Not the Saints Match Report
By AlecW (with no notes from the game!)
Well what an interesting weekend’s rugby! First Tigers lose by 8, then France look less than totally convincing in beating Italy (the score flattered les bleus by 10 points IMHO), but for the wonderful Castaignede. How Sarries supporters must be wishing he played like that more often…! Then England’s limited game-plan was shown up by 22 dervishes in navy blue. Memo to Andy Robinson: size and power do NOT always conquer technique and fighting spirit. For instance, Sheridan may ONE DAY be a world-beating prop – but he isn’t yet.. Then Ireland muller a chaotic Wales in a disappointingly poor match. Six Nations thrown wide open! And Wasps bring on Doolally, Voyce and Lewsey in order to turn the tables on Sale. Who may be without Chabal, their talismanic back row man, for rather a long time - for stamping on Doolally and then allegedly spitting at another Wasps player. Yuck. Allegedly.
All of which brings me to the gap in the sequence, the entr’acte between the international games. London Irish v Northampton yesterday. This is going to be a rather cursory match report, as I have no notes, having not thought I’d be writing this – but poor SwanieBoy was laid low and Robin is away until Wednesday somewhere in the Midlands.
The scoreboard tells that London Irish beat Northampton by two goals, two tries, a penalty goal and a dropped goal to a penalty goal, thus taking a try-scoring bonus point, 30 – 3, our highest winning margin against Saints since that memorable evening in the mud at Franklin’s Gardens in the Cup when Niall Woods scored tries at will and we won 7 – 38, from memory.
Photos by Cormac
On a bitterly cold, windy, yet sunny afternoon, Saints appeared to offer a number of threats. Their front row, including the diminutive, but pugnacious Budgen and wee Tam Smith was never going to be a pushover. Lord and the massive Damien Browne (no relation to Father Ted, Shirley?) are far from the worst second rows in the world and the Saints back row of Tupai, Harding and ANOTHER Browne (celibacy, good Father, celibacy, remember!?) looked decidedly tasty. Add Robinson and Carlos Spencer at half back and Saints might have made it a torrid afternoon, even without Cohen, Thompson, Lamont and the recently bereaved Reihana.
And actually they nearly did. The first quarter was fairly even. Irish went ahead with a well slotted Flutey penalty and Delon made a sharp run down the West touchline, kicked ahead and was clotheslined by either Vilk or Kydd – I didn’t see clearly, but he went un-carded. We were pretty worried, but after lengthy treatment, Delon continued and his try a little later was in many ways a re-run, in that he picked up a loose ball on his wing on the LI 10 metre line, made ground, chipped ahead to the line, was NOT clotheslined and just managed to stick his left hand on the ball for the score before he overran it. 10-0 to Irish with Flutey’s conversion – and to be honest, we were a little flattered by that. Spencer’s probing was always dangerous and there was a right old battle kicking off at the breakdown. Literally in the case of one mass outbreak of fisticuffs midway through the half.
About this time, it was clear that Irish were not going to have it all their own way up-front. The scrummages were hotly contested, (back-row)Browne was a menace at the breakdown and after a Spencer penalty, it was all to play for at 10-3 soon before half time. Then Irish struck again, taking advantage of a Saints mistake. Rudd was making ground close to the Irish line and passed to Robinson, who promptly knocked on. Catt swept up the ball, fed Armitage, who broke from the 22, cut inside, fed Casey near half way (was Bob showing a surprising turn of speed, or just late joining the action and played onside by Delon!?!?) and Casey passed to “Pacey” Paice, who had a gut-bursting 30m to the line. A fantastic counter-attacking try covering virtually the length of the field, again converted by Flutey.
Photos by Cormac
And here we come to what I felt was the key to Irish’s comprehensive win. At 17-3 at half time, Saints might have felt hard done by. They had done their fair share of attacking and Spencer had shown some very creative touches. But. There’s always a but. The Irish defence was strangling the life out of their attacks. Pressure leads to mistakes and Saints made plenty. Pressure from the intensity of the Irish defence led to picked off lines-out, knocks on and poor decision-making – leading in turn to missed Saints opportunities.
Much of the third quarter involved ferocious, multi-phase assaults on the Irish line, mostly through the forwards. Several penalties were kicked to touch and driven. But these were halted by the excellent Irish line-out, by tackling bordering on the suicidal and by Saints mistakes. I can’t say whether Irish were always on-side, in fact I doubt if they were – any more than the Scottish back row were the day before – quite rightly (in both cases), they played to the ref and emerged unscathed. Delon had been subbed by Topsy and the latter was binned for what appeared to be a deliberate “in from the side” offence. It had been noticeable that Saints’ forwards had redoubled their efforts after Hatley was subbed at loosehead by Collins and the Irish set piece seemed to be creaking alarmingly. We just couldn’t get out of our 22.
Luckily Catt’s touchfinders were immense and Paice hit his jumpers unerringly. His throw is a bit of a looped “mortarbomb” in contrast to Coetzee’s flatter “rifle shot”, but it was damned effective. When Irish finally managed to get some ball and to get into the Saints half, Catt dropped a superb goal from the 10m line on the retreat. You could sense then that Northampton knew there was to be no coming back. However, Irish were still under the hammer for long periods and the third try came once again from a counterattack – and it was noticeable that Paice was the man who drew the fullback and sent Tagicakibau over in the corner for try No3, making it 25-3. By now it was clear to most of the ground that Paice was the rightful man of the match, with honourable mentions to Leguizamon, Hodgson, Dawson (his best game for LI for a long while) and Catt.
Photos by Cormac
Saints closest to a score came when a desperate tackle by Tagicakibau caused the Northampton player (Clarke?) to knock on in the act of diving over. Hatley replaced Rautenbach after he had run and tackled himself into the ground, with Collins moving to tight-head to accommodate Beefy on the left. The scrummage steadied immediately – not sure why, except perhaps that Faan is three stones heavier than Collins, which has to unbalance the scrum, surely! We also had our first look at Gonzalo Tiesi, when he came on in the final quarter. Well, he was surely “up for it”. One tackle that just missed would have cut Robinson in two, a la Lewsey on Matt Rogers in Summer 2003. Another that did connect left the entire West stand wincing in sympathy for the unfortunate Northampton player. And it was Tiesi who gained just enough space for Ojo to squeeze over on the right for the final, bonus-point-grabbing score.
It is a joy to watch LI’s back three at the moment. They have pace to burn and Horak lost nothing in comparison with Armitage/Ojo and Tagicakibau. He even passed. Twice, believe it or not. But it is Catt who glues the whole thing together. The vision and timing of his wide passing off either hand are sublime. Do NOT tell Andy Robinson this, but he is exactly the man at 12 to fire England’s rather pedestrian backline. Would that Catt were 3-4 years younger. We must NOT let him leave! Also a word should be said about Tagicakibau. We know that he is blisteringly quick, but it was noticeable that he also tackles his weight.
The day was completed by a joyful rush into the Mezzanine Bar at the hotel, a comfy seat, good company, a very hot beef curry (seem to have the office to myself this morning – can’t think why) and more AG, watching Ireland put Wales out of their collective misery.