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Georgia rely on Kiwi for ‘ultimate’ All Black challenge

Haig told Reuters the Georgian squad had set their hearts on claiming the European qualifying spot that would take them into Pool C to face the All Blacks from the start of their campaign in 2013.

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“They all agreed to a man, to play New Zealand at the World Cup is the ultimate for any player. So that was the goal, to test yourself against the best team in the world and defending world champions. That wasn’t set by me, that was set by the team,” he said in an interview.

“It’s the first time in history for us to be able to do that, so it’s going to be a great occasion.”

Ranked 16th in the world, the Georgians are taking part in the tournament for the fourth time, and are renowned for the strength of a forward pack studded with expatriate players who represent clubs in France’s Top 14.

Their forward power raises the prospect of some bone-crunching confrontations between the likes of All Black captain Richie McCaw and Georgia’s leader Mamuka Gorgodze, the fiery backrow forward nicknamed ‘Gorgodzilla’.

“We’ve got a scrum that can compete worldwide with any scrum around the world. We’re reasonably confident we can foot it with anyone in that department,” Haig says.

“Obviously there’s other parts of the game. You only get six scrums on average in a test match with your ball and six with the opposition’s. There’s a lot of other things you’ve got to do in the 80 minutes as well.

“The key for us is just making sure that we’re good enough that once a set-piece finishes, we’re able to defend and make good decisions. Same thing when we attack, that we take our opportunities.”

To that end, Haig has spent the past 3-1/2 years building the team into a more complete side with a full armoury of options. “If you don’t have an alternative to your forward back, you become pretty easy to defend against.”

While acknowledging Gorgodze as the key figure, he added: “It’s important that you develop other leaders within the team — you can’t rely on one guy, that’s for sure.”

With fullback Merab Kvirikashvili and second-row Giorgi Chkhaidze heading into their fourth World Cups, Haig has no shortage of maturity in the squad to balance youngsters like 18-year-old scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze. And at 22, the emerging talent among the backs is centre Merab Sharikadze, already an experienced campaigner after 3-1/2 years in the squad.

Apart from the matches, Haig is looking forward to seeing some old mates among the impressive lineup of Kiwi World Cup coaches, which includes not just the All Blacks’ Steve Hansen but Vern Cotter (Scotland), Warren Gatland (Wales), John McKee (Fiji), Kieran Crowley (Canada) and Joe Schmidt (Ireland). Not to mention Mana Otai, who grew up and learned his rugby in New Zealand before going on to play for and coach Tonga.

“Kiwi coaches pretty much know each other and get on pretty well,” he said. “One of the good things about the World Cup is we’ll be catching up with each other and sharing some stories, that’s for sure.”

Georgia lost all three of their World Cup warm-ups, albeit narrowly to Japan and Canada after being trounced by English Premiership side Newcastle Falcons.

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