Rugby Union: Ireland broaden horizons

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The Independent Online
IN A bid to broaden their try-scoring horizons, even Ireland are expected to make their own sizeable contribution to this weekend's World Cup qualifying mismatches when they entertain Georgia at Lansdowne Road this afternoon.

At the risk of being hoist by their own petard, the Irish coach, Warren Gatland, and his management team have identified the need to widen their game plan beyond the solid set-pieces and sound defence which characterised the Kiwi's impressive first half-season as successor to Brian Ashton - a comparative Utopian.

"We're looking to limit our errors and turnovers. We're trying to play a bit more expansively and keep the ball in the hand," says Gatland, whose main fear is "if the weather packs in".

Accordingly the one new cap is the Canadian-born Australia-reared son of Roscommon parents Pat Duignan, an outside centre who included his boots in his backpack when he joined Galwegians two summers ago. Under Gatland's tutelage at Connacht, the smooth-running converted winger beefed-up, quickened up and improved his angles of running.

With the injury-prone Jonathan Bell back for hisfirst in two seasons, it is hoped the new midfield partnership can bring the wings and Conor O'Shea more into play. The recall of Eric Miller adds to the pack's mobility.

From pragmatic to idealistic in one fell swoop? With only Georgia on their minds it should be feasible. Though something of an unknown quantity, the Georgians have prepared intensively after a month based in France featuring four wins and four defeats against undistinguished hot-potch opposition. In getting this far, the Georgians beat Croatia (29-15) and Denmark (19-8), then lost credibly to Italy by 31-14 and finally, the big one, a grim but determined 12-6 win over Russia in front of 30,000 fans in Tbilisi last May.Economic pressures and the basic lack of pitches hamper the game's growth, although even when the Communist regime banned this "bourgeois" sport, it was resourcefully played in the guise of a native medieval game called "lelo".

Georgia's French coach, Claude Saurel, believes they can beat Romania in their key game next Wednesday (as four of the latter's French-based tight five have failed to travel) and appears to have rested some of their main players today. Among these are the Toulouse pair, Malkhaz Urdjukashvili and the lock Guia Ruskin.

IRELAND: C O'Shea; J Bishop (both London Irish), P Duignan (Galwegians), J Bell (Dungannon), K Maggs (Bath); E Elwood (Galwegians), C McGuinness (St Mary's College); P Clohessy (Young Munster), R Nesdale (Newcastle), P Wallace, P Johns (capt; both Saracens), M O'Kelly (London Irish), E Miller (Terenure), A Ward (Ballynahinch), V Costello (St Mary's College).

GEORGIA: V Abachidze; G Bugianachvili (both Gumari), E Dzagnidze (Datvebi), V Katsadze (Mauguio), A Kavtarachvili (Padova); B Tefnadze (Kochebi), C Djanlidze (Gumari); I Tchikava (Kochebi), L Javelidze (Gumari), G Chvelidze (SKA), I Zedgenidze (Mauguio), V Nadiradze (Le Teste), A Kobaxdze (Korebi), G Labadze (Penza), K Kobakhidze (Kochebi).

Referee: R Davies (Wales).

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