London Irish v Harlequins
Score: London Irish 20 - Harlequins 19
Date: Saturday, 2 September 2006
Fixture: Guinness Premiership
Referee: Mr David Rose
Touch Judges: Mr Andrew Pearce - Mr Andrew Watson
The predictions have been made. The talk has been talked. It is now for the twelve Guinness premiership clubs, one of whom we will lose on completion of the twenty-two rounds of the competition, to deliver.
Who will be relegated? Who will be Champions? Who will qualify for the ‘Heineken’?
Which Director of Rugby will walk and which one will be pushed? Who knows? For one, I don’t; like everyone else I will have to wait and see how the season pans out.
It is now in the hands of the respective clubs’ coaching staff, physiotherapists, fitness specialists, sports psychologists and backroom staff but - above all - the five hundred or so players who will seek to earn their crust between now and next May by working to win and, in the process, provide me as a supporter with reason to cheer or be dejected.
I wish our club a successful season by whatever standards and objectives they have set themselves. I also wish them a safe season (and if there is any luck going – grab it with gratitude!)
So we have eventually arrived at the Home of Rugby, to be greeted on the approach to the entrance by some waifs attempting to attract me to watch some table dancing. I have seen the chairs fly but I have no ambition whatsoever to see tables dancing.
On entering the curtilage of the building I decided it was time for my first AG. Fortunately (or otherwise) I had the opportunity to observe the performance of the bar staff and, to cut a long story short, opted against the AG. Half-pints were being fobbed off (and accepted) as full pints – where is Weights and Measures when you need them? A similar plea could be made for the Environmental Health people who police hygiene standards in eating houses and similar establishments. (As a matter of interest – I settled for Tetley’s – never again!)
Acquaintances were renewed and pleasantries exchanged. It was nice to be back.
It was a most unseasonable day. Very overcast with a swirling crosswind. I would not be at all surprised if the part-completed South Stand contributed to the erratic velocity of the wind, which in turn would almost inevitably stifle adventurous fielding and positioning.
Irish took the pitch to resounding cheer and beating of drums, but there was something of a tension about them as they lined-up. Maybe the perceived expectation was taking its toll. The sooner the game starts the better.
The Club’s strategy in respect of not getting involved in pre-season ‘friendlies’ other than a trip to Dublin might be put to the test by a Harlequins squad who, by all accounts, had an intensive pre-season training and series of friendlies.
Sure enough, they (Quins) came at Irish like dervishes, skilled determined dervishes. Irish appeared to be prepared for the initial onslaught and repelled it. Shades of last season returned with some sweet ball-in-hand. We can now just relax a tad. But Quins had other ideas. They too were being adventurous. So, despite the conditions, both sides were attempting to play open rugby.
In the fourth minute, Adrian Jarvis, a late replacement at No 10 for Andrew Mehrtens, opened Quins’ account with a penalty (awarded against Delon Armitage). This was followed by another (well taken) Jarvis penalty some six or seven minutes later.
On 23 minutes we had our first opportunity to observe a new (unannounced) kicking style from Riki Flutey as he prepared to put our first points on the board. And boy, did it work! This was quickly followed by a Topsy Ojo try in the right corner. The ask for Riki to convert was just a modicum too much.
The try had been threatening for some time. Excellent work by Mike Catt, Olivier Magne - and not least one Riki Flutey - was causing Quins’ defence all sorts of problems. Welcome back to the Premiership.
Following the break Irish went into the lead with well-taken penalties from Riki. He subsequently was harshly denied by the ball striking the upright.
This was a period of sustained London Irish dominance to which Quins appeared not to have an immediate answer. We were constantly straining to se what was happening up the field – that’s where all the action was. Irish were living on the Quins’ line, applying pick-and-drive. Quins repelled effort after effort. Eventually the effort was justly rewarded with an excellently taken drop-goal by Flutey.
Quins came back into the game again but our back three, ably supported amongst others by Phil Murphy, repelled push after push.
It was then our day looked to be turning sour. The questionable try was claimed by the Quins’ loosehead (Ceri Jones) and converted again by Adrian Jarvis. Would our heads go down? I am pleased to report: NO. There was a steely-eyed determination showing on our players’ faces.
Quins appeared to be prepared to settle for the 19-17 win that was well within their grasp. They baulked and panicked. Irish took advantage and forced errors in the final minute.
A penalty was awarded against the Quins’ replacement hooker for killing the ball. Now … the ultimate test. Despite (or because of) the booing, Riki Flutey stepped up and placed the ball; did his new-found little footwork movement; stepped forward and struck the ball … sweet as a nut between the posts.
Victory to London Irish. A hard fought victory at that.
