Not good enough!
How do I summarise what was probably the worst performance I have seen from a London Irish team in several years? Clueless seems like a good sound bite. It may not reflect our few quality actions, but in all-round terms it is reasonably appropriate. A poor crowd (7,650) was in equally poor humour afterwards, drifting towards their transport rather than the bars, although the hotel’s new no smoking policy may have had something to do with it as well. Our reputation for losing well is now in tatters.
Bristol seemed to ship a lot of injuries. One hopes that their No 7, Joe El Abd, and their No 13, Rob Higgitt, who were stretchered off to hospital, both make swift recoveries. Despite the fact that Irish could have won, there can be no question about who deserved the result, however. Congratulations to Bristol.
I haven’t a clue WHY we played like a bunch of frequently brave but often headless idiots, in the second half especially. If I had the benefit of Sky TV I might be able to make a reasoned analysis from the video, but I don’t, so I’ll have to be like the Ref, and call it as I saw it at the time.
In among all the usual moans about Blind Sir, and the rub of the green, lies a horrible truth. However mystifying some of his decisions may have seemed, the referee, Rob Debney, did not cost us this match. We surrendered this game primarily through a combination of stupidity and mistakes, and it must also be said that one or two of our forwards did not seem to be up with the game as much as they’d have liked. I don’t think that people like me should start giving generalised opinions about how player A or B played, however. What the hell do I know? This report will focus, therefore, on what I saw and wrote down – and if that includes a specific comment about anyone specific, so be it.
One or two of my neighbours had things to say about Riki’s place-kicking. All I’ll say is that had he achieved the 100% record he needed to make any difference to the result he’d be streets ahead of most of his rivals in the GP stats. What worried me was that he seemed to turn his ankle over in the first half, before he started to miss a few. Hopefully, not a repeat of last year’s injury.
Just prior to the game I learnt that Big Bob Casey had ‘done’ his ankle on Thursday and could be out for up to two months. His place would be taken by James Hudson, with Aidan McCullen coming onto the bench. Ah well, said we, if Bob hasn’t been having too happy a time of it, maybe it’ll turn out for the best. Other, perhaps wiser, heads pointed out that this gave us a comparatively light second row with little gravitas in the tight exchanges. When the teams came out we found that Shane Geraghty had replaced Mike Horak on the bench as well.
The Game unfolds
Shortly after the usual post-kick-off ping pong, Dom Feau’nati made mincemeat of the poor Bristol receiver in his 22, winning a penalty which Flutey converted.
3-0 after two minutes
My notes remind me that I felt, even this early, that we needed to keep the ball out wide, away from the heavy Bristol pack, who seem to like going from the back of the line out. On the second occasion Magne nearly turns over their possession, fails, and then someone else succeeds. However, we knock on.
At this stage there really isn’t much in it, and we are encouraged by the way that Hodgson, Catt and Feau’nati seem to be chasing down the Bristol backs.
Armitage makes a short break before passing to Leguizamon who makes a longer one, ultimately going to earth, from which he passes forward, one-handed. Not his finest hour. Irish are penalised for an invisible front row offence (turning the scrum?) but Bristol throw in crooked at the ensuing line out, and it’s scrum to Irish. (Time will tell whether this was the only crooked throw-in that was called, but there were plenty that weren’t!)
An Irish free kick results in an Irish penalty for offside, Flutey’s long kick is negated by a throw-in into no man’s land and Bristol look to have got away until they hurl a possible scoring pass forwards into touch on the other side of the park. Poor line out planning? Not like us, we say, but it really was the pattern of the match. Others may know why our line out was so awful, especially at the tail. I don’t.
Bish is down for a minute or so, but Mr Debney allows a LI scrum to take place yards away from where he is receiving treatment. Strange! We kick out on the full, and Bristol’s line out is fed the ball unseen by Mr D, but they kick away their possession to our 22 where Armitage and Hodgson are on duty and find touch. Bristol knock on from their line out possession, and from the scrum Catt finds touch on half way. Is this sounding sufficiently turgid yet? It looked it!
Bristol throw long (surprise, surprise) where we are looking increasingly vulnerable, but get pinged for holding on in the tackle. From outside the 10 yard line, in the 19th minute of play, the left-footed Flutey pulls the ball right of the posts. Following the 22 drop-out, Catty kicks long to the East corner, but wily old Brizzle are up for this kind of sharp practice, take a quick throw-in, get a penalty for an Irish ruck offence, and quickly grubber the pill behind our backline where the diving kamikaze Hodgson saves the day, and not the first or the last time. Yer man had a blinder. Who is Sean Perry, again?
