Riki – the professional
St Patrick’s Day 2007
We arrived at the Madejski with only 55 minutes to go until kick off. The party was in full swing but the car park was emptier than usual! Son 1 and Grandma (a relatively new convert to LI) had been enjoying the Craic for a couple of hours and were now resting in their seats – lucky them.
Their report was that the music, dancing and food were great. Grandma commented that it was crowded but that unlike when she has been in football crowds she had not felt frightened at all here, and if someone had bumped into her there was always an apology. We knew she’d be OK at Irish.
We bypassed the food queues outside and riskily (but fortunately not a mistake) told Son 2 that he would have to wait for his St Patrick’s Day shirt until after the game. We watched the warm-up – the huddles in each area of the pitch have fascinated me over the past few weeks – is it planning tactics for each area or claiming the whole field for LI dominance?
The warm up finished and the match was about to begin. I had felt nervous all weekend. I’m sure I didn’t feel like that last year (it’s only the second St Patrick’s Day game I have been to) Perhaps it was the attendance record or perhaps the extra nerves from Catt and Shane playing for England the day before.
The teams came out with Hatley leading out the two mascots, who were announced as his children – so tiny against their big tough dad! The game itself started as it was to continue for most of the first half at least – LI stole a Wasps lineout, Wasps conceded a penalty (which Barry put wide) and LI attacked, all within the first seven or eight minutes.
Tagicakibau made a good break but LI couldn’t quite finish it off (again a scenario that was to be repeated many times). Not long after, Barry successfully took a penalty from a similar place to before for Wasps not binding in the scrum. According to Sky coverage afterwards, in the first 16 minutes Wasps had conceded seven penalties to LI’s none.
LI then had a penalty down in the corner and Barry tried a quick tap. He had to take it again as Wasps weren’t 10m away and this time he went for the more conventional kick for touch. Barry went down injured but continued (He had looked to have been having trouble the previous week at Bristol too). About half way through the first half there was a good break by Topsy but - again - LI couldn’t finish it. However after 25 minutes into the game, Barry passed to set up another Topsy break and Topsy went safely (‘safely’ being key in the light of later events) over for the try, duly converted by Barry.
Only a few minutes later though, Wasps got on the scoreboard with a Van Gisbergen penalty kick. LI were awarded a penalty and it looked as if the referee saw it was Barry and thought ‘They’ll take the three” because he signalled for the posts before Bob pointed to the posts and the referee had to signal the posts again. After all that, Barry’s kick bounced off the uprights. The score at half time was LI 10 – Wasps 3. I thought back to last week’s Wasps game where they were similarly losing 13-3 to Quins and came back to win easily but those around me told me not to be so silly!
The second half started well for LI with Wasps losing the kick off. Steffon was down being treated – it looked like the leg he seemed to be having trouble with at Bristol the previous week. Within a few minutes, Barry walked slowly off to be replaced by Bishop, who went to full-back with Riki going to fly-half. Almost immediately there was a break by Van Gisbergen which ended with Alex King missing a drop goal attempt and Bishop calling the mark. This was only the briefest of respites however, as Bishay set off on a run, easily side stepping Tagicakibau to score his second try in two Premiership appearances for Wasps (it must have been Tagicakibau’s orange boots colour clashing with Bishay’s yellow ones that prevented him stopping Bishay!).
Van Gisbergen got the conversion to bring the score to 10:10. The score wasn’t level for long with Riki getting a penalty four minutes later. Mapusua who had been playing well all game stopped another Wasps attack, JML came on for Steffon (although in retrospect I’m sure JML wished LI had sent on Magne instead). Van Gisbergen then brought the score level again with another penalty and Paice and Collins came on for Russell and Tonga.
The play in this period seemed much more evenly spread than the first half. Wasps went on the attack but lost the ball, with Riki kicking to touch (and finding it despite Van Gisbergen’s acrobatic attempt to stop it) and then LI went on the attack. Bishop made a good break but again LI were prevented from finishing the move. Bob was replaced by Hudson (Hatley took over as captain) and then there was a brilliant break by Mapusua who passed to JML, who jumped and went over the line with no defenders near, and in doing so dropped the ball. The supporters’ celebrations turning to despair must have been nothing to what JML felt.
This is LI, however, and in adversity the team pull together brilliantly and all work doubly hard. This teamwork paid off with a penalty but the score was to remain unchanged as Riki sent it wide of the posts. With less than ten minutes to go, the Wasps no. 7 was yellow carded for coming in at the side. A minute or so later LI were awarded another penalty – for Wasps taking someone out in the lineout. Riki showed himself to be the true professional that he is, and despite his previous miss from a few metres away and despite it being against his club for next season (which at least one person sitting near us had worried might be an issue), he hit the ball right through the middle of the posts. LI 13 – Wasps 10.
I can’t believe the next five minutes went as quickly as they did. JML made a good take from the restart – his error hadn’t made him panic and hide – however, LI then conceded a penalty. I didn’t want to watch but I couldn’t not watch either. Wasps opted to tap and go, there was good move by Lewsey but the pass from Cipriani to Bishay did not work. There were two more nerve–racking attacks by Wasps but with a minute to go LI got a scrum and retained possession, the crowd were counting down, the referee blew for an infringement by Wasps, Dodge pointed out the stadium clock which was showing zero and the referee looked up at it (though why wasn’t he using his own timekeeping I don’t know) and blew the full time whistle.
For once, I knew straight away it was the end (I am usually saying “Is it over? Have we won?”) and LI had won. Then the singing really started and went on and on. Despite the record breaking crowd, during most of the game it had not seemed as noisy in support as some games – perhaps the support was too spread round for it to work. The team went round the pitch with one solitary figure in the middle – it was typical of LI’s team spirit though that he wasn’t left alone as Topsy went up and offered his support to JML. It was great also, to see Catt come out and be part of the team huddle afterwards.
We stayed to say well done to the LI team as they left the pitch and as we left the stadium it was like a carnival atmosphere. I had this passing moment of sympathy for a Wasps supporting acquaintance – its easy to feel sympathy when your team has won! Son 2 got his St Patrick’s Day shirt too – a great memento of a hard-won but thoroughly deserved win by London Irish.