Line outs were somewhat hit and miss, although the Big Three BC – KR – NK started to gain control with some useful takes. What surprised me was an apparent failure to read and anticipate Quins’ tactic of the long throw to the back of the lineout which they used to some effect.
Our front row looked a bit ring-rusty after their consistent (and indeed feared) exploits of last season. In the circumstances they did what was asked of them, particularly in the second period.
Yellow card for Juan Leguizamon
Juan was served with a yellow for hands in the ruck. He was at wee bit lucky as he had meaningful exchanges, a little bit more than handbags (‘needless nonsense’ as Willie John McBride would call it). I greatly admire Juan’s skill, commitment and determination, but he and the squad must always remember that we do need fifteen men on the field for the entire match. Don’t rise to the bait - at least, not during the match.
Some supporters, better positioned than myself, were of the opinion that Stuart Abbot’s tackle on Paul Hodgson for which he received a yellow card was a ‘spear tackle’. If a player of this man’s ability and skill has to resort to wilfully taking an opponent out in this manner (and receives such an inadequate punishment) we could be in for a very inconsistent refereeing season. I hope I am wrong.
I have no desire to see any player sent from the field, but there are actions which are reprehensible and spear tackling is one of them. The punishment must compensate for the intent, if not the action.
With regard to the Ceri Jones try for Quins, again my sightline for the temporary screen was poor, but the response to the replay indicated the decision was dubious, if not wrong. Irish supporters who saw the replay were adamant the ball was dropped. However, the referee raised his arm and the conversion was effectively dispatched by Jarvis, again.
Respecting the kicker?
One of the better things about northern hemisphere rugby in general - and in these islands in particular - is the silence when the kicker is preparing himself to execute the kick. Sadly, some elements of what I would assume to be Harlequins’ support failed to honour this tradition. Hopefully it was an aberration and not the beginning of a trend.
That said, Riki Flutey appeared not to be phased. Well done that man!
Were we lucky?
No. We weren’t great – not by a long shot - but the squad and the coaching squad did the necessaries and that is what counts. We know, and our opponents know, there is much better to come.
What about Wasps on Friday Night?
What about them? We will all turn up and give it our best again!
0–3 (4 mins) Adrian Jarvis (pen)
0–6 (11 mins) Adrian Jarvis (pen)
3– 6 (23 mins) Riki Flutey (pen)
8–6 (31 mins) Topsy Ojo (try)
8–9 (34 mins) Adrian Jarvis (pen)
8–12 (49 mins) Adrian Jarvis (pen)
11–12 (52 mins) Riki Flutey (pen)
14-12 (54 mins) Riki Flutey (pen)
17–12 (75 mins) Riki Flutey (DG)
17–19 (80 mins) Ceri Jones (try) Adrian Jarvis (con)
20-19 (81 mins) Riki Flutey (pen)
15 - FB Delon Armitage
14 - RW Topsy Ojo
13 - OC Dom Feaunati
12 - IC Mike Catt (C) MBE
11 - LW Sailosi Tagicakibau
10 – FH Riki Flutey
9 - SH Paul Hodgson
8 – No.8 Juan Leguizamon (SB – 34 mins)
7 - OF Olivier Magne
6 - BF Kieran Roche
5 - Lock Bob Casey 4 - Lock Nick Kennedy
3 - TH Richard Skuse
2 - H Danie Coetzee
1 - LH Tonga Lea’eatoa
16 Neal Hatley (for T Lea’eatoa - 56)
17 Robbie Russell(for D Coetzee – 45)
18 Dave Fitter (for R Skuse – 45)
19 Phil Murphy (for J Leguizamon – 45)
20 Declan Danaher (for O Magne – 76)
21 Michael Horak
22 Barry Everitt (for M Catt – 72)
15 - FB Tom Williams
14 - RW George Harder
13 - OC Hal Luscombe
12 - IC Stuart Abbott (SB – 23mins)
11 - LW Ugo Monye 10 – FH Adrian Jarvis
9 - SH Steve So'oialo
8 – No.8 Nick Easter
7 - OF Paul Volley (C)
6 - BF Andre Vos
5 - Lock Simon Mial
4 - Lock Nicolas Spanghero
3 - TH Ricky Nebbett
2 - H James Hayter
1 - LH Ceri Jones
16 Jimmy Richards (for Hayter - 61)
17 Mike Ross (for Nebbett – 72)
18 Jim Evans (for Spanghero – 61)
19 Will Skinner (for Easter – 64)
20 Simon Keogh (for Harder – 72)
21 Andrew Mehrtens
22 Gavin Duffy
May good luck be your friend in whatever you do.
And may trouble be always a stranger to you.