Curate's egg Irish
Attendance : 10,600
Report by Big Papi
To Bath where the locals seem to be more concerned with their ongoing battle to stay or go from the Rec than in a mere game of Rugby these days. Indeed at half time we were cordially invited by the announcer to sign the “keep Bath Rugby at the Rec” petition. Meanwhile I was getting first hand experience of the wonderful scenic old ground’s more practical deficiencies in a vain search for a toilet without a queue which would cause me to miss most of the second half.
The day was gloriously sunny, not too cold in the sun and with not a breath of wind. In other words a perfect day for Rugby with few excuses for spilling ball or poor kicking.
There was a touching ceremony prior to the start of the game when both teams lined up and several wreaths were laid to the sound of the announcer intoning the remembrance hymn followed by a one minute silence. This is apparently a tradition at Bath on the closest match day to remembrance Sunday. It was very well done and a timely reminder of the importance of a game of Rugby in the greater scheme of things.
To the match itself and before starting my report I will issue the caveat that my view from Row F of the Helphire Stand afforded me a great view of about 20% of the playing surface. Anything which took place within this area I can be reasonably certain of. Anything out with this area is a mixture of guess work and what I have gleaned from the match report in the Sunday Times. For that reason I apologise in advance for the lack of names of the relevant players in certain incidents and where I have named players and have still got it wrong.
Anyhoo, Molly Malone got us under way with the traditional hoof to the LI forwards and wonder of wonders Roche rose like a gazelle and clutched it firmly to his manly chest. It was to be a welcome feature of this match that we took virtually all restart ball cleanly and well – a marked contrast to some of what we have seen this season so far. After a couple of minutes of fairly aimless play a loose cross field kick from Barry gave Bath an opportunity to run the ball back. After a couple of phases the ref (who was our old friend Roy Maybank) indicated a scrum with Bath’s put in. No sooner had the guys engaged than Mr Maybank’s whistle was loudly indicating a penalty to Bath for slipping the binding. Penalty in front of the posts taken by Malone 3-0 to Bath with about 3 minutes on the clock.
From the restart and the ensuing ruck a Bath hand knocked on and LI got the scrum. From the scrum the ball was recycled to the left wing and Bath got pinged for off-side (I think), penalty to LI about 25 metres out and about 7/8 metres from the touch line. Barry took the kick, it looked good to all of us sitting in our admittedly not great vantage point, but the flags stayed down so still 3-0 Bath.
On 8 minutes we saw our first burst from Shabbo taking a ball about 15 metres from his own line and streaking through the first couple of attempted tackles to take the play up to about half way where, from the ensuing ruck an LI hand knocked on.
My notes at this stage say “LI dominating territory but with no end product looking likely”. Once again too many people were receiving the ball standing still at one stage during this period Barry slipped a pass to Phil Murphy who was standing behind him, obviously was not expecting the pass and was back on his heels. Before he had taken a pace forward he was engulfed in a blue tide and turned over.
About 10 minutes in and the first line out to Bath. We all watched with interest to see if James Hudson could turn over his old mates. Well he didn’t but LI did and Rochey nicked the ball in a manner that Nick Kennedy would have been proud of. Play was switched across field and Bath were pinged for offside. Barry kicked to touch on about the Bath 22 but this time Mr Maybank decided the throw wasn’t straight. This was kind of indicative of this period of the match. Like previous matches this season LI were a bit of a curate’s egg – good in parts. The handling was much better than we have seen recently but the penetration was still not there, with the ball being thrown right and left but any attempt to straighten normally not being done with sufficient pace or guile to trouble the Bath defence.
On 15 minutes LI got level, inevitably from a penalty. A box kick from Dodge on the LI 22 was chased by Dom Shabbo and he forced a knock on from the Bath receiver. From the resultant scrum play was switched to the left and Bath were again pinged for offside (I think – or maybe not rolling away. It was a bit difficult to see the signals from where we were). So a penalty to LI about 25 metres out and just to the left of the posts. Meat and drink to Barry and it was duly despatched 3-3.
