Alas, poor Leeds. I knew them well.
I recall how sad I felt a few years ago, when our victory in the season’s final game condemned Bristol to an immediate future in ND1. Today I feel equally sad, possibly sadder, for Leeds threw everything they had at this match. In the second half especially, they played with fire, commitment, passion and not a little skill. As my neighbour said after the final whistle “Well, if that standard isn’t good enough for the Premiership, the other eleven teams must be something.” Another case of too little, too late from the threatened club?
Admittedly, some of the Leeds passion was misplaced and, shall we say, over-enthusiastic. Hooper deserved his red, and at least one other Tyke could have spent time on the sidelines. But in the circumstances such is surely forgiveable?
The strange coincidence was that, against both Worcester and Leeds, Irish spent the last 20 minutes or so playing 14 men, and in both matches our diminished opponents came close to upsetting the Irish applecart.
The impact of the result aside, this was in fact an occasion to savour on Easter Saturday, a match to attend with the visiting relations. A crowd of 8,320 was scant reward for the brio of our recent play, or our League position, to say nothing of the game’s significance for our visitors. The ‘stay-aways’ missed a real bodice-ripper of a match. Granny would have loved it, even if the family pacifists might not.
An apparently serious first half injury to Nils Mordt’s knee soured some of the victory euphoria, and we must all hope that it proves to be less career-threatening than the reported cartilege damage, with the prospect of immediate surgery and a long lay-off. From a selfish point of view, it leaves us with few enough resources at centre, now that Paul Franze has again ‘crossed the floor of the house’ back to League. Let’s hope that Gonzalo Tiesi recovers quickly from his knock to the head against Bayonne, and just as quickly signs on Brian Smith’s dotted line. I’d hate to lose him now. (NB. We must have a word with Gonzalo’s mate, Juan Manuel.)
If Tiesi remains off games, it is going to be an unending diet of Catt and Geraghty for the rest of the season, it would seem, unless we dip into the cupboard for the neglected Penney and the largely unused Storey. The odds against Catt and Geraghty picking up knocks in the season’s frenetic run-in must be short indeed. I wonder if Brian Smith has a hankering to return to playing? Mike Catt has surely shown that it can be done! Alright, I won’t pursue the idea.
Irish started at a furious pace, as though only 40 minutes remained and they had a 21 point deficit to make up. However, yet again, the Exiles’ finishing left something to be desired, and they made hard work of points-scoring, given the field positions that their hard work consistently produced. Then in the second half, a now desperate Leeds started to do as they would be done by, and nearly, so nearly, got a result, running the ball back at their hosts from everywhere on the park. Their four tries to our three certainly tell a story. In between times, many of us suffered minor coronaries, if only at some ineffectual Irish tackling. It’s not often we can say that. Who said life would be easy, supporting London Irish? Not me!
The Game itself
Leeds kick off towards the north stand, where Topsy Ojo grabs a loose tap-down and starts wriggling and twisting to avoid capture, all to no avail. Shortly afterwards his mate on the other side, Sailosi Tagicakibau, has a belter of a run out of the Irish half, until he is decked in his turn. Paul Hodgson darts away from the post-tackle ruck at high speed, and seems to have put Kieron Roche clear – well, he is in traffic short of the Leeds 22, but his scoring antics at Worcester have given me unrealistic expectations. Rochey passes to the head of Nick Kennedy’s ghost, out on the left wing. Sadly, Nick isn’t around in person to take what would have been a high pass, even for him, and Tagicakibau has no chance of snaffling it.
In the next five minutes, Sailosi, Ojo and Armitage all have a go, aided respectively by Magne, Rautenbach and ambition, and every single one of them coughs possession in the tackle. This is starting to look like a communicable disease. (Hindsight suggests that Leeds were very competent in the tackle area, but none the less!) Shortly afterwards, the Irish Phil Murphy (Tykes have one of their own) makes a trademark run, and passes to Delon, who strikes me as rather hesitant. I do hope that recent games have not dented his greatest assets, confidence and self-belief. It has to be said that all this passes in the blink of an eye, and in between times, the Tykes challenge, tackle and kick with vigour, if no great effect.
Ten minutes into the game, that nice man Mr White offers Riki Flutey the opportunity to kick for goal from dead in front, about four inches out. What a way to make sure his place-kicking is on song!
