PREVIEW: Scotland v Georgia
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Georgia coach Milton Haig believes Scottish Rugby have made "a massive mistake" in not offering his old playing and coaching partner Vern Cotter a new contract after guiding Scotland to seventh in the world rankings.
Haig, who played and coached alongside Cotter in their native New Zealand, is convinced that Scottish officials have missed an opportunity to maintain the national side's progress by deciding to replace his opposite number with Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend next June.
"I think it's a massive mistake," Haig told AFP ahead of Georgia's match against Scotland on the artificial football pitch at Rugby Park in Kilmarnock on Saturday.
"I know Vern personally and I know how good a coach he is. The fact that Scotland are now ranked seventh in the world speaks for itself.
"That's all to do with the culture and the self-belief that Vern has developed within the Scottish team. Why you wouldn't want to keep that going, I'm not too sure. I think it's a massive mistake but one door closes and another one opens."
Cotter - who played at No.8 alongside scrumhalf Haig for Bay of Plenty and started his coaching career with Haig as his assistant with the New Zealand provincial side in 2000 - will move on to Montpellier in the French Top 14 when his contract expires in June.
Before then, however, the former Clermont boss has the chance to become the first Scotland coach in the professional era to leave the job with more wins than defeats.
The dramatic 19-16 victory over Argentina secured by Greig Laidlaw's injury time penalty at Murrayfield last Saturday, Cotter's 30th match in charge of Scotland,
evened the coach's tally at 15 wins and 15 losses - with four home matches to come in his final six games, starting with Georgia's first ever Test in Scotland.
Not that Cotter is expecting anything other than a difficult match against a team who have prospered under Haig. The Lelos beat Tonga in last year's World Cup, overcame Samoa 20-16 in Tbilisi last Saturday and stand 12th in the World Rugby rankings.
"We know that this is a very important game for Georgia," said Cotter. "They want to come and make a statement with regard to Six Nations inclusion.
"Their coach is a good friend of mine. He has done a great job. They will be a hard, tough team."
Haig was appointed after the two nations contested what remains their only meeting: a dour, tryless 15-6 Scotland victory during the 2011 World Cup. The Scots have only one survivor in their line-up on Saturday from their starting XV that day - Ross Ford, who replaces Fraser Brown at hooker.
Cotter has made four other changes, lock Richie Gray and flank Rob Harley coming into the pack and Mark Bennett replacing the injured Huw Jones at outside centre.
Haig, who was player-coach of the Scottish club Preston Lodge in the 1990s, met up with Cotter on Monday, when the pair travelled back to Edinburgh together after a World Rugby meeting in London.
"We were talking about how surreal it is that we started our coaching careers together in New Zealand in 2000 and here we are, 16 years later, coaching international sides against each other," Haig reflected.
"There's a nice little twist to the occasion, for sure, but come Saturday he'll be trying to win the game and I'll be doing my best to try to make sure he doesn't."
2011: Scotland won 15-6, Dunedin
Prediction: Georgia will have plenty to prove, but Scotland are the more classy outfit. Expect Scotland to win by 12 points.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Alex Allan, 18 Moray Low, 19 Grant Gilchrist, 20 John Barclay, 21 Ali Price, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Rory Hughes.
Georgia: 15 Merab Kvirikashvili, 14 Giorgi Aptsiauri, 13 Merab Sharikadze, 12 Tamaz Mtchedlidze, 11 Sandro Todua, 10 Lasha Malaghuradze, 9 Vasil Lobzhanidze, 8 Beka Bitsadze, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze (captain), 6 Vito Kolelishvili, 5 Giorgi Nemsadze, 4 Kote Mikautadze, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili.
Replacements: 16 Badri Alkhazashvili, 17 Kakha Asieshvili, 18 Dudu Kubriashvili, 19 Lasha Lomidze, 20 Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, 21 Giorgi Begadze, 22 Beka Tsiklauri, 23 Shalva Sutiashvili
Date: Saturday, November 26
Venue: Rugby Park, Kilmarnock
Kick-off: 14.30 (14.30 GMT; 18.30 GET)
Expected weather: It will be foggy with a high of 6C and a Low of 3C.
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Dan Jones (Wales)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)