Is there a doctor in the house?
Some of us have been blaming our inauspicious start to the season on inconsistency of availability as much as non availability, and on the number of combinations played as a result, not to mention players playing through war wounds which should see them in bath chairs on Bournemeouth prom
But is that really it? I think it's more than that.
At London Irish we keep getting the rugby equivalent of a rare tropical disease, don’t we? By this I refer to an identifiable repetitive pattern whereby we contrive to do unto ourselves what others are trying to do to us at the same time.
In simple terms, we aid and abet the enemy. When this patient is sick, the game becomes not 15 v 15 or even 15 v 16 but 0 v 31! With these odds, what hope is there?
One of the more recent of these afflictions was called the ‘Dreaded Third Quarter’, the immoveable period directly after half time when we used to give away so many matches. This lasted for a couple of seasons. Then we also had White Line Fever, and for some while both periods overlapped. That was awful, and an early death was forecast by many. In fact it so nearly came to pass!
No coincidence then if, this season, we seem to have become infected with yet another – the Strong Second Half Revival. Otherwise known as starting badly. Finishing strongly might be seen as better than finishing weakly, but how much better would it be if we played more competently in the first half as well? And that is all we are talking about – competence.
My point in this article is to draw attention to the unnecessary burden we are placing on ourselves by exhibiting two standards in the same match, game after game. It can’t all be down to our injury burden can it? Or to the quality of the pre-match pep talk or the game plan?
Make no mistake. The common theme coming from all the green-eyed, independent and management commentators has been regret at the quantity of our unforced errors in these periods of … er … lesser play. Knock-ons, turnovers, soft tries conceded, and above all missed first-up tackles. Nothing to do with tactics, so the list can obviously get a lot longer! And then the yellow cards, mostly in the first half. Double the number for same time last year, with 10 against 5 to date.
With the outside possibility of Sarries in the SillyCup competition, where we started our recovery at the 20 minute mark, we have had to play second half catch-up in all but two games. In fact we quite often either outscore our opponents in the second half, or are seen to “play the better rugby” in this period, while losing overall.
W v. Quins 20-19. A last minute penalty to win by the vast margin of one point.
Y = JML (34). 1st half: LI 8 – Quins 10. 2nd half: LI 12 – Quins 9.
L v. Wasps. 17-23. Irish were on the back foot, but keeping up bravely. Lots of good work was undone by penalties and fumbles, of the kind you see on a freezing winter night – but the conditions couldn’t have been better. Wasps simply made fewer mistakes.
Y = Coetzee (11). 1st half: LI 8 – Wasps 14. 2nd half: LI 9 – Wasps 9.
L v. Bristol. 11-26. The first of two games in which we reverse the symptoms, committing our usual first half misdeeds in the second half, spurred on by another yellow.
Y = Coetzee (47). 1st half: LI 11 – Bristol 3. 2nd half: LI 0 – Bristol 23.
W v. Newcastle. 21-26. The second of them! A kicker’s game in which Everitt slotted 7/7, and Burke missed three late sitters which should have won the game for Newcastle.
No yellow card! 1st half: LI 20 – Newcastle 13. 2nd half: LI 6 – Newcastle 8.
W v. Saracens. 36-24. We compressed our normal first half woes into twenty appalling opening minutes when we couldn’t tackle, pass or catch. Should have been 2-3 tries down. Thereafter, we played OK, at times pretty well.
Pen Try but no yellow (64). 1st half: LI 19 – Saracens 12. 2nd half: LI 17 – Saracens 12.
L v. Wasps. 23-13. Experience, physicality and guile against some first appearances and youthful endeavour. We came second all day!
Y x 2 = Armitage, S&D. (27 and 39) 1st half: LI 10 – Wasps 10. 2nd half: LI 3 – Wasps 13.
L v. Sale. 14-31. Another early yellow put us firmly on the back foot, where we stayed, out-muscled and clinically taken apart by the Champions. Classic demonstration of the disease at its most virulent.
Y = Coetzee (7). 1st half: LI 7 – Sale 24. 2nd half: LI 7 – Sale 7.
L v. Llanelli. 25-32. A single first half try was the difference, scored against 14 men. Parity of quality performance in the second half, but too little too late. The disease is not so pronounced as against Sale.
Y = Danaher (27) 1st half: LI 6 – Llanelli 10. 2nd half: LI 19 – Llanelli 22.
L v. Toulouse. 17-37. Outclassed, but a superb display in both halves up front and in the backs, where Hodgson played the 2nd half as our third 10 of the day.
No yellows! 1st half: LI 10 – Toulouse 20. 2nd half: LI 7 – Toulouse 17.
W v. Bath. 17-21. A genuine game of two halves, which has prompted this article. Second half catch-up only achieved by skin of teeth, time-wise, with help from yet more unforced Bath errors, the usual LI improvement, and our subs!
Yellow x 3 = Paice and Hatley (both 17) and Casey (50) 1st half: LI 6 – Bath 14. 2nd half: LI 15 – Bath 3.
Personally, I blame Macca. Why isn’t he seen constantly fumigating the players, while wearing those tiddy little plastic gloves beloved of forensic policemen, proctologists and the fresh fish counter in your local supermarket?
Why has this pattern emerged? I haven't a clue!
But if we could play our first halves as well as we seem to play most of our second halves, we'd be a lot better off!