Sunbury Centre Match Report – London Irish v Sale
Madejski Stadium 25th March 2006
What had started as a beautiful warm spring morning had become cloudy and threatening by lunchtime – a mirror of the match itself, as a game that started very, very promisingly for Irish became a defeat without a bonus point. There were plenty of Irish shirts at Paddington as early as 10:15 and the Three Guineas was already pretty busy when I arrived at 11:15. By 12:15, with the drizzle starting and fewer people outside, it was heaving. Compliments to Graham and his staff for a really well kept and presented pint of AG.
The Guinness Village was not very full, as the weather was by now drizzly and (inevitably) breezy. Eek and BrianC were collecting for charity in very fetching pink outfits and the LISC stall varied from “busy” to “mobbed”.
I ventured into the hotel, which was full of that buzz of excitement that comes with the meeting of old friends after a few weeks and with a top match in prospect. Summoned to the LISC stall to help out while one of our number forced down his prawn sandwiches, I spent the next hour on the stall and witnessed the band (Sweet Home Chicago) belt out some pretty tight blues and soul standards (a la The Commitments), rather severely handicapped by a not very good PA and a “singer” who sounded like Iain Paisley on acid and systematically butchered several classics! Andrew Strong he ain’t!
To the stadium for the game and the confirmation that Rautenbach had done his hamstring (usually 3-4 weeks, I guess), Ross Laidlaw had needed a shoulder operation after one of the England fat-boys had rearranged it in training during the 6N, but the good news that Phil Murphy should be back soon. We had a shouted conversation with Barry Everitt and he seemed to indicate that he’d be back in 3 weeks. How we could have done with his kicking, allied to Flutey’s creativity…! (Yes, I know you can’t have 16 players!). One final surprise was the appearance of the young Tom Warren on the bench – apparently Michael Collins tweaked something in the warm-up.
The game seemed to take time to get settled, as both sides sized each other up. The first score was from a penalty to Sale for Hatley closing the gap at a line-out (clearly seen on the highlights - he turned his back to the touchline and barged the Sale man), then Flutey missed a penalty for Irish. Jason Robinson was injured in a mid-air collision with Tagicakibau on 12 minutes and I suspect he would see this as the reason why Sale conceded a try soon afterward – we’ll let him away with that, to spare his blushes! Magnus Lund, Sale’s hugely promising 7 drove the ball forward on the Irish 10 metre line, but met a No7 with just a little bit more nous and experience, in Olivier Magne, albeit playing at 8 due to LI’s injury crisis in the back 5 of the scrum. I thought it was Magne, but from the highlights, it could've been Danaher or Hatley too! Magne stripped him of the ball like spitting out a cherry stone and the ball bobbled left, to be picked up by Sailosi Tagicakibau. Who switched on the afterburners, left the cover for dead down the West touchline, left Robinson clutching air and scored half way between the posts and touch. The man is QUICK… Flutey missed the goal. Soon afterwards, Robinson limped off with what looked to be a damaged hip and was replaced by a Mr Mayor.
Irish soon went behind again to a Hodgson penalty after Catt entered a ruck from the side to grab the ball. 5-6. Irish’s second try came from a Roche line-out take in the NW corner and subsequent drive. The ball was spun right, recycled by Catt and a jinking run by Flutey took the ball to 5m out just to the right of the posts. At one point I thought he was going to repeat his sensational score against Bath, but he was hauled down and the ball recycled via Roche, whereupon Flutey twisted over, placing the ball squarely on Sale scrum-half Wigglesworth’s foot, unnoticed by the ref or touchjudge. Another Flutey conversion miss made the score 10-6, which became 10-9 soon after when Irish were penalised for hands in the ruck after a lineout.
