Jim's finally managed to get through from Bristol.
Just how good is that beer?
Jim Hoare reports from the Mem
It is just after 06.00, Sunday morning 12th March; here I am with a mug of steaming coffee on the go (instant). I think I will put milk in it and call it ‘Latte’ (is it good for me or bad for me – whatever!) and charge myself an extra 75p for the initiative.
Today London Irish visit Bristol to slug it out for positions equally vital to both Clubs in the Guinness Premiership. It is Cheltenham festival week. Friday is St Patrick’s Day. Saturday England will be at home to Ireland to decide the Triple Crown and possibly the Championship. All this and Christmas on the horizon – again! How much can a man take?
That duo, formerly cited as Milligan and Nesbitt and/or Foster and Allen now called Stuie and Dewie arrived at a split decision on Thursday night’s Rugby Club. Too close to call as they say.
As I ponder over the weekend results, the potential for London Irish is mouth-watering. Sale beaten. Wasps beaten. Gloucester beaten. Leicester just about scraping home.
Dare I think about it? London Irish finishing today in the well-deserved 3rd position. Dream on further. Can we secure a win bonus point for the third game on the bounce? That would put us two points clear of Gloucester and provide the team with a platform of well deserved confidence to face Sale on our BIG day.
But, looking at the reality of life, our lads will be facing a resilient, skilful, and determined Bristol side. A team that gave us more than a run for our money at the MadStad earlier this season; a team able to summon the skills of players like Perry, Lima. Strange, et al. Recall how they tactically stifled Wasps a few weeks ago - Messrs Hill and Hull out-manoeuvred and out-thought the combination of Mr McGeechan and Shaun Edwards similarly, and, much to my horror, our home game against Newcastle invades my ramblings. In that one we fell for a sucker punch delivered by Rob Andrew and his fellow travellers.
What game plan will Brian and Toby have in place to counteract our opponents today? I (we) can but wait and see.
Time to put Digger in the back window of the car and head off to downtown Bristol and see what fate, hard training and commitment hands out to our team.
Arrived in Bristol, parked up and headed for the Memorial Ground.
It was bitingly cold. The temperature read-in at 30 but the wind chill factor lowered that considerably. Cold. So cold that in fact as we walked to the ground, the local flasher was describing himself to anyone who would listen.
Much more seriously, a sure-fire day for injuries on the pitch, if player movement was curtailed in any way.
On arrival at the ground we headed for the Clubhouse bar, where we were served with an excellent pint of AG by pleasant staff - at a reasonable price of £2.60 for the record. Take note MadStad franchisees.
We were behind the posts in the Clubhouse Terrace - not the best vantage point to report from, but I was ably assisted by Mackem and his friends.
Bristol elected to play with the wind behind them. The first kick of the game gave a very clear indication how important an influence it would have on the game. Irish giving penalties away was not going to be an option. The same applied for opportunities for drop goals.
Bristol immediately applied pressure inside the Irish 22. The backs held firm, effectively assisted by our pack. Bristol intentions were clear: they were going to attack at every opportunity. Bone crunching hits were the order of the opening fifteen minutes.
Mr Rose also made an impact. He awarded two quick penalties against Irish on 7 and 13 minutes. Allegedly killing the ball. Jason Strange maintained his dead ball kicking standards.
Bristol 6 - Irish 0
Irish started to show they had the measure of Bristol in all areas of the field. For good measure each side exchanged pleasantries, much to the amusement of Mr Rose.
Play focused between the 22s, with both sides trying their best to take advantage of the wind with particularly astute pace kicking by Mike Catt and Riki Flutey. Bristol were not showing the same class, with several attempts going awry. Mistakes, handling errors were to be expected in the conditions and both sides obliged.
Irish built up a head of pressure. Several uninterrupted ball in hand passing moves lodged Irish in the Bristol 22. When the passing phase was quelled, David Paice neatly slipped covers to offload from Juan Leguizamon and touched down. Excellent! Riki Flutey converted, despite some ungallant noises (soccer supporters?). Bristol 6 Irish 7
Having served previous warnings, Mr Rose sin-binned David Paice. Down to 14 men for 10 minutes. In order to keep the scrummages going, Robbie Russell came on for Kieran Roche.
As expected, Bristol sought to take advantage. The usually reliable Strange missed a very kickable drop-goal. In the mean time Shaun Perry, the ever-popular Mr Regan, the robust Nathan Budgett and Marko Stanojevic sought to assert their numerical superiority. On the half hour Mark Regan went over the try line just to the right of the posts following a sustained period of Bristol pressure. Jason Strange easily converted.
David Paice returned with two minutes remaining on the clock for the first half.
Half-time Score – Bristol 13 - London Irish 7
On the resumption Mike Catt rallied the team; their response was brilliant. Great ball in hand, great mauling and determined rucking led to a sweet move by Paul Hodgson for Riki Flutey to go over in the 46th minute and immediately converted.
