London Irish 27-23 Cardiff Blues (4th December 2005)

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London Irish 27-23 Cardiff Blues (4th December 2005)

by OxonRob on Mon Dec 05, 2005 2:43 pm

London Irish 2nd XV 57 – Cardiff All Stars 218

Ah well now, surely the result would be pre-ordained when the mighty Wales national side, aka Cardiff Blues, met lowly London Irish.

Cardiff’s 22 boasted 14 internationals with 218 caps, against five with 57 in the London Irish side, 49 of those caps coming from just two players, (Russell with 28 and Dawson with 21). The Exiles also fielded three members of their Academy (Ojo, Geraghty and Thorpe).

This Powergen Cup match was a dead rubber for London Irish, but a must-win for Cardiff, who arrived with steely intent, evident from the kick-off. In short they came to win and win well, for they needed a four try bonus point if they were to have any chance of progressing further in the competition.

Alas, poor Dai. This was to be a day of missed opportunities.

Cardiff looked dangerous with ball in hand from first whistle to last, and gave a masterclass in on and off the ball skullduggery which would have enthralled Neil Back. It would doubtless also have enthralled referee Sean Davey, had he noticed. Alas, he saw little, and, on occasions, seemed to understand less.

Eddie Butler is reported to have said that we fielded our 2nd team. True or not, it certainly wasn’t the team we have been fielding in the premiership. Of the 20 men who got onto the pitch, only Horak, Penney, Everitt and Roche have been starting as first picks recently, but 14 of the others have graced our colours, albeit four of them only in cameo or occasional roles.

Two had not, however. Ross Laidlaw was getting his first run-out at the Madejski, and indeed for the club, in the critical position of fly half, where he normally plays for our development team. Richard Thorpe, the Academy member who replaced Gustard for most of the second half, was also making his debut for the club. I’d be surprised if we don’t see a lot more of both of them, on this evidence.

In the bar beforehand, most of us expected to get mullered in the front row, where three internationals, boasting 37 caps, faced our one (Russell) who has 28 all on his own, half the number of caps the Exiles would bring to the game. On balance, we thought, one Jock doth not a front row make.

Nonetheless, we were curiously optimistic about what our young guns in the backs would do with any ball they did receive.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. In the first minute Cardiff’s strong running looked like cutting our defence to ribbons. Then they got a kickable penalty, and kicked it. Whoops.

0-3.

How easy is this, our visitors probably thought. Wrong again. This opening passage of play must have annoyed the ‘lacklustre’ Irish, for we terrified Cardiff into knocking on our kick-off, and then went and camped on the Cardiff line. A five metre scrum was followed by an attempted push-over try and a penalty. This time we got the second push-over right, Gustard (6) getting the touch-down. Laidlaw converted from wide on the left. Doubtless our water boy had laid the seeds of the idea? Bob Casey wields a bottle with style!

7-3 after five minutes.

Shortly afterwards, Mike Horak (15) was tackled in mid-air, fielding a Cardiff kick ahead, and left the field with blood pouring down his face, to be replaced for five minutes by Barry Everitt. No yellow? Then we contrived to lose the line-out which followed the penalty, and following concerted attack by the Blues, Irish in their turn conceded a penalty, converted by Nick Robinson (10).

7-6 after 12 minutes.

Frankly, it was nearly all Cardiff at this stage, with Mike Phillips, a Terry Holmes-like scrum half, and skipper Rhys Williams (15) seemingly involved powerfully in everything. We appeared to be treating this as a practice match in the sense that we tried a number of tackling techniques on each attacker before finding one that worked! Porous describes it.

However, there were one or two encouraging signs that our pack wasn’t going to give up, and Mr Davey delivered Ryan Strudwick a lecture to emphasise the need for discipline after Leguizamon had been caught offside. Robinson missed his pot at goal, however.

It now seemed to be dawning on us that keeping it tight was good, and The Mighty Maul was put on display, not once but several times, gaining a great deal of ground. Over the years we have all too often observed this ploy used against us, and now here we were showing that we do it better. Our line out had also tightened up by now, and we were driving off it as often as we sent the ball wide. Our scrum was solid, very solid, and our fears suddenly seemed ill-placed.

Following a yellow card to Robin Sowden-Taylor (7) for pulling down one of these mauls (There is not much else you can do to a rolling maul!) London Irish scored another push-over try, again touched down by Gustard and again converted by Laidlaw.

