- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 7, 2015

EXETER, England (AP) - Georgia had a first-ever automatic slot in the 2019 Rugby World Cup within its grasp after holding on to beat Namibia 17-16 on Wednesday.

Georgia won’t have to go through qualifying for the first time if it finishes third in Pool C, and will do so as long as New Zealand beats Tonga - and some players were celebrating like they already have, confident that the All Blacks won’t fall prey to a huge upset loss on Friday.

“We’re happy because for the first time we’ve qualified directly for the World Cup, it’s an historic moment for Georgia,” center Davit Kacharava said.

“From here,” center Merab Sharikadze said, “we’re going to the pub, the whole team together.”

They earned the right the hard way to celebrate because Namibia - chasing its first ever World Cup win - led 6-0 at halftime then fought back from 17-6 down in the closing stages. Flyhalf Theuns Kotze converted his own late try to claim all of Namibia’s points.

“We were nearly done over, but we won in the end,” Georgia lock Giorgi Nemsadze said.

“It’s been four months that we’ve been working enormously hard for this, and it’s finally paid off. We were disorganized and we didn’t start the match well. But after the start of the second half we found our feet.”

The bonus point gleaned from the narrow defeat gave Namibia its first ever in World Cup rugby.

“I am immensely proud,” Namibia coach Phil Davies said. “It was a magnificent performance to win a first point in a World Cup and we couldn’t have been closer to a win.”

Namibia led at halftime thanks to Kotze’s two penalties, but it was also in large part due to Georgian sloppiness. They did most of the early attacking at Exeter’s Sandy Park, with left winger Alexandre Todua having a try disallowed for an earlier knock-on.

Then, with Namibia down to 13 men after successive sin-bins, flanker Viktor Kolelishvili’s effort was disallowed for a forward pass from captain Mamuka Gorgodze.

Referee George Clancy brandished yellow cards late in the first half.

Georgia hooker Jaba Bregvadze was sin-binned for leading with his elbow as he went in for a challenge. But this spurned Georgia into a strong period of pressure as Namibia caved in and made errors, with Namibia prop Raoul Larson and then his front-row replacement Johan Coetzee both sin-binned.

That meant the Georgians started the second period with 15 against 13, and they were quickly into attack.

Gorgodze finished a long siege by busting through in the 50th.

Then, after another yellow card - this time for Namibia No. 8 Renaldo Bothma’s high tackle leading to that try - flyhalf Lasha Malaguradze grabbed an offload and crossed for the second try, with fullback Merab Kvirikashvili adding the extras in his final game for his country.

He landed another penalty to make it 17-6, giving Georgia some breathing space.

They needed it as Kotze kicked his third penalty and then capped off a fine move in the left corner. Kotze converted it, too, to set up a frantic last five minutes.

But Georgia held on to win two pool matches for the first time in one World Cup, after opening with a 17-10 win against Tonga.

“We’re going to celebrate,” prop Mikheil Nariashvili said, “because for a small country like Georgia we have written our page in history.”

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