Saracens

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Saracens ‘A’ 17-21 L. Irish ‘A’ (28th Nov 2005)

by OxonRob on Tue Nov 29, 2005 2:42 am

Little to worry about.
Saracens ‘A’ 17- London Irish ‘A’ 21
28th November 2005 - at St Albans

In a surprising act of poor taste, Saracens selected Nicky Little for his come-back game, following his suspension for breaking Ross Laidlaw’s cheekbone in our early September fixture. To add insult to injury, Little wore the 12 shirt, playing almost in Ross’s face. Happily, neither player was injured this time.

14-0 down after 20 minutes, and still 14-7 down at half time, the future for London Irish after 40 minutes tonight did not look green so much as puce!

The essential difference between our play in two very different halves appeared on the face of it to be a new front row. Now for all I know Sarries removed an all international front row simultaneously, and our second half replacements battled it out against some 13 year old girls. It didn’t seem so however, and I therefore assume that this wasn’t wholly the case.

We started well enough, as Ross Laidlaw (10) kicked off high into the Saracens 22. In the first five or six minutes we were rewarded with the sight of fluent passing down an Irish back line of some style and purpose, Laidlaw’s long trademark passes creating quite a lot of space for those outside him, and Mike Horak (15) coming into the line at will. Darren Edwards (9) appears to have added to his length and style of pass, too.

Then Adrian Flavin (2) and young Stefon Armitage (Delon’s brother, a short, stocky and powerful 8 for Sarries) gave an impromptu demonstration of handbag throwing right in front of the stand, on halfway. Dean Richards, the referee, gave ‘nul points’ for artistic impression and sent them back to their workplaces. Shortly afterwards, Laidlaw’s nemesis, Nicky Little (12), was absolutely floored by a dump-truck tackle from which Richard Thorpe (6) and Laidlaw himself emerged unscathed. Little stayed on to inspect the grass for a few moments.

Unfortunately, Saracens, a decent selection, were not going to lie down under an onslaught by our ‘girls’ and were showing worrying signs of wanting to boss the match themselves. This they set about with a will, through a powerful pack. The inevitable happened after eight minutes as a large Sarries forward galloped through green traffic on our 10 metre line unscathed, and handed on to powerful 15 Adam Powell who touched down under the crossbar. Ben Russell converted. 7-0.

Too little support

While the Irish threes were all eager for the ball, and clearly intent on running it, they were finding it hard when they went into the tackle area. All too often, the support wasn’t what they needed. On a number of occasions Laidlaw, on the break, was isolated in the tackle. Noticeably too, London Irish were under-manning the breakdowns generally. This resulted in a number of turnovers and some lost ground.

Individual mistakes from the normally secure second row of Johnson and Banahan didn’t help, and a fast back row of Dawson (7), Gustard ( 8 ) and Thorpe was spending too much time covering and chasing their tails to be as effective an attacking force as they would have liked – although Dawson and Thorpe did occasionally show up well in the ball-carrying stakes.

In short, we seemed anxious. Team effort was rather too often being stifled by individual ambition or by unforced errors - or by non-attendance at the breakdown. Hard-won territory was being recovered by the Saracens back row field force on a regular basis. Land-grab Ping Pong.

Inevitably, Sarries struck again, this time by means of a break from the side of a scrum by one of their powerful flankers, whom it took two Exiles to bring down. Sadly for them he passed out of the tackle to Stefon Armitage who blew away the remaining cover and ran in under the posts. Russell again converted. 14-0.

The scrum had now started to creak, and green bodies applied to rolling mauls were discernibly more upright than those of the opposition. Mystifying, given the team sheet, and not the foundation required by running backs faced with stout defence.

Then, suddenly, Shane Geraghty (12) turned the game’s prospects. He exploded past a scrum which had only started to think of dispersing, and ran in his own break, Laidlaw converting. Shane’s acceleration was something, his balance as he rode tackles something else. Class tells. He has to be Catty’s eventual successor, doesn’t he? 14-7.

The end of the half featured a nice cameo from Topsy Ojo who had already made several runs up his wing. Now he changed sides and ran up, ball in hand, chipped over his tackler, took the ball on the full and ran on, eventually to be tackled considerably further upfield than he had started. Moments later Doug Wheatley and his opposite number were addressed by Mr Richards on the subject of illegal front row moves.

A game of two halves, innit, Brian?

After the oranges, or in my case, a sample from the excellent BBQ laid on by Old Albanians, our hosts, our team was hardly recognisable. Adam Halsey, David Paice and Tom Warren replaced Dougie Wheatley, Adrian Flavin and Rob Hardwick. Charlie Gower had come onto the wing for Ojo, who replaced Horak at full back.

From the whistle our forwards had drive, pace, purpose and momentum. The only difference I could see up front was in our front row personnel, but of course the entire team may have been doped on some performance-enhancing substance, or been motivated or terrified by a Brian Smith/Corin Palmer team talk. How would I know? I can only go by what I saw.

The difference was electrifying, as two Academy players and one recent graduate, appeared to take the breakdown by the scruff of the neck, and quite literally led from the front. The scrum looked solid, the breakdowns were quite forcibly policed, and our back row were now free to forage, rape and pillage to their Viking hearts’ content, something they did to good effect for the rest of the match, with Dawson and Thorpe highly visible throughout. This front row dominance and energy remained the case even when Tom Standfield replaced Paicey after 20 minutes, for no reason that I could see, apart from Tom’s need for game time.

What fascinated me about our second half was the performance by our younger men. Despite thoroughly professional and competent displays by Feau’nati, Franze and later on by Storey in the backs, and by Kieron Dawson and Gussie in the forwards, it was by and large the younger guys who stood out, right the way through the team. It was they, by and large, who provided the thrills (and a few spills) and the scores.

Prolonged pressure in the Saracens red zone and a superb backs move now yielded a text-book try for Ojo who dotted down without pressure or visible opposition, following another American football cross-field pass by Laidlaw. (He did the same against Esher.) Who needs centres when you can pass like that? Laidlaw converted, of course. 14-14.

We now entered one of those frustrating periods, beloved (not) by all ‘A’ game aficionados, and brought about by mass substitutions, and changes of position. On this occasion, our offensive play stuttered a bit but our defence did not, despite yielding a penalty for holding on. 17-14.

In short order, Geraghty came off, equipped with a bag of ice, followed by Laidlaw. This brought on Storey in the centre, and caused Darren Edwards to retire to play fly half, allowing Charlie Metzger to go to scrum half. While Darren may never be Riki Flutey, he didn’t do at all badly! Shortly after, Gussie and Matt Banahan came off, to be replaced by the under-estimated and under-appreciated James Grimes and by a new boy to our ranks.

An addition to our ranks?

Who might this be, I enquired of a smirking Macca. I was informed that the young gentleman is on trial with us, that he plays second row and at flanker, and is a full international.

Sevanaia Rauqe Rokobaro, it turns out, has two caps for Fiji, is 28, 1m94 (6’4”) tall and weighs 115kg. The Fiji Rugby website says that he got off the plane from Sydney and did well enough in the 2004 trials to earn a place in the Fiji squad. Provided good cover as lock and flanker. Strong and powerful, Rokobaro showed confidence when coming on in both Tests in 2004.

To end it all off, a Dawson half break enables Charlie Gower to hare in for a try, converted by Paul Franze, making it 17-21 to London Irish.

The future is indeed green, and it is pretty young, too.

LONDON IRISH ‘A’
Team: 15. Michael Horak*; 14. Topsy Ojo; 13. Paul Franze; 12. Shane Geraghty; 11. Dominic Feau'nati*; 10. Ross Laidlaw; 9. Darren Edwards; 1 Doug Wheatley; 2 Adrian Flavin; 3 Rob Hardwick*; 4 Gary Johnson; 5 Matt Banahan; 6 Richard Thorpe; 7 Kieron Dawson*; 8 Paul Gustard.

Replacements: 16. Adam Halsey; 17. Tom Warren; 18. David Paice; 19. Tom Standfield; 20. James Grimes; 21. Charles Mezger; 22. James Storey; 23. Matt Humphries 24. Charlie Gower.

SARACENS ‘A’
Team: 15. Adam Powell, 14. Nambdi Obi, 13. Ben Johnston, 12. Nikki Little, 11. Billy O'Driscoll, 10. Ben Russell, 9. Moses Rauluni, 1. Aaron Liffchak, 2. Andy Kyriacou, 3. Hamish Mitchell, 4. Tom Ryder (c), 5. Ben Thomas, 6. Matt Taylor, 7. Richard Gill, 8. Steffon Armitage

Replacements 16. Ben Wickens, 17. Tom Mercey, 18. Peter Coke, 19. Tommy Doland, 20. Richard Stringer, 21. Leon Gateson, 22. Simon Gibbs, 23. James Tirrell, 24. David Whitehead, 25. Tim Saull
Last edited by OxonRob on Tue Nov 29, 2005 4:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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by ascotintheantipodes on Tue Nov 29, 2005 6:31 am

Thanks OR a great read as usual. I had spoken to David thru the week and he was keen for some game time to test out the damaged foot - he had said that he had hoped for 10-15 mins so coming on at half time was a bit of a surprise. Haven't heard from him today so I hope him coming off in the 2nd half has more to do with conditioning rather than any re-occurrence of old injuries
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by OxonRob on Tue Nov 29, 2005 8:17 am

I hadn't thought of that, Steve. It would explain his cameo in and out appearance! BTW he looked fine after he came off and did not appear to be 'carrying' a knock.
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by JamesC on Tue Nov 29, 2005 9:52 am

An excellent read for those not able to make it. Thanks
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by dom_pedro on Tue Nov 29, 2005 10:41 am

Great stuff Rob ... many thanks.
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by OxonRob on Tue Nov 29, 2005 12:29 pm

Paddy Lennon has all the facts at his fingertips, here

http://www.london-irish.com/newspage.in ... n&matchid=
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by JamesC on Tue Nov 29, 2005 2:00 pm

Surely the ref was not Deano ? Poacher turned gamekeeper indeed !
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by OxonRob on Tue Nov 29, 2005 2:04 pm

Not the Deano of whom you are thinking, James, but a Deano nonetheless.
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by dom_pedro on Wed Nov 30, 2005 5:50 pm

just released the sticky on this.
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by Brian W on Wed Nov 30, 2005 6:52 pm

Excellent report, Rob. Thanks!

The link above doesn't seem to work for me.

This one does (for the time being, at least): http://www.london-irish.com/newspage.in ... 324&type=m
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