamaz Mchedlidze – 15-14; conversion: missed by Beka Tsiklauri – 15-14; 69 mins – Emerging Ireland penalty: missed by Ian Keatley – 15-14; 77 mins – Emerging Ireland penalty: Ian Keatley – 15-17; 79 mins – Georgia yellow card: Giorgi Nemsadze; 79 mins – Emerging Ireland penalty: Ian Keatley – 15-20; Full-time – Georgia 15 Emerging Ireland 20

Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)