Rugby Nerd: How long did it take Georgia to defeat a Tier One side?
Georgia's players leave the field after defeat at Twickenham
Realistically, the prospect of Georgia turning over England at Twickenham last weekend was unlikely, to put it kindly.
The next few weeks playing in the Autumn Nations Cup will be enormously beneficial for their development. As their head coach Levan Maisashvili said last week: "It’s a first opportunity for us and we need time. It’s not an excuse, but we need time."
He was right – Georgia down the road will be a better side even if the next few weeks in the Autumn Nations Cup see them result in them getting hammered each week. The only way to learn how to defeat Tier One teams is to face them regularly, as opposed to once a year.
That outcome at Twickenham led to a spark – what is Georgia’s record against Tier One sides? Have they ever defeated one? Well, once, as it turns out.
Consider me a sceptic of the Tier system in the first place, but, for this purpose, here is how a side like Georgia compares to similar teams in matches facing the ‘top tier’.
The following teams are loosely classified as ‘Tier Two’ teams: Georgia, Portugal, Romania, Russia and Spain in Europe, Namibia in Africa, and then Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. Fiji’s status in that bracket feels particularly questionable. Of those nine sides, seven have defeated teams now classified as Tier One teams, while two, Georgia and Uruguay, are still waiting.
Number of matches Tier Two teams needed to defeat a Tier One side
Going through each of the teams above, Spain needed only three games get off the mark, defeating Italy 9-0 in Barcelona back in 1929 (when tried were worth only three points).
Next are the USA, defeating France 17-3 at the 1924 Olympics in Colombes when they went on to win gold.
Namibia only played their first Test match in 1990, losing narrowly that year 30-34 to Wales in Windhoek. They came good in 1991, scoring three tries to defeat an Italy side containing Diego Dominguez 17-7.
Another side to pick off Italy were Romania back in 1940, their 19th Test match, in a 3-0 victory which I’m assuming must have been riveting.
Add Portugal and Canada to the list of teams finding success against Italy, with Portugal winning their 22nd Test in 1873 and Canada their 29th in 1983, both against the Azzurri.
From there we get to the Pacific Island sides, who it should be stressed pre-dominantly faced each other throughout their first few Tests. Fiji faced Australia twice in 1952, winning 17-15 in Sydney in their 30th Test match.
Tonga had to wait a little longer, defeating the Wallabies as well 16-11 in 1973, their 55th international game in which they ran in four tries to two (worth four points back then).
One team of course not from the Pacific Islands is Russia, who produced one of the more impressive results, winning 43-34 against Japan in Tokyo back in 2003.
Which leaves Samoa, who in their 64th Test pulled off a resounding 37-11 win over Japan in Tokyo in 1990. Samoa that day were captained that day by Peter ‘Fats’ Fatialofa, who sadly passed away at the age of 54 back in 2013.
Georgia first began playing official Test matches in 1989 and in their 170th outing at home to Japan in 2014, they cracked it, winning 35-24 against a side coached by Eddie Jones.
And so we come to Uruguay, who are still waiting for their first win over Tier One teams after 290 games. Uruguay have had the severe misfortune of playing of most of their ‘Tier One games’ against neighbours Argentina, and have managed to defeat an ‘Argentina XV’ three times in the past five years, but not yet the full-strength Argentina team.
The takeaway from all that – if there is one – is obviously the earlier you get over the hump, the better. You could also be a little sceptical about billing Italy as a ‘Tier One’ nation, but that is technically what they are.
Georgia, for the record, have had three cracks at Italy since the year 2000 and failed to each one, most recently in 2018 in Firenze when the Azzurri won 28-17.
Only by regularly getting the type of exposure Georgia (and Fiji) are about to get over the next few weeks in the Autumn Nations Cup will they be able to gradually close the gap.