However Irish ran in their third try virtually from the kick-off after a Sale knock on and subsequent London Irish drive. Irish attacked right from the 10m line and Flutey drew Titterell, offloaded beautifully in the tackle to Horak, who again drew his man and passed to Delon on the right wing. Barnes says Delon had overrun Horak, but whatever he took the ball from behind him beautifully in his left hand, chipped ahead, sped between Wigglesworth and Major, gathered in his dive and shot over. His speed and acceleration were superb. Another Flutey miss on the goal made the score 15-9 – which could have been 24-9 – before Sale exerted considerable pressure on an LI scrum on our 22, our front row (Paice & Skuse?) came up and Hodgson slotted the penalty goal. 15-12 at half time.
At half time, there was cause for optimism in that our attacking play and backs were looking hot and a try bonus point seemed imminent. The line-out, Roche being particularly prominent, looked good. On the pessimism side there was the point that the Sale forwards (a huge Australian front-row called Coutts to the fore) were exerting considerable pressure in the tight phases and we were beginning to go backwards. On the hilarity side was the rumour picked up by our Dorchester-on-Thames correspondent that a certain Mr Umaga was a possible new signing for us! I’ll believe it when the ink is dry – but you read it here first!
Alas, the pessimism side won in the second half. Titterell was driven over after a Schofield line-out win in the NE corner after Coutts had nearly made it to the line, making the score 15-19. Mark Cueto suffered what may be a serious ankle injury when he tripped over one of those Toblerone-shaped sponge Guinness adverts when fielding a massive touch-finder from Catt. Catt took over kicking duties and managed to kick Irish 21-19 ahead with two penalties mid-way through the half, the first after Titterell had popped out of a scrum, the second after Hanley fielded a kick ahead, but held on in the tackle. Despite the cause of the first penalty, it was becoming evident that Sale’s front 5, with plenty of replacement beef, was getting the better of the Irish unit and it was becoming hard to secure & retain good ball.
Then Irish were hit by a double whammy that put them out of the game. First, after a Casey line-out take and an Irish drive, the ball went loose, Jason White kicked ahead and Charlie Hodgson (who might have been a few feet ahead of the kicker!) was in a foot race with Catt, which he won - just. Sale recycled the ball in our 22 and was spun left via Bruno to Hanley, who sped over in the NW corner. 21-24. Then, with seconds remaining another Sale attack 30m out was spun left by Martens and Hanley beat Paul Hodgson’s despairing tackle into the corner. 21-29. Irish had a final penalty with virtually the last play that was on the edge of Catt’s range, so he kicked to East touch, hoping for a try to get two bonus points – for tries and losing by < 7. It was not to be, and Hodgson blasted the ball into the East Stand for the final whistle.
A great, great pity. We could and perhaps should have won this game. But missing forwards of the calibre of Collins, Coetzee, Rautenbach, Kennedy, Gustard, Leguizamon & Murphy would handicap most sides! In the end, missed kicks and the lack of fresh beef available cost us dear. And Hodgson put in a superb performance, kicked his goals and began to run the game in the second half. Sale were not pretty, but they dogged out a win. Ironically Irish WERE the “prettier” side, in terms of their play, but came up just short. But Sale will know they were in a game. Their dressing room must look like a casualty station at the Somme after Robinson (hip), Cueto (ankle), Major (broken hand) and Wigglesworth (blattered into next week by a Tiesi tackle) reported unfit. We all hope they are fit for Biarritz next Sunday.
The constant rain and the drizzle made the Car Park Party a less attractive option than the hotel, where warmth, banter and Guinness were had before I staggered home!
A quick word of thanks to Jim Neilly for his perfect pronunciation of Tagicakibau (several times, all without a pause!) on BBC2’s Rugby Special on Sunday, to Stephen Jones for saying something sensible at last and to John Inverdale (NOT…!) for managing to allow the tail to wag the donkey. The entire presentation was hijacked by a rumour that that been emphatically denied, rather than attention to the reason why 19,884 were there: a bloody fine rugby match and a damned good advert for London Irish & GP rugby. The whinger from Esher strikes again…
Last edited by AlecW
on Wed Mar 29, 2006 8:00 am, edited 1 time in total.