14-6 after 21 minutes.

Cardiff threatened again from the kick-off but Horak toed a loose attacking pass ahead, and chased it hard behind the Cardiff backline, only for scrum-half Phillips to prevent a likely Irish score when all seemed lost.

Cardiff were attacking every time they got the ball into their three-quarters, and it wasn’t just the incursions by full-back Williams but their powerful running and their knack for producing overlaps which gave cause for concern. Surely they’d go the whole hog soon, and score a try?

Despite clear London Irish dominance up front, tit was being given for tat out wide. We turned over some Cardiff ball, and they ours. We made silly errors. So did they. Conditions were perfect, and the only excuses were nerves coupled with huge defensive commitment by both teams. Despite this undoubted commitment, our tackling as a whole was still looking iffy however, necessitating frequent last minute heroism as the last-ditch tackle finally went home. Does our defence not work without Catty calling the shots?

Then, on the half-hour, Laidlaw produced a moment of wizardry, the try of the season for this observer, eclipsing those magic Flutey moments entirely. He took the ball in traffic from a scrum (or it may well have been a ruck) just over half-way, and veered out, in, out and in again, jinking but mostly swerving past half the Cardiff team. Instead of slowing up and looking for support he relied on support to reach him in time, and accelerated into space towards Williams at the back. He willingly took the tackle, for Penney (13) was perfectly positioned for the pass on the 22, which he ran in just to the left of the posts. Laidlaw converted the try he had created.

21-6 after 30 minutes.

To their credit, Cardiff were not taking the score lying down and bounced back, as they did throughout this enthralling encounter. Within three minutes they had won two penalties which gave them an attacking position in the corner on the London Irish line, where they scored a simple enough try, with powerful scrum half Mike Phillips racing through, around the back of their line-out. Robinson converted.

21-13 on 35 minutes.

Even Digger with a borrowed sign saying “Go, Strudders” could not produce another score before it was time for the oranges, but neither could he prevent Kieron Dawson (7) from being sent to the slammer for ten minutes’ quiet reflection. This seemed harsh, in the sense that Juan Manuel Leguizamon, our energetic 8, had spent so much of the half literally begging to be sent off. I hope he learns to curb his temper.

Half Time

Hodgson replaced Edwards at half time, and within moments there was Russell (2) breaking the line at outer centre with a great run. He then spoilt it by offering a knee-high pass like the hooker he is. Next it was Topsy Ojo’s turn to get into the act, as he kicked through towards goal from the 22, and overtook the turning opposition in the race for the touch-down. Sadly, he could not quite make up his mind about what to do when he got there, and such was his speed that when he bent to retrieve, he simply overran the ball, with a try beckoning. Perhaps a deeper in-goal area might have persuaded him to dribble one last time?

As Dawson returned, he was accompanied by Academy debutant Richard Thorpe, who normally plays openside flanker, but was asked to replace Gussie at blindside. I kept half an interested eye on him thereafter. He started by turning over Cardiff ball in a ruck, and spent the next 35 minutes getting down and dirty on the deck, doing the things which make for wins but not headlines.

The next ten minutes were spent in the Cardiff half, where the Exiles looked for another score by spinning the ball wide to Feau’nati and Ojo. Neither could quite break clear of the cover. The Blues were not buried yet, however, and were pressing up hard on every last piece of Irish possession. They forced a turnover, and in no time at all were camped on our line. How quickly this game changes!

Sowden-Taylor seemed to have scored towards the right corner, but was held up by a huge tackle from Laidlaw. A strong London Irish shove at the scrum five resulted in Dawson and Juan Manuel hacking the ball away from Powell and Phillips, but they were called back to face a further Cardiff onslaught. Cardiff kick the ball dead however, and Mafikeng was relieved by a 22 drop out. A wild pass behind a ruck on the 22 from Dawson allowed Cardiff to gather, charge, knock-on and ‘score’ a try. Mr Davey missed the knock-on but penalised Cardiff for crossing.

Cardiff now tried their luck in the east corner, and Everitt replaced Laidlaw. Phillips (who else?) scored under the posts with a strong run which cut the overstretched home defence like a knife.

21-20

London Irish attacked from the kick-off, and after several phases Geraghty was pole-axed by a throat-high tackle. Mr Davey awarded a penalty and a dressing-down instead of a yellow card. Is it safe to play under his ‘eagle’ eye? Who better to convert the penalty than Barry Everitt, though?

