A burst of late tries helped an undisciplined England beat Georgia 41-10 yesterday, but they were flattered by the scoreline after being forced on the defensive for long periods in their World Cup Pool B game in Otago Stadium.
Center Shontayne Hape scored two tries in the first half while Delon Armitage, Manu Tuilagi and Chris Ashton, with two late on, completed a good return for the backs after the break.
However, England struggled to deal with the abrasive Georgia players for long periods and, after again giving away relentless penalties, were somewhat fortunate that flyhalf Merab Kvirikashvili missed five of his six penalty kicks.
They came through though with the expected bonus-point win to join Scotland at the top of the pool standings with nine points and remain on course to top the group should they beat their oldest rivals in Auckland in their final group game on Oct. 1.
England got off to a flyer when Hape broke through to run 50 meters and score under the posts after four minutes, but instead of opening the way for a deluge, it merely stung Georgia into the attack.
“We made it hard for ourselves, gave away a lot of penalties with mistakes at the breakdown,” England captain Lewis Moody said in a pitchside interview. “Fair play to Georgia, they have come a long way since we last played them in 2003. They played a physical game and we have a lot to improve on.”
England thumped Georgia 84-6 in that game, their only previous meeting, but the east European side are reaping the rewards of a huge investment into the game at all levels since then and are a far more savvy side these days.
The eastern Europeans proceeded to dominate the game, their big forwards bossing the breakdown and causing England to give away a series of penalties.
England, just as against Argentina, however, were thankful that their opponents’ goalkicking was terrible as Kvirikashvili sent three efforts wide in the opening 20 -minutes. Hape, who had not scored in any of his previous 12 internationals, got his second and England were somehow 14-0 ahead. Kvirikashvili finally managed to put his team on the board before the referee lost patience with England and sin-binned hooker Dylan Hartley.
Georgia took full advantage as No. 8 Dimitri Basilaia rolled off a scrum to score a converted try to make it only 17-10 at halftime.
Armitage, again starting on the wing in place of the injured Mark Cueto, finished off a sharp cross-field move to score England’s third try seven minutes after the restart.
Georgia hit back strongly, but good defense kept them out and England’s superior fitness began to tell as they scored two tries in three minutes soon after the hour mark.
Samoa-born center Tuilagi raced in from a simple lineout ball for his third in just four internationals before Ashton scored his first since the Six Nations in February with a 50m break capped by an extravagant dive under the posts.
Ashton squeezed over in the corner for his second and England’s sixth with the last move of the match.