Bristol v London Irish Preview 12th March 2006 – KO 1:00 PM…!
This weekend we are in the middle of our one month period without a Home game and visit Bristol for our antepenultimate GP away game of the season, immediately after a Six Nations break. Many LI supporters will remember that terrible day in May 2004 when LI survived at the expense of Bristol’s relegation and so it is great to see them back in the Premiership, albeit close to the relegation zone again.
Irish of course are riding high at fourth in the Premiership and with only a few games to go, must seek an emphatic win to maintain pressure on Gloucester in third place and to fend off Leicester, who are only two points behind. And here is the rub. Similarly, Bristol have only a few games left and will be targeting their home games in particular as “must win” fixtures. As has been said many times, this year (perhaps with the exception of Wasps and Sale) any side can beat all the others on any given day, so Irish must NOT be complacent, especially as our last “wobble” was against Newcastle after the FIRST of the 6-Nations breaks…! Given that Leeds in bottom place are improving fast, this could be a very tight game.
And let no-one underestimate Bristol’s playing strength. Though wins have been outweighed by losses this season, they have had some memorable performances, particularly at home, with wins against Sale, Leicester and Newcastle and a draw against Wasps. That is not the record of a poor team! Further to this, our fixture against Bristol at the MadStad was arguably won with the assistance of a memorable piece of football from an offside position by Neal “Gianfranco Zola” Hatley…!
Up front, Bristol’s front row may consist of Regan (who Irish fans will remember for his Dying-Swan-morphs-into-Lazarus-after-the-final-whistle performance for Leeds last year), Darren Crompton and Dave Hilton. On paper a good unit, though not perhaps as effective as Hatley, “Pacey” Paice (assuming Coetzee’s broken finger rules him out) and Rautenbach – but then, we play on grass and other sides’ front rows have a habit of rising well to the challenge! At lock, Messrs Llewellyn and Winters will be nobody’s pushovers, though I would expect Kennedy and Casey to have the upper hand, particularly if Kieran Roche adds another line-out option. It is in the back row that I would expect this game to be won or lost. Even without the evergreen Magne, an Irish back row permed from Roche, Leguizamon, Murphy, Danaher, Gustard and Dawson (returning to his best form, IMHO) looks very, very promising. But then it may be confronted by one drawn from El Abd, Geraint Lewis, Dan Ward-Smith, Matt Salter and Craig Short – pretty useful too! I feel the game will turn on which back row is able to win the battle on the floor and provide fast ball for the backs.
And so we come to what could be a great confrontation! Irish scrum-half Paul Hodgson will be itching to “get at” his former club, particularly as his England chances were talked up by Hinge & Bracket last week. He will be up against Shaun Perry, many people’s idea of the future England scrum half – and none too far in the future either! I’ve not seen Perry play and so I’m sorry to be missing this game. At 10, Jason Strange kicks most opportunities and is not a bad running 10 either – but I would expect Flutey to emerge on top here. In the centres, Catt is a must, if fit: I just hope Andy Robinson doesn’t pick him – a Bath man would NEVER do Bristol a favour – or would he??? At outside centre, will it be Tiesi, who looks to be seriously up for it, Penney, who has let nobody down and has pace, or Franze, who has been looking good for the A team? I’ll leave that one to Brian Smith! On the wing, we MUST play the speedsters Tagicakibau and Ojo, if available and at 15, I would go for Delon Armitage in what his Dad tells us is his favourite position – no disrespect to Mike Horak (who played well against Saints), but Delon has been on fire in recent weeks.
But then you look at the possible Bristol outside backs… Maybe Denny (ex Wasps) and Manu Contepomi at Centre? Pretty damned effective! And Brian “Chiropractor” Lima on the wing? Ouch – watch out Irish! Lee Robinson or Marco Stanojevic on t’other wing? Hmmmm no slouches either. Vaughan Going or Stortoni at 15 are effective too. I would go for Irish to be superior in the backs for the simple reasons of blistering pace and the expertise of Catt as a playmaker. But with the weather forecast pretty dire for the next few days, we may have a heavy pitch and a wet ball to contend with. A lot of variables – and we saw what happened against Falcons in the rain…
I’ll predict an Irish win and a Bristol losing bonus point, because I think Bristol will be all out to try & win this one. Irish look too strong, but it might be close.
Finally, please everyone who is going to the game remember that the kick off time is 13:00, so that those that wish to, can watch the France – England game afterwards.
(apologies for any inaccuracies - written in haste!)