One of three approaches is taken in most match previews, whether amateur or professional.
The first is when the reviewer bigs it up, going to great lengths to explain how and why the opposition are rubbish, and how the current form of player X will destroy stains, bacteria and opposition possession. This occasionally involves the use of arcane statistics, and a man by man PR campaign for each player in the reviewer’s own team. The opposition scarcely get a mention.
In the second approach, the reviewer goes all humble, and forecasts the end of the world as we know it, as we face superior opposition, the hem of whose garments we are not worthy to touch. This also involves statistics, often revolving around the number of international caps in the opposition team, but not a lot about the reviewer’s own team.
Both of the above involve one-eyed and slavish ignorance of the fact that it takes two to tango, and, injuries apart, there have been few enough forecast-able results this season. Look at some of the folk beaten by Leeds, and look what good it did them. Look at who has beaten Sale ….. and indeed, Wasps, up at the top of the table.
The third preview technique simply uses statistics of matches won and lost, desperately seeking trends where there are none.
The common theme, of course, is the reliance on statistics, to mask the grim reality that few enough people know sufficient about the form, let alone the idiosyncrasies, of the players in all twelve GP sides.
When I was asked to undertake this preview, I was torn between the second and the third approach, for whatever the colour of the rugby shirts in your cupboard, you have to admit that Wasps at their place has never been a shoe-in away win – for anyone. What is more, I find it hard to recall London Irish ever winning at their Causeway Stadium hideaway. Yes, we have threatened to do so once or twice. Last time it was a manic sprinkler that destroyed our focus, and allowed our hosts back into the match. Well, it destroyed mine!
So… I thought I’d try to combine a bit of all three approaches. Stats first!
Stats aren't everything
Irish have won 19 out of their last 24 fixtures in all competitions. Encouragingly, in the GP since 1st January, the Exiles have won six and lost three. Strangely, our away form is better than our home form, with not a single away loss this year. I read somewhere recently that our away form is the best in the GP by a country mile.
By way of contrast Wasps have won three times in the same period, lost four times and drawn twice. All four losses were away, however. They lost their last two matches, but they were playing Eddie Jones’ rejuvenated Sarries and Leicester, both away. Ominously, Wasps have not lost at home, in Wycombe, this season.
What do stats prove? Not a lot!
Recent History between us
So, how have we fared against our doughty opponents this season? Much like the last few seasons, the pessimist will say. We lost. However, this doesn’t really tell the entire story, does it?
In the Powergen Cup in October Wasps won by four points and on New Year’s Eve by sixteen. Many felt that London Irish could and should have won the Powergen fixture, when we fielded so many of our brave younger men.
Wasps are still a potent force
There have been any number of rumours this year of this that and the other Wasps player about to join another club. Strange how few have come to pass. Agents, bloody agents, that’s what I say.
Are they a happy ship? Probably a lot happier than we are given to think. Their DoR Ian McGeechan is arguably one of the finest man managers and rugby tacticians in the game. I find some of the recent criticisms of Geech on the Wasps message boards laughable, given the man’s pedigree.
I’d not take away defeats by Sarries and Tiggers as evidence of a terminal decline, and I am constantly reminded that a cornered animal is at its most dangerous.
Wasps are strong up front, have a seriously combative back row, and are fleet of foot in the backs. They have very few inexperienced players, so the idea of their losing their heads is not on. If they are down by 20 points with ten minutes to go, they’ll still believe they will win and they’ll be competing right to the final whistle.
So, a bit of respect – as ever.
How do the Exiles stack up?
Turning to London Irish, how would our opposition look at us?
Incredulously is the first word to spring to mind. I mean, we are known to be jolly good sports, to remain silent during place kicks and to party when we lose. And that is just the spectators. So what is all this about Irish threatening to get into the GP playoffs, sitting in fourth place?
The knowledgeable will dismiss the fact that we have nine or so first team squad members out with injury, about half of them until next season. Coetzee’s absence at hooker no doubt impacts on our scrummaging – and he is one hell of a player – but we have been without him for most of the last three months. However, we do look thin at 10, 12 and 13 if we get hit by injuries. The absence of Everitt and Laidlaw leaves us a bit thin at 10, if Flutey gets hurt, but he’s a tough boy, Riki, and young Geraghty did well when he came on against Newcastle, so, hopefully it’s not too much of a problem. With Franze departed, and Mordt out until the New Year, we still have sufficient real talent in the centre to delight the rugby buff, but we don’t have as much in reserve as we did a few months back.
The knowledgeable will also admit that our front five are unlikely to be demolished, either in the set pieces or in the loose. The return to fitness of Nick Kennedy, and the quality of his 20 minute cameo performance at Newcastle suggests that any perm of three in the second row is now possible. Will Brian Smith opt for pure pace and athleticism at lock, and pick the lighter pair, or retain Casey, the ever-dependable, archetypal Big Man? The latter seems more likely.
Assuming returns to fitness, Leguizamon and Murphy will doubtless share duties at 8, but will have their work cut out to keep the Grand Old Man in check. Happily, Mr Spreadbury will probably not need too much of Lawrence’s help! Danaher is playing (and tackling) to England standard at flanker, so who else? Dawson? Magne? It isn’t just Wasps who have selection problems in the back row!
Out in the backs, Irish have just as much pace as Wasps. Hodgson has found his best form ever, and whether facing Reddin or Dawson will not be found lacking. Flutey has rediscovered his running form, too, so that Wasps back row is going to be kept busy when we have the ball. Catty is at his distributive best, and still has a pair of legs on him. Tiesi, Ojo, Tagicakibau and Armitage are the speed equals of anyone in the Wasps line.
Based on who is more likely to keep their heads and play percentages, you’d have to put your money on Wasps for this one. However… man for man there is not as much in it as there was.
London Irish, against Worcester, Leeds and Newcastle, seemed to go to sleep in the last twenty minutes, almost but not quite surrendering substantial leads. In the first two games we won ‘ugly’. However, seven substitutions against Newcastle, not to mention a yellow and a cripple in the last 20 minutes don’t really tell the same story. I felt that our threequarters were getting back towards their best for much of the game. If they want to beat Wasps they’ll need to go a couple of notches higher, though.
I don’t see why they shouldn’t. This game is definitely winnable – by both sides!
Last edited by OxonRob
on Thu Apr 27, 2006 10:38 pm, edited 2 times in total.