By Peter Rutherford
(Reuters) – Hot, humid weather in Japan has left players struggling to catch even the simplest of passes at the Rugby World Cup but Georgia captain Merab Sharikadze hopes practising with a ball dunked in soapy water will help them get to grips with the conditions.
With Wales and Australia not in action on Thursday, Georgia can go top of Pool D with a bonus-point victory over Fiji, though in reality they are probably playing for third place and the reward of an automatic berth at the World Cup in 2023.
The Georgians have yet to score a big win over a top tier nation in the same vein as Japan’s stunning victories over Ireland and South Africa at the last two tournaments but they are keen to show the world how much they have improved.
Beating two-times quarter-finalists Fiji, on the back of Georgia’s impressive five-try victory over Uruguay, would do just that, but Sharikadze said they had to be wary of the Pacific islanders’ pace and dynamism.
“We know the Fijians are very good with the ball so what we expect is they’ll run the ball a lot, probably a lot of offloads,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.
“They’ll try to keep the ball alive as long as possible so we must be ready for that.”
That approach will be in stark contrast to the Georgian brand of rugby, which leans more toward the brute force of forwards than the fleet-footedness of the backs.
Throwing the ball across the backline might not the best strategy at the Hanazono Rugby Stadium, where the humidity will draw buckets of sweat from the players and turn the ball into a greasy bar of soap.
“We haven’t done it in Japan but we did it in preseason,” Sharikadze said, turning to coach Milton Haig to offer an apology for divulging a training secret.
“The coaches used to put the ball in water with soap and we used to train with that. Hopefully that slippery soap and water will help us now.”
While Georgia come into the game on only three days’ rest after Sunday’s win over Uruguay, Haig said his squad were fine with the quick return to action.
“Short turnarounds only become a problem if you make them a problem,” he added. “Players generally like short turnarounds because it means they don’t have to train much, they only have to play.”
Smothering the running rugby of the Fijians with their hulking forwards will be the priority for Georgia but Haig said the Europeans must add new elements to their game if they are to challenge the top teams.
“I’ve been speaking about this for a number of years, but you can’t beat teams by just being one dimensional. If we want to test teams and win big games we’ve got to be able to use the ball as well,” he added.
“We’ve seen in other big games, Japan beating South Africa, Japan beating Ireland, they had to score points to win those matches. That’s part of our philosophy and something we’ve been working on for the last eight years.”
(Reporting by Peter Rutherford in Kobe; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)