London Irish 29

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London Irish 29–21 Agen (10th December 2005)

by OxonRob on Mon Dec 12, 2005 12:21 pm

We ‘tried’ a little more than they did

by OxonRob

This was a seven try match, and we won. More than that, we got five points and Agen went away with nothing.

And yet. And yet. Lest we allow ourselves to drown in euphoria, the result could so easily have been different. Agen literally threw away two sitters of tries with the line looking at them invitingly, and the home team flat on its collective back, helpless to do anything much about it.

We blew hot and cold throughout this exciting game. Every part of the Irish war machine functioned – on occasion. Nearly every part failed – on occasion. When we were good we were very very good, but when we were bad we were horrid (or at least looked slapdash.)

In the first 20 minutes the Exiles flattered to deceive. We kept the ball in hand, the forwards did forward type things and the girls ran and ran. It was exciting stuff, and I was half expecting an inexperienced new supporter to start a chant of ‘easy, easy.’ Thank Goodness no one in the 4,450 crowd did so.

To digress for a moment, was I alone in thinking it odd that the crowds stayed away from this critical fixture against a French side of pedigree when 1,500 more turned up a week earlier for a dead rubber game against Cardiff? Of all the games one might have chosen to miss, this surely wasn’t top of the list. Surely we don’t have THAT number of people who come to home games down the M1 and around the top end of the M25? (Closed due to the Hemel Hempstead oil fire.) On top of that we have been winning at home with some attractive rugby. There are occasions when I am not that impressed by the decision-making and commitment of some supporters.

A sort of a bit of an opinion on things

Instead of winning the first half and allowing Agen to win the second, which too often seems to be our script, this time we allowed them the second half of the first half and the second half of the second half for good measure. In short, we allowed ourselves to lose the second and fourth quarters of the game.

To put it all down to the replacements merry-go-round is plain daft. We didn’t see too many replacements in the first half.

Our first two tries were well-crafted, but soft in the sense that at the time they suggested we’d run up a cricket score. Agen may even have planned to let us score them, so that they could lull us into a sense of false security.

There was no obvious reason for our allowing Agen off the metaphorical leash, no player one could point at, and blame for the team’s failure. It was a collective thing. We simply got excited, certainly in the first half, and became loose where previously we had made sure of the basics. Woe betide us if we have the same attitude in France.

The vaunted Irish defence may have been brave, but just like a week earlier, it was hardly as organised as we like it to be. I have to wonder, for the second week running, whether it was the absence of Field Marshal Catt, or whether, more simply, it was down to the hard-tackling Franze playing in the unfamiliar land of the 12.

As usual under Brian Smith, the threes demonstrated quick hands, even if some of our passing was less than we are used to these days. As a unit they didn’t quite demonstrate the sharpness of which we know them to be capable, although individual members shone when their moment came. However, we had been warned in Brian’s Friday interview on the BBC, that there would be teething problems with this new backs line-up so perhaps we should not moan too much or too loudly.

In the second half especially, our Agennais friends amply demonstrated their ability to break our line at will, through the combination of a forceful back row and some extremely muscular and powerful running backs, among whom their 9, 13, 14 and 15 stood out. The fact that they ‘only’ scored three tries also tells us that they may have been over-excited themselves, of course! It could have been five – or more.

Before the game, some of us were a little chary of the Agen pack. Names like Crenca, Califano and Lievremont are not to be laughed at, not even in private. Sure, but we need not have worried. Only Califano played. Our front row not only stood up to Agen, but came first where it matters to props, in the tight. When we squeezed we squeezed well, and the Agen scrum visibly creaked and wilted. In fact so far were they on top that our starting props, messrs Hatley and Skuse, started to have ambitions in the threes, where they ran around most effectively, like Cape Buffalo on heat.

The line-outs were generally messy affairs, not the clinical execution of yore. They were not an unmitigated disaster, but neither were they the area of dominance and secure possession that we have come to expect. I didn’t keep stats but we nicked some of theirs and they nicked some of ours.

On the other hand we saw again that wonderful thing called the Green Rolling Maul, our very own Irish Testudo. The first few times we tried it, it didn’t go far, but on ten and twenty minutes into the second half we got it together big time and travelled twice, bent double, to the Agen goal line. I still query whether it can be a legal formation, when the ball carrier is protected by men in front of the ball, but now that it works for us instead of against us, I guess I’ll keep that opinion to myself.

And so to the game itself…

I note that today we do not have benefit of that nice RFU clock, so are dependent on the referee’s watch. Oo-er.

For the first ten minutes we were treated to the Juan Manuel Leguizamon roadshow. He popped up everywhere, but principally with ball in hand, driving into, over, through or underneath anyone in his way. He also made a brave mark, with the Gauls bearing down on him in force. Occasionally he also allowed Casey and Kennedy into the act, as both made good ground and passed well. Mike Horak was also visible at this early stage, and remained so throughout.

Spot on 10 minutes constant Irish pressure in the scrum told. We nailed an Agen scrum, stole their ball at the back (Thank You, Dodge) won the maul, passed to Penney on the burst and he put in Paul Franze for a good try created by forward dominance. Flutey converted.