On 19 minutes came the turning point of the first half and an incident I doubt we have heard the last of. A line out was awarded to LI about half way on LI’s right touchline. A Bath lock slapped the ball back where it was gathered by Zak Feaunati who looked to break on the blind side and was tackled by Paice in what looked to me at first viewing as something dangerously close to a spear tackle. Some of the Bath players obviously thought the same and what Bill McLaren used to describe as “a wee bit of argy-bargy” ensued. The net result after Mr Maybank had consulted his touch judge was three yellow cards. Two to LI and one to Bath. Paice and Hatley walked for LI and Short for Bath. What will be the outcome of this I have no idea but if the earlier Dodge and Abbot incidents are anything to go by I wouldn’t be surprised if David gets a lengthy ban. My view wasn’t the best and sometimes when you view the incident again on television or with the benefit of slow motion is can look different but I can only go by my first reaction which was that it looked at least a dangerous tackle if not a definite spear tackle.
Time will tell but the immediate impact on this game was to hand the initiative to Bath who, in truth, hadn’t looked particularly dangerous up until then.
They (obviously) kicked the resultant penalty to touch just outside the LI 22, a catch and drive which Roche collapsed and was duly penalised for. Molly then obliged by kicking to 5 metres where a heroic defensive effort from LI kept out the resultant maul and once the ball was recycled forced a knock on and a scrum about 5 metres out right in front of the posts but with LI’s put in. Now we had to ring the changes and Skuse and Russell came on for Shabbo and McCullen. From the scrum LI worked the ball back but in attempting to run it out of defence did some crossing or blocking which Mr Maybank duly penalised. So Molly Malone in his favourite position, straight in front of the posts,
No doubt about the outcome, 6-3 to Bath with about 20 minutes gone.
For the rest of the sin bin period LI held their own and prevented Bath from getting close enough to exploit the one man advantage. Also around this period the aftermath of the sin binning episode was still evident with a fair bit of niggle, pushing and shoving and general indiscipline from both sides – none of it serious enough to warrant the referee fetching out his cards again thank goodness.
One other incident worth mentioning during this period was when Bath broke up an LI attack on the exiles right wing, threw the ball wide from behind their own posts to find the winger Stephenson with the field in front of him and very little between him and the LI try line. Holding the ball in one hand he took off ran about 10 metres and then inexplicably dropped the ball.
So we were now about 30 minutes into the game and the teams were back to 15 a side. LI had been pinged for offside about the half way line and Malone kicked to touch about 30 metres from the try line. Bath won clean ball from the line out and after a couple of phases and right in front of the posts Mr Maybank’s hand went up for another penalty. He seemed to indicate not releasing but since Bath were in possession and the penalty was against LI I am afraid I have no idea what it was for. Anyway Molly duly obliged and Bath were in front 9-3.
With 6 minutes to half time LI were awarded a penalty for Bath slipping the binding in the scrum. Barry kicked to 5 metres from the Bath try line and from the resultant catch and drive Bath were pinged for coming in at the side. Not an easy kick but Barry made up for his earlier miss and slotted it for 9-6.
About here I would have settled for 9-6 at half time as I felt neither team had really looked like scoring a try and Bath had probably just shaded the territorial battle but lordy lordy if Bath don’t then conjure up a try out of very little. It started innocently enough with a line out to LI about 10 metres inside their half. Dodge put up a box kick which Dominic Shabbo chased. I felt that he was blocked off from the catcher but neither the referee nor the touch judge saw anything wrong so it was caught by Bory, recycled to Nick Walshe who broke down the blind side, broke a couple tackles and fed Feaunati who had about a 20 metre run to the line and made it quite comfortably. He did however go in right at the corner so Malone’s conversion kick was not easy and he duly missed it to make the score at half time 14-6.
My half time thoughts on the first half read “We dominated possession in the first 15 minutes but committed suicide by getting two men sin binned. BE not helping with his slow distribution. Bath poor but still beating us” which doesn’t say a lot for our first half performance.
To the dismay of most people around us there were no changes at half time. So the second half got under way with the same 15. Two minutes into the second half and from a Bath scrum the Li pack gets a great shove on and forces the Bath pack backwards. Miraculously they rescue the ball get it out to Bory and he takes off on a scorching run down the left with which almost results in a try for Bath. He still got some reward for his efforts though as LI were eventually penalised after another couple of phases and Malone duly did the needful and kicked the penalty. 3 minutes in to the second half and it’s 17-6.
