TOYOTA, Japan (AP) — Wales opened its Rugby World Cup campaign by beating Georgia 43-14 on Monday in a contest which became much more even in the second half.
A much heavier defeat seemed inevitable when Six Nations champion Wales led 29-0 at halftime, already with a four-tries bonus point after scores from center Jonathan Davies, flanker Justin Tipuric, left winger Josh Adams, and fullback Liam Williams.
“You can’t make mistakes in the first half and chase a 29-point lead. Wales really identify your weaknesses, and they did that today,” Georgia coach Milton Haig said.
But Georgia proved resilient and gave its fans something to be proud of with a spirited second-half comeback which produced two tries following impressive work from the forwards.
After a converted effort from hooker Shalva Mamukashvili soon after the restart, Georgia gained in confidence and even resisted for 10 minutes without conceding any points while Jaba Bregvadze was sin-binned for collapsing a rolling maul.
Wales was in check until the 65th minute when replacement flyhalf Tomos Williams had enough pace to reach winger George North’s kick ahead just in time.
Georgia’s backs hardly made an impression. The pack, however, bullied Wales at times in the second period.
“In the second half our scrum really competed,” prop Mikheil Nariashvili said. “That’s where Georgia is really strong and that’s what we have to lean on in order to perform even better in future matches.”
Following a tap penalty near the left corner, prop Levan Chilachava bulldozed over from the back of the scrum for a converted try to trim the deficit to 36-14.
Tomos Williams then set up North for a late sixth try with a one-handed offload, and the powerful North broke two tackles.
The match at a humid City of Toyota Stadium opposed two veterans appearing in their fourth World Cup: Georgia flanker Mamuka Gorgodze and Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones, the captain, who equaled Gethin Jenkins’ Wales record of 129 test caps.
Gorgodze’s first moment of the match however, saw him fumble a high back straight from Wales’ kickoff.
Moments later, Tipuric and Gareth Davies combined to set up the first try after two minutes — the fastest of the tournament.
Dan Biggar somehow botched the conversion, hitting the upright from right in front of the posts.
Tipuric pushed through a couple of weak tackles for the second try, while Adams used his searing pace over 40 meters to the left corner after being sent clear by Biggar, who had also set up Tipuric.
Georgia improved after a dismal opening 25 minutes, but Wales ended the half with another try. Liam Williams picked up a loose pass from Jonathan Davies off his feet following a swift counterattack, and charged over. Biggar slotted the extras.
Pockets of Georgia fans were rewarded for travelling around 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) soon after the interval.
“We got into the match too late. However, I’m rather happy with the attitude we showed coming back in the second half,” said Nariashvili, the captain. “The only regret I have is that they scored tries too quickly and without really having to try hard.”
Wales got a penalty for collapsing the scrum, and Georgia gamely chose not to kick. From a driving maul Mamukashvili barged into a gap and the try was awarded following a video review to approval from the neutrals in the crowd of 35,000.
Flyhalf Tedo Abzhandadze converted it, and Mamukashvili got a kiss on his bald head from center Tamaz Mchedlidze for his efforts.
But momentum gained from that score was thrown away by Bregvadze.
Moments before the sin-binning, Liam Williams flew himself forward like an Olympic diver to catch Biggar’s clever kick over the defense, but video review wiped it out for a knock-on.
The win was comfortable enough. But Warren Gatland’s side had too many lapses, and will need to improve before facing Pool D rival Australia in Tokyo on Sunday.
Milton Haig’s Georgia plays Uruguay in Kumagaya, also on Sunday.