A penalty to Irish for preventing play results in a long line out throw which works for a change, and Catty puts Ojo away on the right. The ball is recycled left to Catty again, who feeds Magne on the burst who in turn feeds Roche on his outside for a simple gallop to the corner, as he had at Sixways last year. I seem to recall we fell apart in the second half there as well. It’s too wide out for Riki so it’s
8-0 after 24 minutes
It may not be looking too good as a spectacle (too many blasts on the whistle, too many unforced errors by both teams) but at least we seem to be grinding it out.
Skusey now enters his blue period, or it may be pink. Who knows with props? He grasps the kick-off and hurtles forward like the demented rhino we know he can be. Not bad for a man with only three weeks training under his belt. Is it coincidence that his charge leaves four Bristol players writhing on the ground in agony? Most recover, but Joe el Abd is stretchered off to generous applause, as it should be. He is replaced by Alfie Too’ala, who was a one man demolition squad in last Monday’s A game.
Somewhere in all this we get a line-out, but Dom knocks on possession, and the Bristol scrum converts to a penalty for the second time in the game. Armitage collects the line kick and gets the ball to Flutey who makes a break through traffic, where he is felled by a high tackle. He finds touch with the penalty, giving LI a great position for driving over on the left. Catty tries a reverse pass to Bish on the burst, but Bish spills it. Happily that nice man Debney has already blown for a second penalty to Irish, so we trot back and repeat our assault, only to knock on again.
The Bristol scrum yet again converts to a Bristol penalty. Maybe the front rows know why. I don’t. 10 minutes to go, and we all agree that our lead does not reflect our play. We should be 15-0 up, and that is not a comment on our place kicking, but on what we don’t do with our scrappy possession. I firmly believe that our counter-attacking is better than Bristol’s. We have so far done relatively little attacking in its own right.
Bristol chip from a line out and Delon outruns the Bristol 14. However it all ends in a knock-on. SNAFU for the ex-military among us. Bristol in turn go on the attack and we turn them over – again - to find ourselves on the puzzled end of another penalty offence.
8-3 after 34 minutes
Almost directly from the kick-off Bristol prop Dave Hilton is yellowed for something to do with the mystical dark arts, and Riki Flutey obliges with his second conversion out of four attempts.
11-3 after 36 minutes
Another mystery decision when Delon catches their 14 in possession and an enthusiastic ruck forms. Feau’nati is observed being a good boy and going all the way back round to re-join from behind the back foot, but gets pinged. Humph. What makes it such a bitter pill was that by the time the whistle went Hodgson had broken and was well on his way downfield. Rats!
The last memorable play of the half comes when our visitors attack wide from their line out, and oh so nearly score in the far left corner.
At half time we reflect that Catty’s touch kicking is still world class, and that most of our possession is very slow. Are we having a bad day in the breakdown area or are Bristol simply having a better one? This will come to haunt us in the last 40.
An unheralded 175 game London Irish hero trots on for the second half, unheralded by the tannoy, anyway, unless I missed it. Beefy Hatley replaces Tonga at loose head, and I have a funny feeling that, unfit as he is, he might make a difference.
From our first line out we move the ball expertly down the line to the looping Flutey who gives an expert pass to the expert ankles of the expert man outside him. Knock on. The story of our day. The scrum wheels right, suggesting a Hatley input. Leguizamon turns over their possession and is in turn turned over, giving possession to the Bristol 15 who nearly makes it to our 22 where our tackler is penalised. Jason Strange obliges from in front.
11-6 after four minutes
Bristol bring back our kick-off with a passing movement which ends in tears as Higgit and Armitage collide. Both are damaged, Higgit more seriously. Geraghty comes on for Delon and the feared speedster David Lemi for the unfortunate Higgit. Irish having been penalised for deliberate knock on (attempted intercept?) Strange pushes the kick wide.
Bristol attack with our drop-out ball, and Danie Coetzee is yellow-carded for ‘something.’ One is left wondering whether the number of penalties given away at the breakdown tell us more about what we are doing or about the Ref’s interpretation – or should we be looking for Mark Regan, that master of the dark side? On this occasion Strange converts, so it’s
11-9 after nine minutes
What makes me think that Bristol’s oranges need a doping check? Or maybe ours do, but for a quite different substance. It’s all a bit one way at the moment.
At the next scrum Russell comes on for the binned Coetzee and Magne comes off.
Leguizamon breaks from the back, and Topsy helps get the ball to the charging Feau’nati who refuses to lie down under umpteen tackles, finally shipping out to Geraghty who is collared (literally, but unseen) and … knocks on. Shane now retires from the fray, enabling the stitched-up Armitage to return.
We nail Bristol as they go blind and win our own scrum which features Topsy Ojo at blindside flanker. Regan is penalised (probably for a lifetime of rugby misdemeanours), but Riki pushes his kick wide.
