Georgia set to rest their stars against All Blacks as they target Namibia at the Rugby World Cup

Georgia's opening round upset win over Tonga has them well-placed to qualify automatically for the next World Cup and ...

Georgia's opening round upset win over Tonga has them well-placed to qualify automatically for the next World Cup and could mean some leading players are put on ice for the clash with the All Blacks on Saturday.

The All Blacks are likely to face a largely second-string Georgia side as the European minnows target their final pool match against Namibia which will be crucial to retaining their Rugby World Cup status.

Already dealt a weak pool, the prospect of a weakened Georgian outfit will do little for the All Blacks' preparations for the quarter-finals with just a clash against Tonga to follow before the playoffs.

While Georgia are thrilled to be playing the world champions for the first time, it seems they have bigger things on their mind.

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The qualification process for the 2019 World Cup in Japan includes third-placed teams in pools at the current tournament automatically making the cut.

After upsetting Tonga 17-10 in their opening match, Georgia find themselves third in Pool C behind New Zealand and Argentina.

A chance to qualify early for 2019 and organise a proper buildup over the next four years seems to be too good for Georgia to ignore.

That's why they are likely to rest some of their top players against New Zealand in a bid to have them fresh for their final pool match against Namibia.

They have to back up from the All Blacks game just five days later to tackle the Africans.

Georgia's Kiwi coach Milton Haig has made it clear that automatic qualification for third-place finishers was "absolutely vital" for the long-term success of the World Cup and he's now in a strong position to try to accomplish that.

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"Our whole energy towards this tournament for the past few years has been directed at exactly that. By doing that, we created history for ourselves. For the players for whom this is their last World Cup, they will leave a legacy for Georgia that's never been done before," Haig told World Rugby.

"It's a vital part of our development not to have to worry about the qualification process, because we can start to work on bringing our younger players through."

Georgia finished fourth in their pool at the last World Cup in New Zealand and had to come through the European qualification process for this tournament, something they only achieved in March last year.

For the moment, Haig insists all the energies are concentrated on the historic match with the All Blacks in Cardiff on Saturday (8am NZ time).

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"I'm sure there'll be a little bit of that (nervousness), but the occasion itself is pretty special for Georgia because it's the first time ever that we're playing New Zealand," Haig told the tournament website as his team began training for the All Blacks.

"It's about making sure we capture that and use it to good effect, not get too overawed by it but use it to help us. We'll be playing at Millennium Stadium against the best team in the world, so there's a lot to look forward to and be excited about."

Georgia were disappointed with their second half effort against Argentina last Saturday that saw the Pumas blow out to a 54-9 win.

"We did our review of the Argentina game and also a bit of a preview on New Zealand. They've got attacking strengths all over the park so it's a matter of making sure we're nice and tight defensively, and that when we do get some attacking opportunities we're a bit better than we were against Argentina.

"We had some good ball against Argentina but we probably didn't use it as well as we could have. We lost a bit of our attacking structure."

Invercargill-born Haig has a bit of inside knowledge to the All Blacks through his extensive coaching in New Zealand that includes stints with the New Zealand Maori, New Zealand under-21, Chiefs, Bay of Plenty and Wanganui before shifting to Georgia in 2011.

"There's a number of boys in the team that I've coached in New Zealand, and I also know the coaches pretty well, so it's going to be a test coming up against some very good people who understand rugby very well.

"But my focus is on Georgia and making sure we get a good performance out of ourselves."

And, pleasingly, that includes a promise to play positive football which will come as a relief to the All Blacks.

Namibia successfully employed go-slow second half tactics against New Zealand to stall the All Blacks.

Haig said that wouldn't be the approach from his team.

"In the long run we're here to play footy, our philosophy over the last four years is to make sure we can try and use the ball and attack," Haig told ONE News.

"Deliberately having stoppages to slow the game down is not in our mindset, that's for sure."

 - Stuff


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