Anyone who believes Saturday’s match with Georgia in Kilmarnock presents Scotland with a chance to round off their autumn Test series with a degree of comfort they weren’t afforded against Australia and Argentina could have another think coming.
That’s the view of Scotland assistant coach Richie Gray, who has worked with the Georgians in the past and has been hugely impressed by their development in recent years.
“I was involved with them for two or three days before they played in the 2011 World Cup when Richie Dixon was coaching them,” said the breakdown specialist, pictured below.
“They are a quality group of players. All the players are not just making up the numbers. They are key men in most of the French Top 14 sides, especially up front. Look at the results they have had in the World Cup, the results they have had in the Test matches over the last 12 months – this is going to be as tough a Test as any.”
Georgia lost 28-22 at home to Japan on 12 November but that is their only defeat since last year’s World Cup, where they beat Tonga and Namibia, and at the weekend they defeated Samoa 20-16 in Tbilisi.
Gray, the former Gala captain and ex-Springboks contact consultant who is contracted to the Scotland set-up through the Six Nations, believes Saturday’s Test will be another brutal encounter.
“They are a very, very physical, stuffy side. You look at what they did to Samoa, make no bones about it, this is going to be as tough a Test match as Australia or Argentina,” he said.
“They are a very good side and we will have to make sure we prepare properly for it.”
Georgia won the European Nations Cup for a sixth successive year before enjoying an unbeaten Pacific tour in the summer, when they beat Fiji and Tonga and drew with the Samoans.
In Mamuka Gorgodze, the national skipper and Toulon flanker, the Georgians bring with them one of European rugby’s star forwards, and Gray knows they will be looking to lay down a marker for their goal of gaining entry to the Six Nations competition.
“That has always been the discussion. It is the point that has been made over the last year or so.
“That is for decision-makers way up above me but they will definitely be wanting to show what they are all about. They will want to show that they can sit at the table. They are a very good team.
“You look at players like Gordodze, the front row man [Davitt] Kubriashvili and these types of players. They are quality players and make no doubt about it, they are going to be a tough test for us this weekend.”
The scrum is sure to be another key area of battle at Rugby Park and Gray believes the experience young Scotland props Allan Dell and Zander Fagerson have had in the past two weeks will stand them in good stead.
“From my own point of view those boys have fought hard over the last few weeks,” said Gray. “The Argentine Test was a real battle, you’ll not get harder than that. The Georgian front row will ask different questions again.
“You go back to blooding young players and the education this group have had in the last three to four weeks is invaluable when you look forward to the Six Nations.
“They’ll be working away on little things they did right and things that they’ll need for the weekend, and it’ll be another massive test.”
Gray believes Scotland’s work at the breakdown improved as the Argentina Test went on.
“Attacking breakdown in the first 40 minutes was not good,” he said. “Individual errors cost us a bit, sometimes we had wrong numbers at the wrong breakdown and it looked as though Argentina had more than us there, which they did have.
“It was strange game in that first 40, both teams made multiple errors with ball in hand. We need to tighten that up but our retention has been outstanding the last two to three years so it’s not as if it’s a root problem. I think this week I’ll sit down with individuals who have to concentrate slightly harder in that area.
“Defensive breakdown was great, but attacking-wise we’re a team that want to get on the front foot and get the ball moving. We want to be more clinical.”
Back row will be another pivotal battle and Gray said he was impressed with 21-year-old debutant Magnus Bradbury at blindside.
“Selection will be Vern’s call [Vern Cotter, the head coach], we’ll see who is all fit and healthy,” he said. “We’ve used permutations in different games. Bradbury came in and did well, and [Hamish] Watson has been excellent. [John] Barclay since coming back into this group in the Six Nations and for these games... he’s just in a rich vein of form.
“They complement each other really well, we’ll discuss what permutation will work for us.
“I just like the look of Bradbury, good shape and willing to learn and now he’s in the mix and adding to the pool. It puts pressure on everyone else as well.”