Well, here we go again
Here's my effort, for what it's worth.
Well, here we go again. Another 9 months or so of green-eyed myopia stares us in the face. To get the whole thing rolling, London Irish take part in the 3rd London Double Header at Twickenham stadium. This time out, Leeds don’t make it as a London team, so it is back to our newly-promoted favourite rivals, Harlequins (and not a Court Jester among them! Just to get that out of the way early on).
Having blitzed all before them in National Division 1 last season, the challenge has been set to hit the Premiership running this season. Dean Richards has recruited a lot of new faces for the coming season, the most famous probably being Stuart Abbott and Paul Volley. The rugby purists will be looking to see what effect another year has had on Andrew Mehrtens, I would venture the old cliché: Class is permanent, at this juncture.
Irish supporters will be keen to see how Keogh and Duffy shape up back in the Premiership. I’m sure that they will be trying to disprove the playing in England, not playing for Ireland, ever, in the world, ever, theory as will Bob Casey in the coming season.
The armchair experts have been musing on whether ‘Quins will struggle in the scrum. With the highly experienced Vos & Volley and new boy from Castres, Spanghero it will be interesting to see how the battle for possession develops. Although they have struggled in the pre-season games, the words Dean Richards and shoite pack, would never have a home in the same sentence, would they? Having said that, the competition will be a whole lot stiffer in the Premiership. I guess that is why ‘Quins will have played 5 pre-season games before they take to the hallowed turf of the real Twickenham. These games have not gone well in terms of results for ‘Quins.
A single competitive run-out for Irish in Donnybrook brought an, as ever, favourable result in Ireland in the pre-season. This correspondent didn’t travel to the game, but a smattering of tries from both backs and forwards augurs well the coming season.
London Irish haven’t been idle in signing new players either. Is it a transfer market in rugby union? The player that I have seen most of from the new boys is James Hudson who joins from Bath; he looks seriously impressive and will be providing stiff opposition for Bob, Nick and Kieran for second row places. I am expecting a season of continued high lineout stealing stats, beginning at Twickenham.
The front row has been beefed up with signings from Newcastle (Mackie) and Pau (Tae’aetoa). This guy looks big in a seriously large way, think of Faan the Man and you get the picture. The Armitage connection has been further strengthened with the addition of Steffon from Sarries. The new Aussie prop, Fitter, comes with high praise from Scott Staniforth and is expected to feature in this game, despite only arriving a week or so ago. There are a number of injury concerns in the front row department and we wish those guys a speedy return.
Declan Danaher is looking mean and fit and large. He has the demeanour of somebody who wants his place full time and is intent on getting it. I’m looking forward to Declan combining with the ageless French legend, Olivier Magne in combination with The Geezer or Murph causing grief and making opposition supporters weep all over the land.
Irish international Aidan McCullen joins from Toulouse with an endorsement from the fighting milkman himself ringing in his ears. With Kieron Dawson heading off to Ulster, Aidan keeps the Irish representation in the side at level par.
Richie Rees has joined from Ospreys to replace the departed Darren Edwards. He looks impressive and will keep Dodge and Willis on their toes.
The Academy has brought us supporters a rich vein of talent in Delon, Topsy and ‘new’ boys Shabbo and Geraghty coming through into the senior squad this season. Mike Horak looks back to top form following his late season injury woes. At the trial game at Sunbury, he was looking hot to trot (so Sarah said anyway!).
His Royal Highness, Mike Catt, will lead the team this season. Expect to see lots of headlines referring to his ageless performances.
I have to admit to feeling a tremendous sense of anticipation this time out. I’m not setting my expectation at unrealistic levels, but I sense that the back room team and the supporters will at least look to stay at last season’s level in terms of competitiveness (didn’t get picked up by spell check, so it must be a real word) with a good showing in the Heineken Cup to boot.
As always, the supporters will be keen to see the new talent on show. Those who will have attended the pre-season games will be already forming opinions as to who should or shouldn’t be in the side and trying to second guess what Brian Smith will do each week. Sure, it’s what keeps us going! From what I’ve seen, the handling, especially of the greasy ball, has improved. The players say that this has been the hardest pre-season to date (don’t they always say that, though?) From the sidelines, it is great to see the strength in depth now starting to emerge within the squad.
It couldn’t have been a more contrasting last season for the two sides, Irish shaking off a couple of financially starved years which resulted in relegation dog fights, to finish a nosebleed threateningly high 3rd in the Premiership last season. ‘Quins on the other hand set out to win ND1 and did so comprehensively. Cynics would say aided by the lack of a salary cap, but I wouldn’t know anything about that sort of thing.
For Irish, Heineken Cup rugby beckons, Brian Smith will have his own squad now, having inherited a squad upon his arrival. The Board have signalled serious intention to do well, the sponsorship deals have been signed (to mixed reviews) and all I can say is
“Let’s get ready to ruuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmblllllllllllllllllllllllllllle”.
Oh, and Come on you IIIIIIIRRRRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHH