London Irish v Cardiff Blues

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London Irish v Cardiff Blues

by OxonRob on Wed Nov 30, 2005 5:02 pm

The horns of a dilemma

I’d not like to be either Brian Smith or Pat Coyne this week. Both are on the classic horns of a dilemma. Or it might be the horns of a classic dilemma. But I digress.

Anyone who thinks Cardiff will be a pushover had better think again. They supplied eight players to the Welsh squad for the autumn internationals and I know that at least four played. (It might be more but I can’t be bothered checking.) 64% of their supporters believe they will win on Sunday, according to a poll on their club website.

So, who are we playing?

I don’t follow what is left of Welsh club rugby that closely. Having played for a Welsh team myself I cannot identify with, let alone recognise, the likes of Ospreys and their ilk. Give me good old Llanelli at Stradey Park any day. Who remembers Pontypool on a dark Saturday night?

The bare facts are these. Cardiff lie ninth in an eleven team Celtic League, having scored 110 points to their opponents’ 129. But what does that mean? Is the Celtic League as weak as a feather in a gale? A glance at the Blues list of players suggests not.

Yes, I know that Wales has a pretty small player-base, and a tiny number of competitive top clubs, so it is inevitable that they’ll try out quite a few players from that tiny number of clubs, resulting in a good few guys with a couple of caps. However, remind me about how Wales did in the 6 Nations last year.

I have no idea who Cardiff Blues will put out, and still less about who is fit and who is not. However, consider this as the possible bones of the side (and discount Lomu.) I indicate international caps in a bracket - for Wales except where shown.

15 Rhys Williams (43); 14 Chris Czekaj (1), 13 Tom Shanklin (33 + Lions) or Jamie Robinson (13), 12 Marc Stcherbina (Australia A) 11 Craig Morgan (9); 10 Roger Warren (2 Samoa) or Nick Robinson (5), 9 Mike Phillips (4); 8 Dan Baugh (29 Canada) or Maama Molitika (3 Tonga), 7 Martyn Williams (49 + Lions), 6 TBA; 5 Robert Sidoli (25), 4 Craig Quinnell (32), 3 Ben Evans (27), 2 Gareth Williams (5) or Rhys Thomas (1), 1 John Yapp (5) or Gethin Jenkins (32 + Lions)

Now think about how many caps some of our guys have got, or not got, and start to feel a bit humbler. The Celtic League? It must be a lot tougher than I thought. Or, happy thought, Cardiff as a team play at less than the sum of their parts.

No, I don’t believe it either.

Brian’s Problem

Do we wish to stand accused of (further?) devaluing the new Powergen Anglo-Welsh Cup, by fielding a team that we’d never field in 1,000 years in the Guinness Premiership - and risking further damage to internal morale and external reputation if they quite reasonably got moithered? In such circumstances the result might not really matter two shakes of a dog’s tail to us, but you can bet that it matters a lot to the other teams in our Group. (Saracens and Wasps)

But just think how it might look if such an experimental side won, and won well?

Or should Brian select the strongest team on the books, in order to restore pride and reputation – and to remind them of how to play in the top flight when they represent London Irish? Oh, and what happens if they then manage to lose?

In whichever direction the selectorial wand points, I suspect that the players themselves will be more than up for it. First team places against tough opposition beckon, ‘old men’ are there to fight to retain their positions or be shouldered aside by young pretenders.

What young pretenders might we see? Given the potential power in the Cardiff front five I would not be taking too many risks right up front. The improving and impressive Skuse should get a run at 3, but we really have no-one gnarled and nasty at loose head, other than the over-worked Beefy. So, a sacrificial Collins to the Gethin Jenkins tumbril? At 2 you can take your pick. I didn’t think Flav looked the business on Monday (See ‘A’ game report) so I’ll go for Russell and Paicey, or vice versa.

Three of our four locks have been seeing constant service as starters, so Strudders might start this time. No one better at close quarters. But will we expose an 18 year-old Matt Banahan or a 21 year-old Gary Johnson alongside him, or even Rokobaru, our Fijian triallist? Not for my money. Oh dear!

The back row promises something else. A return for the mercurial but competitive Juam Manuel? I think so. Maybe Kieron Dawson on one flank and the emerging and very mobile Richard Thorpe on the other? Maybe Olivier’s foot is feeling better?

In the threes I think we’ll pair Dodge and Laidlaw, with possibly Geraghty, Franze, Feau’nati and Ojo outside, with Horak at the back. If our fat boys serve them well, that is a line-up I’d pay good money to watch.

Whatever Brian’s preferred selection may be, however, I’ll bet a pound to a pint that the match plan will be to win.

Pat’s problem

Now that we know that brave Jonah Lomu will not be gracing the Madstad just yet awhile, and we also know that the result won’t directly affect our season, how the hell does Pat market the match?

He cannot, of course, give away Brian’s selection plans and promise the chance to see this or that player. Reading FC’s ticket office have already demonstrated their capacity for handling anything other than the good old face value, ticket for fixed money transaction. In fact by asking, in his posters, whether Jonah might play, rather than promising that he would do so, Pat will probably be shown to have followed a wise and pragmatic course of action.

Is this a game worth watching?

Even without knowing the line-ups I think we’ll see some big names from Cardiff, and some big games from London Irish.
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by GWaGG on Thu Dec 01, 2005 12:54 am

Top scribing Robin - thank you.
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