The last encounter between Canada and Georgia was memorable for one of the most spectacular punch-ups in modern rugby history, but on Wednesday evening the two World Cup minnows put that brawl behind them to play out a thrilling game of rugby.
Canada were the victors by a single point, clinging on against a Georgian onslaught to claim a much-needed 16-15 victory in their first warm-up against international opposition. While the Canucks will open their World Cup account against the mighty Ireland in the cavernous environs of the Millennium Stadium, this win came in the more humble surroundings of Esher Rugby Club. And it was a victory to savour.
Canada have been on a terrible run of late, without a Test win since November 2014. They suffered defeat in every one of their Pacific Nations Cup fixtures earlier this year and came to England having lost seven internationals in a row. But they finally tasted victory against Glasgow Warriors in Nova Scotia last weekend, and were even more jubilant come the final whistle in leafy Surrey.
It was a match that captured the essence of rugby, the certain something that makes fans proud of their sport. After some delightfully amateurish pre-match formalities - Canada entering the field when Georgia's name was called over the tannoy; referee JP Doyle searching for tape for his earpiece - a game of blood and thunder erupted. Canada skipper Jamie Cudmore needed treatment after some fisticuffs in the first ruck. Wing Jeff Hassler ran rings around Georgian defenders. And tighthead prop Andrew Tiedemann crashed over for Canada's opening try. All inside the first five minutes.
In truth, Georgia will be kicking themselves in defeat. While Canada certainly enjoyed the best of the first-half, a more clinical performance from the Lelos could have seen them go into the break with their noses in front. Captain Mamuka Gorgodze was a constant threat in the loose, and on 25 minutes combined improbably well with hooker Shalva Mamukashvilli on the right wing. But the resulting pressure came to nothing as the Canadian defence held firm, which was no easy task given the sheer size of the Georgian big boys.
Five minutes later and Georgia would finally find a try. A messy series of scrums on the Canadian line ended with flanker Giorgi Tkhilaishvili barging over from short range for no more than the Georgians deserved. The conversion from fly-half Lasha Malaguradze leveled the scores at 10-10, but a Canadian penalty minutes later saw Canada lead 13-10 at half-time. If the first-half was Canada's, Georgia certainly enjoyed the better 10-minute spell.
Last Friday, Georgia were thumped by Newcastle Falcons with just a single Georgian flag in the Kingston Park stands. Esher, on the other hand, is an apparent hotbed of Georgian rugby fanaticism, and their fans were in fine voice all night on the wooden bleachers adjacent to the Surrey club's first team pitch. But Canada soon found favour among the more well-refreshed neutrals and hung tough for a frenetic second-half.
They scored just a solitary penalty in the second 40, but earned points aplenty with their tackle count. Georgia could have gone through after numerous openings - a fly-hack from wing Giorgi Pruidze, a Gorgodze chance down the left - but the red shirts of Canada were on hand to thwart their advances, however last-gasp the tackle.
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Things, then, were all going to plan for head coach Kieran Crowley, but nothing is ever simple in Test match rugby and Canada would yet find themselves staring down the barrel of defeat. A brutal assault on their line eventually saw Beka Tsiklauri fly over in the right corner. That brought the scores to 16-15 with a Georgian conversion to come. But the fullback failed to convert his own try and Canada would hold on to win by the finest of margins.
Cue Canadian scenes of celebration, tempered only by the loss of Hassler to a serious-looking arm injury. Next up for Canada is a final warm-up against Fiji at the Twickenham Stoop on Sunday. There were Fiji scouts in the Esher grandstand and, while they were coy about what they saw, Canada will have sent them back to base with more than enough to ponder.