Rugby-Tonga take mental edge into Georgia clash

By Mark Trevelyan GLOUCESTER, England, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Tonga go into the Pool C opener against Georgia with a psychological edge, having come from behind to win their last encounter, but on Saturday they aim to lead from the front. In Tbilisi last November, the Pacific islanders conjured up three tries in the last quarter to win 23-9, having trailed 9-6 after an hour. "When we played them last year we had a bit of a bad start and let them into the game. If we can get a good start tomorrow we can set a benchmark and get the job done," number eight Viliami Ma'afu said on the eve of Saturday's game. Georgia's Kiwi coach Milton Haig told Reuters in the tournament build-up that his team, depleted through injury when they last played Tonga, would be "a different kettle of fish" this time around. "It's going to be a ding-dong battle, as you would expect." In cool, overcast but dry weather at Gloucester's Kingsholm stadium, ball-handling should not be a problem -- in contrast to the rainy conditions at Twickenham on Friday night for England's victorious start against Fiji. With two Gloucester players in their line-up -- Sione Kalamafoni starts at blindside flanker and Sila Puafisi is on the bench -- the Tongans are hopeful the local crowd in the 16,500-capacity ground will swing behind their team. In a group likely to be dominated by New Zealand and Argentina, the game may well decide who takes third place in Pool C, and with it an automatic ticket to the next World Cup in Japan in 2019, without the need to go through the painful process of qualifying. But both teams have the potential to spring surprises in this tournament: Tonga delivered the biggest shock of the 2011 World Cup by beating France, while Georgia gave Argentina a run for their money in 2013 before going down 29-18. Haig has spent the past 3-1/2 years building Georgia, traditionally reliant on their bruising forward pack, into a more complete side with exciting backs capable of running the ball. Much pressure will rest on the shoulders of centre Merab Sharikadze 22, and 18-year-old scrumhalf Vasil Lobzhanidze, who will become the youngest player in Rugby World Cup history. (Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by John Geddie)