Bristol 13 - Irish 14
The confidence showed within the Irish players while Bristol looked unsettled. Matt Salter had a god old shout and they responded. The superior skill of Irish playing with the wind soon showed. Bristol tried to disrupt as they had so successfully against Wasps - without the same degree of success.
The unrelenting nature of the game started to take its toll on both sides; players were replaced, mainly through injury but some due to pure exhaustion. Both teams were giving everything at this stage.
Gonzalo Tiesi, showed great class to score a superb try on 68 minutes, again with Riki Flutey converting.
Bristol 13 - Irish 21.
Would we get that bonus try?
Bristol was not beaten yet. They showed grit. They fought with everything they had. Within four minutes replacement Geraint Lewis scored a well-worked try, converted by Strange – again.
Bristol 20 - Irish 21
Could we hold out?
Irish responded with great discipline and tactical superiority. The injuries continued to put the clock on stop. Both sets of supporters were willing their teams on.
Eventually, on 90 minutes, the lads had secured another very well earned 4 points. Third in the table.
What of Bristol?
This club, like Leeds is far too good to be relegated. I don’t wish misfortune on any club, but I hope they both make it and remain in the Premiership .
The officialsMr Rose, whom I have seen referee on a number of occasions, did, in my opinion have an off-day. Anything that was going was going Bristol’s way. This did prompt the handbags on a few occasions.
Man of the Match
Every player (both teams) worked and fought extremely hard, and in those circumstances it is almost unfair to nominate a Man of the Match. I will put forward my nominee, bearing in mind my point of observation but before I do I will comment on some of our team.
The front row - powerful, even when disrupted by the injury to Neal Hatley. Faan Rautenbach consolidates his importance to the side each game. David Paice is arguably the most improved player in the squad; he seems to have thrived under the direction of Toby Booth. Messrs Coetzee Russell will have to work hard - very hard - to shift him from the No 2 position. Michael Collins, who replaced the injured Neal Hatley, dovetailed perfectly at loosehead.
From 4 through to 8 performed brilliantly. Unfortunately Nick Kennedy did suffer an injury, but again the work on the training ground showed through. Any re-organisation was coped with admirably. Nick was excellent, but so too were Bob Casey and Kieran Roche. Kieran Dawson again belied the years and Juan Leguizamon (until injured) was inspirational, doing everything a No 8 should do.
Paul Hodgson at No 9 played like a man possessed. From my viewing area, particularly in the second half, the fire in his eyes could be seen. How unlucky he was to be held up, after a jinking run (a la Topsy), half a metre from the try line and directly under the posts. Riki Flutey at fly half was again brilliant. His place kicking and running lines were exemplary and he combines particularly well with Mike Catt
On the left Sailosi Tagicakibau, had a steady game with some useful running. He caused his Bristol opposites several problems. On the right wing Delon Armitage played one of the most mature games I have seen him play; he still managed to execute the telling moves without ‘showboating’, and also switched wings with effect.
Partnering Mike Catt was our new signing (and note the name) Gonzalo Tiesi. His skills and speed were evident. He grew in confidence as the game wore on and his try was so well worked. It would also appear he is a hit with his team mates, judging by their collective response to his try. It was almost like watching soccer players (but without the extreme tactility or petulant antics).
Then Mike Catt. How can this man possibly even consider retiring? He was leader extraordinaire. Skill, tactics, innovation and man-management, he has it all. When the lads looked flat out, he rallied them. When a move did not come off, he encouraged them. When the referee’s decisions were less than kind to us – he reassured them. He really deserved to ground that ball. It was a strong and determined move.
He is my man of the match.
All the replacements were called on except Rodd Penney and Ben Willis; each worked tirelessly. Richard Thorpe, who replaced the injured Juan Leguizamon, showed again what a potentially great player he is. Declan Danaher gelled in perfectly and was really in a position to finish off a try scoring move, but at the last moment he partly faltered and was partly stopped by desperate Bristol defending. Justin Bishop, who replaced Delon Armitage (injured), settled in well and Robbie Russell also acquitted himself well when he replaced David Paice.
MWM and the Drummers
11 out of 10 (again).
Well, the lads did make third place and were within an ace of the bonus try point. I hope it’s not too presumptuous to say we are very proud of them and our Club.
They have a number of very testing and demanding games between now and the season’s end. Where will we finish? I don’t know. But what I do know is, thus far it has been a very rewarding season and, wherever we finish, it will have been a great season.
Scoring Sequence (countdown clock times)
Jason Strange (B) – Pen. 7 mins
Jason Strange (B) – Pen. 13 mins
David Paice (LI) – Try 23 mins
Riki Flutey (LI) – Con 23 mins
Mark Regan (B) – Try 30 mins
Jason Strange (B) – Con. 30 mins
Riki Flutey (LI) - Try 46 mins
Riki Flutey (LI) – Con 46 mins;
Gonzalo Tiesi (LI) – Try 68 Mins
Riki Flutey (LI) – Con 68 Mins
Geraint Lewis (B) – Try 74 Mins
Jason Strange (B) – Con. 74 mins
Total Time Played – 90 minutes