Wasps v LI – I was there!
We said it all last night, as we ecstatically supped quiet pints by the mobile Guinness bar, the best pub in the ground. “Hang onto your ticket stubs, lads, for in years to come more people will claim to have been at this game than the ground can hold.”
In all truth, this game was one to savour, a story to tell our grandchildren on wintry nights, as the fire gutters, the TV beckons, and childish enthusiasm wanes when outdoor activities are mentioned.
I think Shakespeare might have put it thus…
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And May Day’s eve shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For they to-day that scored nine tries
Shall be my brothers; Irishmen or no,
This day shall gentle their condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That saw the Wasps’ flag lowered this hallowed day.
However, in my opinion, Max Boyce said it better ... “I was there.”
Were I a Wasps supporter, I would be proud that my team contributed to a rugby epic whose DVD or video will be dragged out of the cupboard whenever folk speak of great feats of the game. This match will deservedly rank alongside the famous Barbarians-All Blacks game of 1973, perhaps higher, for this was a meeting of two club teams, one full of international stars and the other featuring rather less illustrious names. Less illustrious for now, perhaps.
It seems that many Wasps feel that they forfeited a match they expected to win. Some seek scapegoats. I think they are wrong. It takes two to tango, and had our opponents not tried to match our tempo and our attacking mantra the game would have been the poorer. If ever there was a time when the saying was apposite, this was it.
Rugby was the winner.
Tackles were missed on both sides – or maybe the attackers were simply better than their would-be tacklers? However, it would be wrong to dwell upon mistakes in a celebration such as this. For a change, let’s dwell upon all that was good, in a rich feast that was almost seven-a-side rugby, but which went on for nearly six times as long as a sevens game. I doubt we’ll see its equal again, at this level of rugby.
The pace was furious throughout, and if Wasps started to play risky catch-up rugby in the last twenty minutes, it was not really so very different from the rugby played by both sides in the previous sixty.
As the game drew towards its climax I doubt that there was any London Irish supporter watching who was not recalling our lacklustre last quarter ways in our previous three fixtures, when we had so nearly sacrificed convincing early leads. Anxious eyes kept flicking to the clock, waiting for the inevitable Wasps riposte, the telling blow when they would win by a point with no time left. This was no day for faint hearts on either side.
However, the truth of the matter was that in the closing phases of the game, it was the apparently bigger, reputedly fiercer and more streetwise Wasps who were visibly out on their feet. It was the dancing pixies from Sunbury who remained light on their feet, as they celebrated a glorious evening by not even thinking of sitting on a slim lead or closing the game down. In short, the one side kept attacking because they had no choice if they wanted to steal a win; while the other kept attacking because they knew no other way.
After the ball was over
When that final whistle blew we turned to each other and declared Fitness Coach Dr Peter ‘Evil’ Harding as the true Man of the Match, for I doubt that any other team in the premiership could have kept up with the tempo of the game for the full 80 minutes.
A lady of my acquaintance declared afterwards that she wanted to “marry” every member of the London Irish Rugby Department. I am not sure that making promises in front of an altar was strictly what she had in mind, however!
As the players and backroom staff made their individual forays to their coach, through a knot of Irish supporters, there was such an aura of happiness and pride about them that I almost cry to think of it now.
Club Directors, children, Reading Four wig-wearers and the long-time faithful from Sunbury days all combined to try to give the players and their coaches a sense of our own pride and gratitude. Let’s face it, we have been through some tough times during the last four or five or ten years (apart from our day out at Twickenham) and seldom until this season have we been able to say with honesty “Hell, but we played well.” Last night we did play well - at times as well as rugby can be played.
In an era in which rugby players have become professional athletes, whose bodies are temples requiring daily worship, it is tempting occasionally to wonder whether they can ever share one of the traditional joys of rugby, a beer with their opponents, and a few in the coach on the way home. I am delighted to report that the old ways are still the best ways. On our way home, my companion and I, the only passengers in our Park-and-Ride coach, observed Boothy & Co emerging from a local Wycombe off-licence with encouraging-looking purchases. Toby will doubtless try to convince us that it was all bottled water! Toughies! We know better!