24-20

Five minutes later we were penalised ourselves for something I didn’t see, and it was again a one point difference.

24-23

Cardiff now brought on their big guns (Martyn Williams and Robert Sidoli) from the bench to finish things off. We responded by sending Flavin into the fray. As night follows day, a penalty followed.

Mr Davey, following the Welsh script closely, awarded a slightly debatable penalty just inside the London Irish west touchline. It missed, with due regard for natural justice. (That was the second kick, and the fourth scoring chance gone begging for the Blues.)

It was the Exiles turn to keep their heads and apply pressure. But what we could do, Cardiff could do too. A Cardiff clearance was sliced, but some Irish possession was turned over and returned by Cardiff to the Irish 22, where Topsy Ojo calmly found a tight but safe touch on the Irish 10 metre line. Cardiff spun the ball wide but eventually ran into touch on the opposite 22, where Roche was attacked in the air at the line-out which followed. No yellow – of course! The inevitable penalty was kicked to touch on half-way, and Irish line-out possession was kicked high into the Cardiff 22, followed by at least half the team. Cardiff turned over our ball. We turned over theirs. The ball came back to Geraghty in the middle, who kicked long, high and handsome straight between the posts for 3 invaluable points.

27-23. Four minutes left on the clock.

Poor Cardiff handling gave London Irish two scrums before Storey came on for Feau’nati, and Penney moved to the wing to make way.

Then Cardiff knocked on from their own scrum, and we kicked through deep into the Blues’ 22, where Ojo, following up, entirely missed the ball-carrier. Fair play to him, though. He turned, chased back and obliterated the same man with a superb enveloping tackle. Now that is what I call speed of reaction, let alone speed of foot.

Mr Davey blew the whistle on an exciting match, in which David really got to Goliath.

Conclusions?

The LI pack had a blinder, with no shirkers. The front row never backed off, and if anything came out ahead on points. Ryan Strudwick had probably his best game since the Powergen Cup Final at Twickenham, and Roche was not far behind. The back row harried everywhere. Of greater import for me, all eight shoved, and got low when doing so.

The Irish backs did not quite live up to expectations. Their defence was organisationally weak if individually heroic, and their attack relied more on individual brilliance than on ‘moves’. Such is the lot of unfamiliar line-ups, however, and it must be said that Cardiff were no slouches in attacking our line, and in defending well.

I make one apology, and that is that I have scarcely mentioned Edwards, Laidlaw, Geraghty, Penney and Horak. It’s how my notes are, unfortunately. Edwards and Laidlaw looked at home, and there was nothing wrong with our 9/10 axis. Outside Laidlaw, Geraghty had a blinder, tackling everything that moved, apart from Mr Davey, and Penney looks sharper every day. Horak was livid with himself a couple of times late on, but generally looked safe if not spectacular. I disagree with those who say he had a mare.

Who’d be a London Irish selector this week?

London Irish: 15 Mike Horak (1*), 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Rodd Penney, 12 Shane Geraghty, 11 Dominic Feau'nati (4), 10 Ross Laidlaw, 9 Darren Edwards, 1 Michael Collins, 2 Robbie Russell (28), 3 Richard Skuse, 4 Ryan Strudwick (captain), 5 Kieron Roche, 6 Paul Gustard, 7 Kieron Dawson (21), J M Leguizamon (3).

Replacements: James Storey, Barry Everitt, Paul Hodgson, Adrian Flavin, Richard Thorpe.

Cardiff: 15 Rhys Williams (43); 14 Chris Czekaj (1), 13 Marc Stcherbina, Tristan Davies, 11 Craig Morgan (9); 10 Nick Robinson (5), 9 Mike Phillips (4); 8 Andy Powell, 7 Robin Sowden-Taylor (1), 6 Kort Schubert (40 USA); 5 James Goode, 4 Deiniol Jones (3); 3 Ben Evans (27), 2 Gareth Williams (5) 1 John Yapp (5)

Replacements: Martin Jones, Rhys Thomas (1), Martyn Williams (49 + Lions), Robert Sidoli (25), Lee Thomas

* International caps shown in brackets
Last edited by OxonRob on Wed Dec 07, 2005 10:46 am, edited 2 times in total.
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by MH on Mon Dec 05, 2005 3:09 pm

OxonRob

Many thanks.
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by dom_pedro on Wed Dec 07, 2005 11:01 pm

Thanks Rob. Moving this to the reports area.
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