3-0 after 10 minutes
At the next line-out Marshall tries to make a break and gets buried. I hope it is a sign of things to come. (In a way it was, because he never did manage to get properly away, although he threatened to do so right up until the final whistle. On the plus side he sets up his colleagues so many times, and for that alone he must justify his salary.) However, I digress. From the post-tackle Irish scrum, Hodgson puts in a superb low kick to the Leeds corner. Leeds kick back from the line-out, but only find Ojo deep, who finds Armitage, who finds Tagicakibau, and the ball eventually finds its own way to a centre-field ruck well into the Leeds half, from which it goes to the Irish left where another dreadful, high, forward pass ruins another good attack. Again.
After 13 minutes it’s all been one way Irish traffic, undone more by Irish than by Leeds. Nils Mordt intercepts Marshall’s dangerous-looking pass on the Irish 10m line. Ominously, we kick the recovered ball into the Leeds half, where, equally ominously, Balshawe & Co. are now starting to look interested in taking part as well. The Tykes elect to run the ball back. It comes to nothing but it shows ambition and intent.
I am moved at this point to note that while individuals are shining for the Irish, and making individual runs, they remain individual. That ‘loner’ disease seems to be breaking out again in attack, and is resulting in some pretty desperate passes. The Leeds back row are proving extremely effective in defence, and at the breakdown.
With 18 minutes gone Tagicakibau bursts clear and hurtles out of the Irish half, up the east touchline. We sit back and await the inevitable try. Bell catches him! Big Murph then has a go, and the very active Tagi (I hope his mum doesn’t mind me preferring shorter names) makes another break up the wing, and play moves up into the south-east corner, to the right of the Leeds defence, and thence to the centre, where both Mordt and Rautenbach, among others, have a go at the line. Flutey then kicks a towering effort to the left corner where the awaiting Declan Danaher catches, turns and falls, to score in the simplest and most effective of ways. Good man. No frills. Flutey converts from the east touchline. (See what I meant about that kick from in front of the posts?)
10-0 after 21 minutes
Leeds kick off deep. Catt passes flat to Flutey, who doesn’t actually have a lot of time to get his kick away. This must be the reason it falls short of touch, where some slick Leeds passing, and brisk running involving Balshawe, ends up with Marshall scoring in the corner. What a riposte! What a warning. Sic transit gloria. Roland de Marigny converts.
10-5 after 23 minutes
Casey and Ojo (what a pairing) chase the kick-off and nearly nab it. I get a clear view of exactly how good Leeds are on the deck. They dive on this and so many other loose balls throughout the match and secure same, time and time again. We don’t seem to be so good at this part of the game.
A move or so later, Mr White clearly feels that Leeds don’t have to release the ball in the tackle, but the Tykes guy who tries to use their illicit possession (it could not possibly be Marshall, could it?) fumbles and knocks on, and Hodgson is on it like a flash. Away he hurtles, upfield. He gets caught but has set up the play nicely for his colleague Mr Mordt, who is happy to sidestep and dot down. Flutey fails to convert, as though to teach us not to expect so much of him in future.
15-5 after 26 minutes
Catt returns the kick off straight to the crewcut Balshawe who sets off looking fast, hard and determined. He is stopped by Danaher, a brick wall, but this does not stop him from ushering an Irish kick ahead into touch in the Leeds east corner a few minutes later. Nothing comes of this latest Irish aggression, and another turnover later de Marigny kicks deep to Armitage, who runs up and chips ahead over the Leeds 10m line, and is shouldered off his running line by Chris Jones, the Leeds centre. I rather approve.
31 minutes in, Nils Mordt goes down in broken play, which continues as he lies on the deck. I am impressed by Mr White’s swift reactions, for he immediately and urgently waves on the medics while encouraging play to continue. When what has become a somewhat scrappy game resumes, young Mordt has been replaced by the teenage Shane Geraghty.
From this point on, tempers on both sides quickly start to fray somewhat. Frustration? But with what? It could not possibly be that they cannot entirely follow what Mr White wants of them, could it? One or two comparisons of handbags are made, and Mr White talks to either Magne or Roche. I can’t tell at a distance. Penalty to Leeds, though. We nick the line-out, and some mutual kicking ensues. At the next ruck Magne visibly objects to stamping by Hooper, and both are sent off. As they trudge towards the dugouts Magne can be seen ‘conversing’, and Hooper looks as though he is going to deck Olivier in the most public way. Happily good sense, and the touch judge, prevails.
Leeds run their penalty (for me another curious decision) and look as though they’ll score, until Jordan Crane, their 8, knocks on in front of the posts. In the next Leeds attack, a minute later, Crane intercepts in traffic, and gets the ball to his fliers, who kick the ball dead. Whew!
For Irish, Paice and Skuse replace Russell and Rautenbach at hooker and tight head, while Gordon Ross comes on for Jones in the Leeds centre.