7-0 after 10 minutes

Even in the first 10 or 15 minutes we started to notice a repetitive feature of Agen back play which we never really got on top of – the short chip over the tackler with the take on the run behind him. Agen played this to perfection throughout the game. We’ll need to think about it in the next few days.

Beefy Hatley had not read this match report, however. He intercepted one such chip, and thundered up the right touchline with the ball as far as the Agen 22 where he passed to the supporting Juan Manuel who found Big Bob who found Riki Flutey who scored. Riki also converted. Good stuff, this.

14-0 after 15 minutes.

Pride and vanity are not nice. Quite a few of us now start to feel that maybe we are better than we think we are, as Agen clearly cannot handle the ball. They are fluffing everything, and we are quick to follow up and press them back just when they have been threatening to do the same to us. The Agen 8 (Fonua) and 6 (Culine) look feisty and effective.

Penalties are starting to come our way from front row transgressions in the scrum by Agen. All are kicked to touch.

Skuse brings off a Beefy-like run in the backs which takes us to the Agen line, where the siege is lifted by a clearance which flies from under the posts to the Irish 22 on the East stand side. We have been warned. A certain former Chairman of the LISC is heard leading a London Irish-ised Carol in the West stand.

A good touchline dash by Russell and Juan takes play upfield where we are pinged for crossing, and Agen kick the ball into the corner. They go over from the back of the line out but are held up. No try. (Chance No 1) We burst out of defence with some busy harrying by Hodgson, playing well, and by Beefy again, who steals. Horak, on the burst, gets over the halfway line, where Leguizamon chips ahead and very nearly nails the ball-receiver, deep in the Agen 22. It’s literally end to end stuff.

First it’s LI, then it’s Agen. Penalty follows scrum or line out, followed by another line out, followed by…. You get the pattern. Flutey kicks out on the full and is visibly unimpressed with himself. Our early effort appears to be loosening up.

Following an Agen grubber kick up the West touchline and into the Irish 22, the ball bobbles about on the deck while various players attempt not to fall over it or each other. Referee, Mr Changleng of Scotland, awards a line out to Agen, who break and attempt to cross the LI line. A well-timed knock-on saves the day, and at the Exiles’ scrum 5 Agen are penalised for an early shove. They return in force however, to camp under the drummers, and Califano goes over around the back of an Agen line out in the corner. Miquel converts

14-7 after 38 minutes.

We seem to have woken up, for we nearly charge down their clearance of our kick-off, and we then attempt a rolling maul from a line out on the Agen 22, which the defence appears to pull down. Advantage to the Exiles signals Mr Changleng.

Clearly not prepared to play through the advantage, Riki Flutey drops the sweetest of drop goals from among heavy traffic and we come in for our oranges ten points up.

Half Time 17-7.

My first note of the half looks ominous. Horak kicks ahead, where their Fonua takes possession and the ball comes down the Agen line to where they have a three man overlap on our 22. The Agen 15 (Elhorga) hurls the ball into touch, behind his winger, who is not impressed and says so. (Chance No 2 gone begging.)

Just as they say that money goes to the rich, they also say that when you are struggling things go against you. So it proved in the second half. To our green-tinted eyes the referee started to miss things. Sadly, so did our team on the park, not so much continuously as on and off. A bit like a flickering outdoor light, bright one minute and dim the next.

A high tackle on Skuse was ignored, but the possibly offside Agen 9 (Tilloles) was pinged for a knock-on at the base of OUR scrum. How did he get there? Don’t flankers stop that kind of thing any more? Bish intercepts a lazy pass, and seems to be away for try number three, but is recalled for a penalty to Agen on halfway. A game of possession ping pong seems to be in progress!

Following a good Hodgson clearance to the Agen 10 metre line, an Agen rolling maul advances to the Irish 22, where Armitage intercepts a blatant forward pass, and gallops off upfield all on his own to score under the posts. A break-away try to be sure, but how many have done that to us in the past? Where is our third quarter malaise? (The answer is that it’s late but on the way.)

24-7 after 10 minutes

I have to say that Franze and Penney are tackling like good uns, but in attack I have the impression that our threes are going solo on the burst, without the back-up and linkage which has been a hallmark of the Smith regime. I don’t see that triumvirate of wing, outer centre and full back waiting to receive the pass to the end of the line. All too often a brave burst is stifled without any prospect of it being continued.

The decisions are also starting to go against us. Penalties and scrums to Agen abound on my page.

However, don’t write us off just yet! We still have the rolling maul up our sleeve, and after 15 minutes we employ it again, right up to the Agen line from halfway. We get a penalty five metres out, but play is then halted, for the wounded to receive attention. Will this put a stop to our momentum? Not a bit of it. Casey and Russell drive, and Flutey’s weighted pass allows Penney to take it on the burst and score under the crossbar. How on earth did Riki contrive to miss the kick? (I didn’t even bother to watch. Too busy making notes!)

29-7 after 21 minutes

Nowithstanding the occasional Agen break-out and their obvious strength, I have to say that at this point one was tempted to think that our four tries and large margin would deter the French from further effort. They don’t travel well, do they? Well, this lot did!