Moments later, well a failed LI line out later, Catty nails a huge punt from our 22 into touch inside theirs from the narrowest of angles. Awesome.
Inevitably Bristol kick long from the line out. Armitage brings the ball up, and chips ahead and to his right – too far to his right since it is grabbed by Lemi who sets off for the line without any hope of being caught on the wide open prairie on that side of the park. There is some debate about what happened between Delon’s kick and the catch by Lemi. To my eyes Delon was impeded, high. Others tell me that I am a myopic auld git. Doubtless true, but am I right? If I am, a LI penalty seems to have gone by the wind. Strange converts Lemi’s try, making the score
11-16 after 18 minutes
Delon’s chip was either a brave counter-attack in the mould of Nelson which was prevented by foul play or a brave counter-attack in the mould of Nelson which was poorly thought through and poorly executed, given that he was not supported by a full line outside him. Catty seemed upset afterwards.
Magne now returns, and the small Barry Everitt replaces the larger Feau’nati.
We now contrive to overthrow to the back of our line out in the Bristol half. Bristol, overjoyed but not entirely surprised, attack, kick long and we mark, taking it quickly and nearly getting away. Mr Debney insists that the mark be retaken.
With 20 minutes left Skuse gives way to Dave Fitter, and Leguizamon to Phil Murphy. Cue another curious incident. The ball in an Irish midfield attack comes to Fitter, an apparently traditional prop who is not used to such gewgaws. He drops it about a foot backwards towards his own line. I was sat dead opposite so claim a good view. To catcalls of derision Mr Debney calls the knock on. From their scrum Bristol run the ball right, and their 14 claims a try in the right corner only to be recalled for foot in touch. Whew!
Irish get a penalty from the line out, get a decent touch, and then give away the ball by throwing it over the back of the line out, whence Bristol advance to our 22 – and knock on. In the scrum, which is still moving around a bit, I note that Dave Fitter has got right under his opposite number and is giving him sore ribs. Good man.
Somewhere down the line Bristol have offended, but Barry Everitt fails to find his touch with the penalty. Bristol kick long to where (I think) Hodgson collects and passes to Murphy who, although isolated, decides to rumble inside his 22. Buried by a white and red avalanche, Phil gets turned over. Bristol move the ball simply down the line and their 14 scores in the right corner. Strange converts from out wide.
11-23 after 25 minutes
We are playing like drains but we are still trying hard, and there seems ample time for us to brace up and recover the situation. We surely have enough experience on the park to do so?
Barry’s kick off is returned, but Flutey juggles the pass he is given and gets dumped in possession. A couple of line kicks later we get a line out on half way. We cleverly ignore a safe secure take, and throw long – into Bristol hands again. Who is calling these plays?
We are chasing everything. Bristol are quite understandably killing everything, and neither side is going very far in possession. It’s all a bit repetitive and not a good advert for the game. Then, with seven minutes left on the clock …. Everitt puts a long penalty into the left corner, Hudson takes secure ball and that glorious thing, the LI rolling maul sets off goalwards … and over the line just to the left of the posts. A TRY! Heavens be praised. Can we do this twice and nick a win?
Not even once. Mr Debney has called play back to five metres out for a penalty to Irish. I assume he has ruled that Irish have failed to touch down properly, otherwise what happened to the advantage rule?
We try to force over but no dice this time, or at any other time. Play ends two minutes later.
Were we frustrated or did we frustrate ourselves? I incline to the latter. We created little and finished less.
In a few short words for the tabloids ….
Line out flaky at best
The backs had little to play with and played little with what they had.
I bet Paul Hull and Corin Palmer had a good laugh afterwards. I had a good cry.
If we play like this for too many games we are not going to figure in the top 10 teams in the GP come May next year.
London Irish: D Armitage (rep: S Geraghty, 46-53), T Ojo, D Feaunati (rep: B Everitt, 54), M Catt (captain), J Bishop, R Flutey, P Hodgson, T Lae'aetoa (rep: N Hatley, 40), D Coetzee (rep: O Magne, 58), R Skuse (rep: D Fitter, 60), N Kennedy, J Hudson, K Roche, O Magne (rep: R Russell, 50), J Leguizamon (rep: P Murphy, 60).
Bristol: J Taumalolo, L Robinson, R Higgit (rep: D Lemi, 45), S Cox, C Morgan, J Strange, S Perry, D Hilton, M Regan, D Crompton, R Winters, G Llewellyn (rep: N Budgett, 61), M Salter (captain), J El Abd (rep: A To'oala, 25)(rep: A Clarke 38-48), D Ward-Smith