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