Georgia looking beyond first ever meeting with All Blacks

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) The All Blacks’ prep for their first-ever match against Georgia has hardly been forensic.

”Georgia aren’t a team who we know a lot about,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen says, in his typically matter-of-fact style. ”It’s hard to get footage from afar.”

Hansen shouldn’t worry. It’s unlikely there’ll be any surprises for the defending champions at the Rugby World Cup on Friday.

Blessed with a tough set of forwards, Georgia rarely budges from 10-man rugby – despite the team’s Kiwi coach, Milton Haig, trying to adapt the philosophy since taking charge in 2011.

”There are times when they could get the ball out to the backs, but they will keep it in the forwards and score tries that way,” Haig says. ”We have a very forward-orientated game.”

The All Blacks – and the rugby world – know that.

But no matter how attritional Georgia will seek to make the game, there can surely be only one result under the closed roof at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. A big New Zealand win.

While Hansen has selected a close-to-full-strength team in search of a third win that would secure qualification from Pool C, Haig has retained just five of the first-choice team that started the 17-10 win over Tonga on the opening weekend.

Their maiden meeting with the All Blacks will be a great occasion for the Georgians, but it’s clear they are already looking further ahead, to the pool closer against Namibia on Oct. 7. That’s because a win in Exeter will likely seal third place and a spot in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

”We’ve been pretty vocal about what our ultimate goal is at this tournament,” Haig says. ”We’ve got a five-day backup after this All Blacks game, and Namibia’s very important for us to achieve our goal of qualifying automatically for 2019.

”So it’s a necessary evil that our focus is on obviously the Namibian game.”

Expect plenty of tries for the All Blacks, then, especially given the firepower Hansen has gone for out wide. Julian Savea, who has 32 tries in 37 tests, is on one wing and Waisake Naholo, the top try-scorer in Super Rugby this year, is on the other.

Naholo is back after two months out with a broken right fibula, sustained on his test debut against Argentina in the Rugby Championship on July 17. Such was the esteem the All Blacks coaching staff had for Naholo that the Highlanders winger was selected in the World Cup squad at the end of August, even though his fitness was still in question.

In an effort to boost his recovery, Naholo visited Fiji to receive traditional healing from his uncle, including putting leaves on the leg. He has been ”100 percent” for a week, Hansen said, and has had to be held back in training.

”I’m just really excited,” Naholo said.

New Zealand made 11 changes in total from the team that started the 58-14 win over Namibia, picking a side closer to the one which beat Argentina 26-16 first-up. Superstars Richie McCaw and Dan Carter start.