Saracens v London Irish

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Saracens v London Irish

by OxonRob on Mon Dec 19, 2005 6:29 pm

'Sorry Sarries' this time, or more of the same?
By OxonRob

Let’s be quite clear about it. London Irish gifted Saracens that Powergen Cup game. Two unkind bounces of the ball, coupled with weaknesses in our pack put Sarries so far ahead, so early on, that even playing mad catch-up rugby in the backs wasn’t going to get it back for us. Our mad bad play just about doubled Sarries’ first quarter score without undue effort on their part. The game on the 27th won’t be a repeat.

In fact, the coming match looks too close to call with any real confidence, with Sarries poised just two points below London Irish in the Premiership.

Both teams improving

On balance I’d put ten bob on the Exiles, if only because we have stiffened up our play up front since the debacle on 9th October, but also because we have a history of coming first against Saracens in the Premiership, and I’d not like to break our recent run of results, with eight wins in our last nine games. I doubt that the punters on either side will get good odds though.

Both teams have found form and belief, following indifferent starts to their seasons. Saracens, the early darling of the bookies for a surprise GP top four finish, recovered their form with a run of seven unbeaten matches until they recently fell to Gloucester (away.) Hang on, we beat them, didn’t we? Yes, but Vickery was back in harness for their game against the Men in Black.

London Irish gathered personnel and pace just as gradually, and are now looking pretty solid up front, and pretty lively at the back, thanks in particular to the introduction of our two Springboks in the front row, the emergence of a second string front row of pace and power, the distribution of Riki Flutey and the increasing potency of Paul Franze while Mike Catt has been off games.

I might mention the good form of the other members of the squad, except that we have not been wholly consistent in the quality of our play, even if the results suggest otherwise. We are still vulnerable to our own foibles. Yes, we are almost expert at beating ourselves up.

Injuries could decide the game

Both teams have injury worries, but I suspect that ours worry me more than theirs worry them. London Irish have a lot to blame the French for, this week, not least how the players manage to explain their bite marks to suspicious ‘other halves.’ We now have injuries to Kennedy, Skuse and Flutey to worry about, too. All three players have been critical to our recent run of results.

Riki Flutey apparently has popped ribs, which suggests a few weeks off. Our playmaker in chief has no equal deputy, but in Everitt and Laidlaw we do at least have replacements worthy of the jersey, who can be expected to give a performance.

By the sound of it Nick Kennedy may also be unavailable for a while, through either concussion or a dislocated shoulder, or both. The injury to Nick, now in a rich vein of form, must make it hard for Brian Smith to rest Bob Casey, but he is going to have to, at some stage in the next three games.

A tough lad like Skuse does not normally retire from the action for anything less than a broken limb. I don’t know whether the damage to his ribs is a ‘pop’ or a break, but in that condition either way he won’t be able to scrummage for a good few weeks.

Of the longer-term wounded, Olivier Magne is our Farrell, since he does not seem to have recovered from the tendon trouble underneath his gammy foot. He seems to have been out for a couple of months now. I wish he’d come back, although our other back row men are playing as though their lives depended on it, which they may well do. I suspect the most tactical of selections, according to how Toby Booth reads the opposition. All three of our festive season opponents are strong from 6 to 8.

No news at the time of writing on Willis, so we may have to make do with just two scrum halves for a while. Bar room rumour suggests that Catty may be ready for a return, however, so it’s not all bad news.

We shall doubtless see the debut of Sailosi Tagicakibau on the wing at some stage over Christmas, hopefully against Sarries, who have pace out wide.

Provided that Faan has recovered from injury, Rautenbach and Coetzee should be back in the front row. Presumably Collins will play at loose head against Sarries, enabling Beefy Hatley to enjoy Christmas with his young family, in preparation for Wasps on New Year’s Eve. Sadly, this may be what Cobus Visagie wants for Christmas, however.

Our opposition. A pushover they are not.

Saracens also have injuries to key players – Hill and Farrell to name but seven of them. However, they have been without them all season, and have got used to the situation. There is talk of other injuries recently occurred, particularly involving Visagie, but until there is an official announcement I’ll not take anything for granted.

For me the critical players in their tough pack are Cobus Visagie and Ben Skirving.

If Cobus has a good day at tight head we’ll find life difficult up front. However, Faan Rautenbach is just as capable of creating mayhem as his countryman, as Visagie will doubtless have informed Steve Diamond - and Faan has the estimable Danie Coetzee alongside him which may tip the balance towards the Exiles. It’ll probably be Yates and Byrne completing the Sarries front row, although Cairns or Kyriacou could appear at 2 instead. There doesn’t seem to be an out and out hooking favourite yet at Vicarage Road. I take nothing away from any of them, but for me Coetzee is the business, better than anyone I have seen from the four home countries.

The battle of the front rows will probably decide the match. I’ll even dare to surmise that if it is an even contest, and we play as well as we know we can, Irish will probably win. However, if we get loose, as we did late on against Agen at home, we’ll go home without any cream cakes, and in no fit state mentally or physically to tackle Wasps a couple of days later. Who dreamt up this daft schedule?

In the second row Sarries tend to put out big units who somehow don’t seem to turn games. Raiwalui and Chesney are better than journeymen, however, and our own big men will be only too well aware that they have been in a game.