Hatley and Leguizamon now came off for Collins and Murphy.

It’s now time for the funny stuff.

The Agen 10 tries another chip-over, gathers and runs on. Happily his pass to his No 8 goes astray (yes it was rubbish again). Murphy is done for a forward pass, but Agen then pass straight to Declan Danaher who is guesting as an Agen threequarter. Following a long and secure Flutey touch from a penalty, we are penalised for a knock-on that is pure fantasy, and Strudwick comes on for Casey. Murphy takes an Agen line-out at the back but is pinged for a knock-on although Agen might have been done for a crooked throw.

Edwards replaces Hodgson who has had a good 'Hodgson-esque' game.

Agen greet Edwards with another attack with another overlap and then ruin it all with a huge forward pass, just when the try was a certainty. (Chance No 3 gone.)

It’s all broken play and broken running. Horak runs up and into the Agen half, whereupon their 15 returns the compliment, up the right, where Bish dives on the ball behind the goal-line. He limps heavily back to the play on our 22 just in time to get roasted. His evident frailty has been noted by Agen, and the quick Mirande runs past Bish and Dawson (?) and over the line. Replacement Gelez converts.

29-14 after 34 minutes

Bish is immediately removed in pain and Barry Everitt comes on, and goes to 10/12 (which of the two is not 100% clear, as he and Riki interchange.) Franze moves to 13 and Penney to Bish’s wing.

We are tackling hard, but not cleaning up. Edwards misses a bobbling ball on the deck, but Agen don’t. We’ve gone to sleep again.

Flav comes on for Robbie Russell

It’s all Agen now, as their tails are up. They are throwing the kitchen sink at the game, and seem to have worked out that if they can get behind our blitz defence, we don’t have much else to stop them. They now demonstrate this by rifling untouched between Flutey and Everitt and camp on our line.

Hardwick replaces Skuse on 41 minutes gone.

We manage to hold them up over the line, for the second time in the match, (Chance number four goes begging) but are powerless to stop Agen from scoring a solid right wing try from a good backs move, through Lafforgue. Gelez converts to bring them to only eight points adrift.

29-21 after 42 minutes

Too little, too late? Not a bit of it. We are penalised for pulling down in front of our posts. Given the state of the match and of play, why would we do this? Given our superiority in the tight, why would we do this? I am not convinced that we committed the offence. They run it but get nowhere.

Within seconds our backs are penalised for offside, in my mind more a reflection of their speed off the mark than of their illegal positioning, but who am I to question the referee? Happily, the Agen kicker misses a sitter, and a losing bonus point. More happily, the ref blows his whistle before he can make any more decisions.

London Irish: 15 M Horak, 14 D Armitage, 13 R Penney, 12 P Franze, 11 J Bishop (rep: B Everitt, 73), 10 R Flutey, 9 P Hodgson (rep: D Edwards, 69), 1 N Hatley (rep: M Collins, 61), 2 R Russell (rep: A Flavin, 77), 3 R Skuse (rep: R Hardwick, 81), 4 B Casey (captain)(rep: R Strudwick, 67), 5 N Kennedy, 6 D Danaher, 7 K Dawson, 8 J M Leguizamon (rep: P Murphy, 61).

Agen: 15 P Elhorga, 14 L Lafforgue (captain), 13 C Stoltz (rep: F Gelez, 70), 12 M Ahotaeiloa, 11 S Mirande, 10 J Miquel, 9 J Tilloles, 1 C Califano, 2 J B Rue, 3 P Blanco (rep: A Galasso, 60), 4 S Dellape (rep: A Ratuva, 55), 5 K Koulemine (rep: A Persico, 67), 6 F Culine (rep: D Fevre, 55), 7 C Yukes, 8 O Fonua.
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by dom_pedro on Mon Dec 12, 2005 2:51 pm

Great report Rob.
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by PGT on Mon Dec 12, 2005 2:53 pm

Another excellent report but credit where credit is due, the ' London Irish-ised Carol' was composed by Mr Gabriel Scally and performed by him and Maeve.

The former Chairman of the LISC referred to merely added some vocal support - the crowd was low enough already without wanting to deter those who attended from coming back again!
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by MH on Mon Dec 12, 2005 3:04 pm

OxonRob

Many thanks for the report.

Don't know how you manged to keep notes, I was too busy trying to keep warm.
MH
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by OxonRob on Tue Dec 13, 2005 10:39 am

MH, many thanks.

I kept warm by wearing a London Irish jacket. It is the warmest garment I have ever owned. On this occasion, however, I had also thought to bring with me a large thermos flask containing mulled wine.

My neighbours were therefore warm as well!
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by Christine on Tue Dec 13, 2005 11:54 am

I didn't get to taste any :evil: :evil:
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by OxonRob on Tue Dec 13, 2005 11:57 am

You should have said yes when Robbi did! :roll:
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by Christine on Tue Dec 13, 2005 1:03 pm

When did he try it - was I away powdering my nose :shock:
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by eek_the_weeble on Thu Dec 15, 2005 6:34 pm

Such a lovely nose
Make something idiot proof and they'll build a better idiot
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