Bath were starting to gain in confidence now and even Malone was trying the odd dart and at one stage went on a mazy run leaving about 4 tacklers in his wake before being brought to ground. Although, as I have said Bath had not played particularly well and LI had not played particularly badly I would not have been prepared to bet too much money on LI coming back to win. But win we did and the beginning of the fight back was on 47 minutes when Bob Casey and Declan Danaher came on for James Hudson and “Oliver” Magne. It wasn’t immediately obvious though that Bob would have a defining role to play in this game as he had hardly had time to get his kit dirty before he had been sin binned. Again indiscipline was costly. Barry had kicked a penalty to touch about 10 metres from the Bath try line. Bob rose majestically to take the catch, there was a maul for a few seconds then the ball was spun out to the backs, a high tackle on someone(not sure who) and it was a penalty to the exiles in a very kickable position. However there were groans all round as Mr Maybank conversed with his touch judge, called Bob over and showed him the yellow card (apparently for excessive use of the boot) and reversed the penalty. As Homer Simpson puts it more eloquently than I ever could – Doh!
With about 28 minutes to go LI were awarded another penalty for offside (I think) about 30 metres out on the LI right and about 5 metres in from the touchline. I had an “ECC Final – last minute conversion to win from almost the same place” moment and Barry duly kicked exactly where he kicked the Gloucester match kick – slightly to the left of the posts.
About here Robbie Russell came on for David Paice. My notes at this stage in the game say “too much slow ball and passes being made to players standing still”.
With about 23 minutes to go a good break by LI led by (I think) Shabbo leads to Bath being pinged and Barnes being yellow carded for slowing the ball down. The penalty is right in front of the posts, Barry duly slots it and we are 17-9.
Around this time Skuse comes on for Tonga who does seem to be finding his feet now.
With 17 minutes to go a couple of half breaks had LI camped on the Bath try line. As the ball was being recycled and as Dodge was in the process of picking it up Mr Maybank, who was standing on the other side of the ruck whistled for a scrum and gave the put in to Bath. The LI contingent around me (and I have to include my good self in this) rose as one man to give Mr Maybank and his touch judge dogs abuse. LI though are definitely getting on top now and are finishing much the stronger team. Although we are still well behind on the scoreboard there is the feeling that we can win this now if we can get a little bit of luck and a few more favourable decisions from the ref.
With 9 minutes left on the countdown clock we finally get the try we now richly deserve. The pack gets another great shove on the Bath pack at a scrum and Bath gets pinged. Barry kicks the penalty to touch 5 metres out and from the line out a catch and drive is rumbled over the line for Robbie Russell to get the touch down. Barry converts from quite a difficult angle and we are 16-17. there followed a period of Bath pressure where I suspect they were looking to try to work Malone into drop goal territory but good aggressive defence from LI prevented it and forced the turn over. Around this time also Barry tried a little dart through between a couple of defenders and was felled with a high tackle. He stayed on the ground for quite a few minutes but eventually recovered. My notes say “quite a few high tackles around at this point”. I think this was a sign that Bath were getting a little bit desperate in their defending. A couple of our moves had been halted by that old failing of every match this season – the dropped ball when taken into contact and again I am sad to say that Leguizamon was the major culprit. Still he was about to remind us about the good side of his game.
With 7 minutes left on the count down clock a Bath line out inside their 22 was nicked by Roche. The ball was shifted across the field and found JML steaming in at pace about 8 metres out and he barged his way through the covering tackles and over the line. Barry hit the right hand post with the conversion and the match is now 17-21. Bath huffed and puffed for the last few minutes but another try was beyond them and the final whistle was met with much relief both on and off the park in the LI ranks.
So a good win then, any win away at Bath has to be a good win. Plus points: The return of Bob (he was named man of the match in the Sunday Times and was only on the field for 23 minutes), better handling, much less ball spilled than recent matches, the pack were solid in the scrum and the line out held its own. The players seem to be looking for the offload again although the support is not there as often as it was last season. Negatives – to me Barry still lacks the speed of pass and ability to do something unexpected which separates the great No. 10s from the only very good. Bath has the same problem with Malone. A great reliable high percentage goal kicker but his indecision at the last play of the game when he couldn’t kick was almost comical to watch.
Oh and next week we will be without Tiesi, Leguizamon, Mapusua and Tagicakibau due to international commitments and Dodge finished the game on crutches. So as our injury crisis in the forwards eases, it looks like BS will have a few problems coming up with a backline for the next couple of weeks.
In summary then it looks like we are returning to something like the form of last season and if the injury Gods will look kindly on us a good November is a possibility.