Leeds are now running the ball back at us, and are proving to be a handful. We may get our man in the end but only after others have not done their bit. In fact, our defence is not looking its impregnable self. On mature reflection I wonder whether Leeds were pulling our line out of position with their lateral lines of running.
Leeds move up the centre of the field from a line-out, and following some hard and skilful running involving Ross among others, Chris Bell scores under the Irish posts. De Marigny converts.
15-12 after 4 minutes
Both sides are now trying to run the ball, Leeds perhaps a little more so, and it is not so easy to keep coherent notes and watch at the same time. There is too much going on!
The Tykes’ teenage prodigy, Biggs, is becoming more and more visible on the left wing, opposite Ojo, where he enjoys creating something out of nothing. He nearly breaks clear after a scintillating run, but the dyke holds. Just.
Hooper and Magne return, and Leguizamon takes over from Murphy at 8.
Leeds try to run it from under their own posts and make good headway. Then Tagi so nearly gets away. Finally, Geraghty, Paice and Magne combine for Olivier to score a try. Oh no he didn’t. He lost control of the ball in the act of touching down, so I understand. What a silly boy. Should know better.
Moments later, the Exiles get another penalty under the Leeds posts, and win a little breathing space on the scoreboard. Mr Flutey obliges.
18-12 after 11 minutes
Within the next four minutes the impressive Balshawe has a decent run and chips dead, and then Biggs so nearly gets away again, down that left wing. He looks like greased lightning. Irish work their way back upfield.
A high tackle on Leguizamon is penalised in front of the Leeds posts, but not before a long period of advantage has been played, ending up with Dec Danaher chipping dead when we all hoped he might score. Some of us prayed. Flutey does the business.
21-12 after 19 minutes
Following a chip by Catt which is also too long, Mr White is summoned by the east stand touch judge, following which Hooper gets a second yellow and goes off for an early bath. This is a signal for Leeds to start playing their best rugby of the game. I have to say it: some Irish players looked a little shocked at their temerity. Visions of Irish at Worcester came to my worried mind, as wave after wave of Balshawe, Biggs and Bell ran and ran, and we gave away possession rather more often than was clever.
Finally another Irish attack is ended on the Leeds 22 when Leguizamon coughs up the ball in the tackle. Biggs is on it in a flash and hares away down the left wing, untouched by human hand. Neither Schumaker would have got near him. He finally goes around and dots down. How did the conversion manage to miss?
21-17 after 25 minutes
It is beginning to look like anybody’s game, and I am not taking bets. Happily Armitage latches onto a kindly-bouncing Tagicakibau chip ahead and scores to stretch the lead once more. Mark you he only just managed to touch down before disappearing out of the in-goal area.
28-17 after 29 minutes
Strudwick replaces a shattered Casey at lock, and Dawson comes on for Magne.
Leeds take a quick throw-in in their own half, with at least one Exiles player present. Is this legal? It must be, for play continues with Balshawe wrong-footing his own team, let alone the defence, by running towards his own line and then across the park where he links with Bell and Snyman. Play is called back, but brother that was close.
Irish try to clear their lines, but Armitage rather spoils it by giving a pass at ankle-height to Tagicakibau outside him and in the clear for a run. With three minutes left Kieron Dawson saves the day with Balshawe headed for the line, and a minute later Flutey latches onto a Leeds overthrow at a line-out in the Irish east corner.
With 30 seconds of the match remaining, Nathan Thomas scores under the Irish posts when no one was looking anywhere but at the clock. It’s enough for a second bonus point, and quite enough for me!
28-24 with 30 seconds left
In the three Bs Leeds have backs to weave spells in any company. I hope to see them back at the Madstad soon.
London Irish: D Armitage, T Ojo, N Mordt (rep: S Geraghty, 31), M Catt (captain), S Tagicakibau, R Flutey, P Hodgson (rep: D Edwards,75), N Hatley, R Russell (rep: D Paice, 40), F Rautenbach (rep: R Shuse, 40), B Casey (rep: R Strudwick, 70), K Roche, D Danaher, O Magne (sin-bin: 36-46)(rep: K Dawson, 66), P Murphy (rep: J Leguizamon, 46).
Leeds Tykes: I Balshaw, A Snyman, C Bell, C Jones (rep: G Ross, 40), T Biggs, R De Marigny, J Marshall, M Shelley, G Bulloch (rep: R Rawlinson, 50)(rep: G Bullock, 72), R Gerber (M Cusack, 28)(rep: R Gerber, 50), C Murphy (rep: K Myall, 55), S Hooper (captain)(sin-bin: 36-46, 62 sent-off), S Morgan, N Thomas, J Crane.
Referee: Mr Chris White (RFU)