PREVIEW - Northampton Saints

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PREVIEW - Northampton Saints

by PeterS on Thu Nov 23, 2006 10:03 pm

Mediocrity made manifest at the Madstad

Sunday’s game could be seen as a potential banana skin…for both teams. It could also be seen as an ideal opportunity to get the show back on the road…for both teams. Traditionally the benefit of home advantage should be enough to edge it when teams are equally struggling. For a long time now, though, “home” and “advantage” haven’t sat comfortably in the same sentence for London Irish.

Taking a dispassionate look at the records of the two clubs so far this season one can’t help but come to the conclusion that we can expect a Battle of the (somewhat less than) Leviathans. Both played 8, won 3, drawn 0 and lost 5. Northampton hold a slender one point lead by virtue of their having gained a try bonus point. How many of us, at the start of the season, would have predicted that on the brink of our ninth fixture we’d still be without a try bonus point?

Saints Director of Rugby, Paul Grayson, recently took the almost unheard of step of publicly criticising his players for lack of commitment. Grayson always appears to be a relatively phlegmatic and well-balanced individual which makes this public rebuke all the more serious. By contrast Brian Smith has tended to be supportive of his players despite a lengthening spell of Premiership defeats. Neither approach seems to have had much effect.

Both teams have been hit hard by injuries of late and Saints will be without the services of Geoff Appleford, Jon Clarke, Rhodri Davies, David Quinlan, Rob Laird , Bruce Reihana and Pat Barnard among others. They will, of course, also be missing Ben Cohen (Eng.) and Sean Lamont (Scot.) Somewhat ominously though, this Sunday should see the return of Mark Robinson, Steve Thompson, Robbie Kydd, Luke Myring and, the crafty geezer himself, King Carlos. Whether their fit-again returners will start is anybody’s guess but, just like us, they may be forced to take decisions which they’d rather not.

When you turn the spotlight on our problems you reveal the ‘orrible truth about our situation. Currently injured are, I believe, Dom F., Sailola (if not injured then back in the Autumn International scene), Topsy (possibly), Dec, Faan, Rich Skuse, Dave Fitter (presumably or else where is he?) and Mike Collins may not be match fit after extensive time off through injury.

Missing on tour are Gonzo, Tagi and the Geezer whilst Paicey is banged up at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

To be frank the only thing that’s certain about the make-up of both teams is the negative one of Who Won’t Be Available?

As a consequence I can see no real point in trying to second guess who P.G. will name as his starting fifteen. I will, however, take a stab at who Brian might select for Sunday.

Full Back:- Mike Horak’s horrendous error last week should be ignored. It’s the sort of thing that happens once in a career (possibly because, if it happened again, the career would end there and then). Mike has finally realised that you are allowed to pass the ball when you get it, his running is always dynamic, his catching is good, his tackling is solid and his Garryowens are nothing if not amusing. As Delon will probably be required for wing duty I believe Mike is a shoe in at 15.

Wings:- Delon and Topsy if his knee is OK. I agree with Rob that we’ll probably see Bish on the bench if not starting.

Centre:- This is, perhaps, wish fulfillment rather than reasoning, but I’m hoping that we’ll see Mike Catt at 12 and Shane at 13. Shane would take the kicks.

Half backs:- Dodge and Riki. Still worried about Riki’s overall fitness but the man is a footballing genius and needs to be there. Not so sure about Paul. I don’t think he’s played to his potential since coming back from suspension. I wonder whether he’s suffering a bit from the apparent disappearance of his name from the international reckoning.

Back row:- Roche/McCullen, Murphy, Steffon/Olivier. Phil has to start (if only because my wife will sulk if he doesn’t). I think Brian will start with Kieron and Olivier.

Locks:- Casey and Kennedy. Subject closed.

Front row:- Oh Gawd! Beefy, Dannie, Tonga(?)

So, what does any of this tell us. Sweet F A is the obvious response. I think the killer blow, if such a thing is possible on Sunday, could be the line out performance. Nick and Bob have just been confirmed as the top two stealers in the Premiership. Nick with 14 and Bob with 9 and, come on!, Nick’s missed a large chunk of games through injury.

However, good ball, quick ball is only a plus if you have the players to make use of it. I think we might have on Sunday although my heart’s very much in my mouth. One of the problems of course is……..

The referee:- is Roy Maybank. Something of a loose cannon is a fairly polite way to describe our relationship with Uncle Roy. The problem really is that you can’t be sure who will benefit the most or, for that matter, the least from his more eccentric decisions. He always reminds me of the Air Raid Warden in Dad’s Army. So he’s an imponderable.

All in all I think you have to say that it’s an impossible game to call. Either side, if they establish early superiority, could walk away with it. On paper it looks like the rugby equivalent of a goalless draw and, indeed, a flat, unexciting result is probably indicated but, although that’s what my head tells me, my heart says “Yes, we will!!!” Er, I think. I’m reminded of the philosophy for life of Schultz the eponymous hero of that fine novel.

“Expect the worst because that’s what you’ll get…..only much worse
D.B.
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by OxonRob on Fri Nov 24, 2006 12:01 am

Cheers Peter. It's so nice to have a fresh view!
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by OxonRob on Fri Nov 24, 2006 8:51 am

For me it all boils down to

1 Can we get any decent ball?

2 Can we do anything with it once it's gone past 9?

I think the answer to 1) is a yes. The pack are starting to play a bit now. I am still not convinced by the lack of consistency in our back row performance, however, so I await team selection with interest.

I confess that 2) is a worry for me. Several people have commented on Dodge delaying his pass to 10 at present - NOT good if so.

Our woes at 10 are well-chronicled, but we do not need any more lateral lines of running. Our poor benighted wings have been getting ball with no space to move.

We can do without the absent La La taking crash ball 100% of the time, too!
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by Shawshank on Fri Nov 24, 2006 1:14 pm

"All in all I think you have to say that it’s an impossible game to call."

Peter - This must make you Mr Chicken... :lol: :lol: :wink:

LI by 15 :D
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by dom_pedro on Fri Nov 24, 2006 1:20 pm

LI by 15 would do very nicely ... Sarries gave them a right thumping by all accounts so why can't we <coughs> ? Thanks for t'preview.
This cruel country has driven me down, teased me and lied.
I've only sad stories to tell to this town
My dreams have withered and died.
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by PeterS on Fri Nov 24, 2006 2:37 pm

SS, you just get funnier and funnier. :shock:
D.B.
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by MrDean on Fri Nov 24, 2006 6:20 pm

It's a very nice preview. I wonder if PeterS has any thoughts or revisions now that the team and bench have been announced ?
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by PeterS on Fri Nov 24, 2006 11:39 pm

Yes, Mr.D, a couple of thoughts.

I'll be watching Topsy very closely. He seems to have lost most of his self belief. However, Saints is probably a good opportunity for him to try and rebuild it.

I'm still not too happywith Delon at 15. Perhaps it's an irrational doubt but it's there and I'd dearly wish to see him prove me wrong.

Great news that Dom is back and with Michael at 12 and Shane at 10 we could see some entertaining, incisive rugby.

We'll surely boss the line out and if Hodgson can get his fizz back we should get a steady supply of quality ball.

The other interesting confrontation will be between our back row and Carlos. Can they get to him? I suspect not but they might make him hurry.

I feel more confident today having seen the team and the bench and I'd like to think that Shawshank may now be right which, of course, would prove that there's a first time for everything :wink:
D.B.
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by PeterS on Sat Nov 25, 2006 10:56 am

Oh, and worried about Riki. Don't want to lose him to injury.
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