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Gritty, gutsy Georgia keep sloppy, slapdash New Zealand

Gritty, gutsy Georgia keep sloppy, slapdash New Zealand in check at 43-10

CARDIFF, 2 Oct – A paradox of a night. New Zealand won, yet will be downcast. Georgia got beaten, yet will celebrate hard for long.
The All Blacks predictably triumphed, 43-10, in a Pool C match at the Millennium Stadium, but it’s the back story – not truly revealed by the scoreline – that will make the headlines.
Given their dominance in territory and particularly possession, the men in black should have smoked the Lelos by 70 or 80 points.Instead, a huge number of uncharacteristic handling errors – in tandem with a truckload of Georgian grit (and a bit of spoiling) – saw a lot of their hard work and momentum cut short, and at least three tries were butchered in the process.
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After conceding a try within two minutes, Georgia did marvellously to restrict New Zealand to 22-10 at the break, with Waisake Naholo, Julian Savea (2) and Dane Coles scoring tries, and Dan Carter having an off night by converting only one try.In between Naholo and Savea’s first try came the game’s highlight when Beka Tsiklauri followed up a kick-through to race over for a most cherished and popular try. Lasha Malaguradze converted to restore parity at 7-7, and later added a penalty  to make it 12-10.
The Lelos were living the dream, while it was turning into a bit of a nightmare for the champions.The second half was worse for the Kiwis, despite a most likely ear-warming from head coach Steve Hansen at the break, New Zealand needing 12 minutes to score again when bustling number eight Kieran Read (pictured) barged over and Carter converted. And then again being kept scoreless for 21 minutes to leave it at 29-10.Still the All Blacks looked rattled, and that would not have gone unnoticed by their future and more fancied opposition.

Finally they clicked into third gear – and, crucially, held on to the ball – as Savea notched up his hat-trick in the 74th minute. Carter converted for 36-10.

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Malakai Fekitoa added a late bit of cream to a generally sour night, but 43-10 did not paper over the cracks, evidenced by gutsy Georgia’s tireless captain, Mamuka Gorgodze, being named man of the match.

It was a colourful night for the Georgians in their first-ever contest against the world champions. Their ‘unbeaten record’ against New Zealand may have lasted only 73 seconds, but it’s the All Blacks who saw red and will feel blue in the morning.

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All that said, if New Zealand kick on with menace in the play-offs, they may just send a note of thanks to Georgia for this most bruising and much-needed wake-up call.

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