Hedgehogs in the headlights
This is not a report in the conventional sense, for I took no notes. Oh yes, I had my notebook and three pens, but it was so cold that all I could do was shiver in the south-east corner, and hope the biting north wind would die. It got stronger, however, and the wind-chill factor was high! How it was for the players I don’t know, but the intense wind-borne cold may well account for the many examples of butter fingers on both sides. The wind certainly accounted for a lot of the kicking. Irish had it over their right shoulders in the first half, and then Worcester had it. Neither side could make much use of it, Flutey kicking out on the full at least once, and Worcester kicking the ball dead from half-way three times.
On arrival I observed Toby Booth testing the wind and the ground and looking disconsolate. He explained how we had already lost Tagicakibau and Catt this morning, with not a shot fired in anger. Catty’s back had seized. I have no idea what the problem was with Sailosi, although one journalist suggests it was a knee niggle. Geraghty would play at 12, and Bishop at 11. That was 2/3 of our bench backs seemingly accounted for, but the forgotten man, Penney, had travelled, so he would bench instead, in a twisted kind of 2 for 1 deal.
This was by no means a pretty match, but it was, physically, among the hardest I have watched in recent years. Neither side shrank back from the big hits required of them. In the stands we did flinch a bit, however. (Have I mentioned the cold wind?) Bodies bestrew the ground somewhat frequently, and Van Niekerk, the Worcester hooker, was carefully removed on a stretcher after half an hour or so. Hopefully, his injury isn’t as serious as feared.
There has been some fashionable chatter on message boards about the perceived incompetence of the Referee, Mr Barnes, and how Irish were culpable of every offence from sodomy to gouging eyes out, bullying the nice Worcester players and even feigning injury. Had Neil Back been playing for us, I dare say no one would have noticed, judging from these outpourings.
It always amuses me when the so-called ‘knowledgeables’ comment on the performance of a referee. Such opinions normally come from the losing side, and are generalised rather than incident-specific. I recall recent seasons when little else but referee-abuse appeared on LI message boards! On this occasion it became apparent that John Brain didn’t comment only because he isn’t allowed to do so.
Director of Rugby, journalist or plain supporter, no one but no one can see everything that goes on from the discomfort of an icy stand, as we discovered to our red-faced cost when Ashley Rowden turned up at a Meet the Ref evening in the autumn. He brought with him a DVD of a match following which many of us had queried his fitness for high office. Considerably more than 90% of our specific criticisms were proved to be without foundation.
Since I do not claim x-ray eyes, and can only presume to have seen half clearly what happened on the patch of ground immediately before me, I shall only say that I saw Mr Barnes make a number of well-balanced decisions in favour of both teams, and only one clear mistake, which was Delport’s first yellow card.
Armitage had kicked ahead, rising off the deck as he did so. In the descending aftermath of his kick, he landed on the motionless Delport who was standing stock-still in front of him. The point is that Delport didn’t move, and therefore committed no offence.
So, sour grapes and incompetent comment on the referee apart, what happened?
Up front there was, frankly, little in it. The line-outs were nicked both ways, but generally went with the throw. The scrums held, although there were times when I wondered how long they would do so, as Skuse on the tight head looked uncomfortable for a while. The back rows played their own game within a game, and well as the Irish trio did, I have to say that Worcester shaded the contest, particularly in the last 20 minutes when Delport was absent, following his second yellow. We really didn’t notice that we had an extra man on the field. Had Worcester prevailed at the last minute no London Irish supporter could really have complained. Three minutes from the end they nearly did pinch the lead, but Drahm’s kick went astray in the wind. Have I mentioned the hurricane from the Arctic yet?
However the Irish defence held solid, even if they were required to do far more than the run of play called for.
Which brings us to the London Irish backline. Boy oh boy, but this must have been a hard lesson to absorb. They made, collectively, just about every wrong decision it was possible to make. The video will be wheeled out in years to come as an example of what not to do when in a tight match in cold winter conditions.
It was evident from the start that we would try to run the ball at Worcester, and with the exception of the odd unprovoked knock-on we did so with some style – at the start Roche’s try was genuine reward for effort and skill, and he out-ran four or five would-be tacklers to touch down in the corner. Flutey came near with the kick but not near enough. Worcester replied with their own try about ten minutes later, but that man Drahm continued his career-long persecution of the Exiles by kicking a fine touchline conversion into and across the wind.
Towards the end of the half, Geraghty galloped up to take a sweet inside pass from Flutey at speed, to score the prettiest of tries under the posts. The conversion won the match for the visitors who never scored again.
It was hardly convincing stuff, at 7-12, but provided our injuries held out we felt we might prevail. And then the second half started. Leguizamon and Rautenbach had come on to bolster the pack. Later, Strudwick (for Leguizamon who seemed dazed) Edwards (for Hodgson) Dawson (for Hatley!) and Paice (for Russell) also came on. However, no matter what they did, and they did much in something of a rough house, the Irish threequarters managed to foul things up with poor decision-making.
It wasn’t just the ignoring of overlaps, but the giving of wild or hospital passes, which all contrived to give hungry opponents possession which was ours by right. Chances to belt the ball up into the Worcester half were ignored, strange when our chasers had looked so effective earlier.
The thing that got to me was the frequent selfish holding onto the ball, when a pass was on, and then the giving of a pass when it wasn’t and it should have been tucked up a jumper. Some of our backs looked dangerously inexperienced and it nearly cost us the game. Headless chickens came to mind, but perhaps Hedgehogs in the headlights is more appropriate.
Not a good day, not a good game, but we snuck it when it could have gone either way. Since we have not often managed to do so in recent years, and we owed Worcester for their victory at the Madstad, I’ll take the win with a stern margin note. MUST DO BETTER.
Last edited by OxonRob
on Mon Apr 10, 2006 10:46 am, edited 2 times in total.