In number 8 Ben Skirving, Sarries appear to have the form player of the GP season, if we are to believe all the match reports, not to mention the paens of praise heaped on his 22-year old head by Stuart Barnes over the weekend. Doubtless Hugh Vyvyan will be plying his trade alongside him. It is not long ago, when he was at Newcastle, that Hugh would have been the focus of some of this preview, so I do not dismiss his potential influence. Whether Ben T Russell or David Seymour (complete with ponytail) complete the back row they’ll be a nuisance as usual. Oh and what about Taine Randell? If he turns up he’ll be a nuisance too. In fact, our back row boys cannot afford to think of this game as a holiday, even if Kieron Dawson does like to attempt drop goals at Vicarage Road.

Behind them both Dickens and Bracken offer class at 9, and Glen Jackson will doubtless be pulling the strings at 10. Sniff if you will, but he wins more games than most, more than more famous opponents.

Outside Glenda, Thomas Castagnaide is in his best form for many years, a constant and highly creative threat. I don’t see his co-centre alternates Bartholomeuz or Johnston as weak, quite the contrary. However, if Mr Diamond really loves me he’ll insert Nicky Little into the centre dead opposite Paul Franze or Dominic Feau’nati. That’d make my Christmas! On the flanks Haughton and Vaikona are fliers of the highest quality.

I’d expect Dan Scarborough to play full back, but given the heavy Christmas schedule I would not be entirely surprised to see a young up-and-comer like Ben J Russell coming into the backline somewhere, in which case watch out. The guy is pure class, and had a starring role in their ‘A’ team’s visit to Sunbury in early September.

Steve Diamond is as cunning as a pocket-load of ferrets, so I expect that Brian & Co and Steve & Co will be wasting several hours this week trying to work out their best way of upsetting the applecart.

Ho Ho Ho!

… and for pudding?

This game will be worth watching, that is for sure. As will our games, soon after, against Wasps and Leicester. Most of us reckon we should have beaten Wasps in the Powergen Cup, and we are now stronger than we were. However, so are they!

The players will be well up for the return leg against the Tigers, for we let ourselves down big-time at Welford Road, just as we did at Vicarage Road in October. However, I sense new purpose, confidence and determination in our squad, pride if you like.

While every sensible punter will bet on two home defeats, given the absence through injury of so many of our top names, I note that their successors and replacements have done pretty well in their absence. My heart says we are capable of winning both games, but my head says four points, perhaps five, but not eight. Ask me again on 28th December, when we know more about our injury situation.
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by MH on Mon Dec 19, 2005 7:06 pm

Rob

Another well written and informative article.

Will be a good game to view over the Christmas period.

Many thanks.
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Saracens game

by Essex Celt on Mon Dec 19, 2005 7:31 pm

:mrgreen:

Just hope it's a good one. My first live one this year though seen the lads a couple of times via satellite. Looking forward to the Craic in Watford.

:mrgreen:
Pog ma thoin !
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by eek_the_weeble on Tue Dec 20, 2005 3:27 am

Sarries are playing well too at the moment - I think we should edge it but they am a tricky lot, them camel traders
Make something idiot proof and they'll build a better idiot
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by AlecW on Tue Dec 20, 2005 8:31 am

Rob - having watched the Sarries game on Saturday, I have to say that

1) Visagie was not very impressive, believe it or not - I felt Mr Young often had the better of him in the tight and he seemed constantly to be mouthing at the ref (and got pinged 2-3 times).

2) he went off with an arm / wrist injury - to his left arm, as I remember. This was caused by his hand & wrist getting trapped between 2 players in a ruck as Raiwalui steamed in to clear the ruck. Visagie was thus driven in the opposite direction. He went down immediately in a LOT of pain, was given lengthy treatment & strapped up. He played on for maybe 2 minutes before having to go off. I must admit my immediate reaction was that he'd broked wrist or forearm, or possibly done that awful-sounding injury Hats had a couple of years ago - separating the bicep from the bone.

In any case, I know they make these Bokke tough and Visagie has another week, but looking at the pain he was in and what appeared to be the injury, I'd say he might be VERY doubtful.


Stop press: from the Sarries messageboard - apparently he said afterwards that he had strained elbow ligaments - whatever that means!
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by OxonRob on Tue Dec 20, 2005 9:59 am

Thanks for that, Alec. I was aware of the comments about the injury on the Sarries MBs, but we all know you can't rely on rumour.

As for Visagie's play, you do surprise me. He sure as hell played better than that against Beefy in October! That having been said, Yates is no push-over on the other side, either. One of the most under-rated scrummagers around, a bit like Dave Barnes.

I still say that the front rows will decide this game, however!
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by AlecW on Tue Dec 20, 2005 10:17 am

Well, maybe he had an off day.

He was pinged twice to my certain memory - one of them for dragging the scrum down, when under pressure from the oppo loosehead! I was very surprised myself, having looked forward to seeing him in action. I am NOT a propping expert in any way, shape or form, but I thought he was poor / made little impact and I seem to recall the commentators saying at one point that he was in unexpected bother!

BTW Yates has been cited for "striking an opponent" in that game. If banned, would that only affect the HC, or would it include ZP games as well?
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by Huck the hooker on Wed Dec 21, 2005 9:19 pm

Fantastic preview OR. Will Faan and Danie play? If so I would go along with you and say we can win this. Big forward battle, which we should edge. With our backs we will command the cruise. I await with anticipation to see the team selection, :wink:
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by Hillbilly on Tue Dec 27, 2005 6:15 pm

Not only an excellent article Rob but very perspicacious as it turned out.
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