As to the game, what am I to say to readers who were doubtless there, or who watched on TV, and/or have access to DVDs and videos of the game, which they have since watched umpteen times? I am blessed with no such aids to my report, and have to rely on totally inadequate notes, for the benefit of the single reader who didn’t see the action. Why are my normally inadequate notes even more inadequate this week, you may ask? Well, the game went faster than I could write. I was no sooner recording that one team had won the ball and was doing X than the other team turned them over while I wasn’t looking and scored at the other end! Anyway a view from behind the posts isn’t the best vantage point for making reasoned analyses or even getting the names right!
During the warm-up we were glad to see messrs Everitt, Willis and Shabbo taking part, seemingly the better for their lengthy sojourns in the treatment room. On the other hand we were bemused to note that Dom Feau’nati was to play 12 and Mike Catt at 13. We rationalised this as protecting the aged gentleman from a rampaging Wasps back row in the close channel, until we realised that Catty would be marking the massively powerful Erinle. Well, he would be if he stayed at 13, which he only did sporadically. Catty spent some of the game at 10, some at 12 and some at 13. He may also have done time as a water-boy and as announcer. The bugger got everywhere, and richly deserved his MOTM award.
Continually deafened by an inept announcer and by some most un-rugby-like muzac, we thoroughly approved of the Ride of the Valkyries as the entrance music for the players.
As we awaited the opening trill from Mr Spreadbury’s whistle we reflected that it was all of a season and a half ago that Wasps last lost at Wycombe. Despite our new-found belief in our team, and our coruscating away record, Wasps’ recent close losses to Sale and Leicester could not quite assuage our deepest fears that this mountain might be too high for us to climb.
The following may give some idea of the difficulties of being a match reporter! (If you want to read a correct version of the game I suggest you take a look at what Paddy Lennon writes. He told me last night that he thought he had recorded all the facts correctly.)
The Game, at last!
London Irish kick off, away from me and to the right, where Topsy Ojo repeats his feats up at Newcastle and nabs the falling ball. A rolling maul comes centre stage a bit and Olivier Magne and then Bob Casey put Dominic Feau’nati in for the fastest and simplest of tries. Riki Flutey somehow misses the simplest of conversions.
0-5 after 1 minute
Mike Catt receives the kick-off and puts in a long touch-finder which fails to find touch, instead falling into the grateful arms of Tom Voyce on the Wasps 10 metre line. (He, and Stuart Abbott, soon to be a Quin, were to have outstanding games, always full of threat.) Voyce runs very fast, upfield and inwards, scything past sundry Irish players to almost the same point from which Catty had just punted to him. Quick recycling by Wasps puts an unstoppable Erinle into the corner on the Wasps right wing. Van Gisbergen’s kick misses.
5-5 after two minutes
The first line-out goes to the Exiles, who are penalised (Magne for holding on?) and Wasps find touch on the Irish 22. That man Voyce cuts across from his wing, regains the ball on the burst, gets through the first defence and then through the hapless Olivier Magne, who tackles him, but is positioned too close to the line to prevent a try. Van Gisbergen’s conversion goes over this time.
12-5 after six minutes
From the re-start we have possession, but kick it though, where the ball is marked. Juan Manuel Leguizamon receives the Wasps kick from the mark and combines with his threes. Delon Armitage chips through, and we have to wait for the TV match official to confirm that Ojo has managed to touch it down towards the right hand corner. The conversion fails.
12-10 after nine minutes
Catty again fields the kick-off, and demonstrates the power of faith by repeating his long kick to Voyce’s wing. This time it creeps over Tom’s head and into touch. My notes tell me that all hell now breaks loose. Wasps have possession and run through a myriad of phases and into the Irish 22, where Staunton goes this way and that, finally wriggling clear of the crowd. He runs straight through Armitage, who must surely be in his pay, and scores under the posts. My granny could have converted this one. Van Gisbergen does so.
19-10 after 12 minutes
Following a Wasps line-out in their half, we manage to turn over Shaw’s possession in midfield, and some slick passing sees Riki Flutey go over in our left corner. This being Riki’s ‘wrong’ side, Catt takes the conversion.
19-17 after 20 minutes
Wasps attack from the kick off, bringing play down in front of the Irish posts, where they get turned over and Catt chips over the top for a long distance chase, leaving the odd Wasp flapping at the passing, bouncing ball. Leguizamon finally seizes on it and puts it along the line which is up with him. Sailosi Tagicakibau scores in the right corner. No conversion this time.
19-22 after 21 minutes
The shouting at the visiting kicker from the odd lone voice in the Dreams stand is becoming tiresome, and it is not always kids. A bass oggy oggy oggy (such language!) is vehemently shushed.
Play now features a couple of off-ball incidents that might have soured another game. As it is, spectators and players alike seem to shrug their metaphorical shoulders and get on with it. The first was when Simon Shaw blocked Paul Hodgson after the latter had chipped ahead from a line-out. 6’10” against 5’8” was only going to end one way. From the penalty, Flutey finds touch in the corner and London Irish assault the Wasps line in vain. Then Flutey himself chips through and this time he is felled, leading to a break in the action, while the medics bring him back to the present day.
Irish take the penalty as a tap, and go for the line once more. Eventually Casey is driven over for the try. Catt converts.
19-29 after 28 minutes
Wasps quickly get a scrum on the Irish 22 and are trying to run the ball, until we turn them over and do a bit of running ourselves. Topsy chips and fells the touch judge. Everyone seems amused. An Irish knock-on on the stadium’s soccer centre spot gives Wasps a scrum and then a free kick. Again, Irish turn over home possession and finally Tagicakibau gets away up the left wing, where Paul Sackey tackles him. Now, had Sailosi had more space …. ????
Both teams seem to be passing well out of the tackle, but Irish seem to have the upper hand in turnovers! We commence an extensive period of broken play running by both teams which leads to Wasps getting a penalty inside the Irish 22, where David Paice, a visible turnover artist among so many, is rightly yellow-carded for killing the ball. Van Gisbergen gets the goal.
22-29 after 36 minutes
A lot of to-ing and fro-ing ensues as 14 Irish try to stay the vizigoth hordes. Catt kicks dead from his 22, giving a scrum to Wasps and causing Russell to come on for Paice, with Magne making way for a long half time breather. It’s a time of unrelenting pressure on the Irish 22. Catt finds a magnificent touch. Tagicakibau destroys Sackey in a high octane tackle. Irish win a relieving penalty. Irish win a ruck. Catt tries one of him long miss passes to the distant Ojo, but that man Voyce has an easy interception and touches down without a hand laid on him. Van G converts from in front.
As they trudge in for their oranges, it strikes me that both sets of players look as though they have already played 80 minutes.
29-29 at half time
It is only now that I discover that the clock I have been consulting is just that, an ordinary clock. Another time-piece entirely is under the control of the officials. I imagine my first half times are not going to agree with Paddy’s! So what?
Mike Collins has come on for the limping but indefatigable Neal Hatley at loose head, and for Wasps Wood has replaced Ibanez at hooker.
Our hosts start as though they mean business, and engineer a huge overlap on their left. Voyce scores the easiest of run-ins.
34-29 after one minute
Magne and Paice return for Russell. Following a Wasps scrum, we turn over their possession in the loose, and Flutey puts in Catt under the posts.
34-36 after three minutes
We really are getting two matches for the price of one and the detail in my notes reduces commensurately.
Spreaders lectures Dallaglio, or alternatively asks him for a recipe. Either way we are denied the pleasure of the most artful of dodgers being rewarded with a yellow for some of his very clever on-ground antics, noted by most in the stadium, judging by the audible oohs and aahs.
Following a Wasps scrum on the Wasps 10m line, and a turnover either way, Erinle seems to have got away up the left wing, but is brought to ground just in time by a desperate Irish captain. How Catty got there, I doubt even he knows.
Sackey and Lock come off, being replaced by Lewsey and Worsley.
It’s all Wasps. Lewsey nearly gets away. Russell comes back on for Paice, and Bracken comes off with a blood injury, temporarily replaced by Va’a. Are these events connected?
Armitage now returns the favour done in the first half by Voyce, by intercepting a pass from Staunton and haring through for an unopposed try between the sticks. Just as well, for Wasps were looking dangerous. Catt converts. Kennedy replaces Casey.
34-43 after 10 minutes
Play now becomes even more of a blur, abetted by the flask being shared by my new best friend. Dallaglio is both sinned against and sinner. Willis comes on for Hodgson. It starts to dawn on me that if they are bigger, perhaps we are better. We are certainly holding up better than in recent times. We run a Wasps attack into touch in the corner, not once but twice! Whew!
Tiesi replaces Feau’nati, and Murphy comes on for Leguizamon, who has been prepared to die for the cause. We are penalised for a ruck offence, and Van Gisbergen’s penalty ensures that the difference is but a single score.
37-43 after 20 minutes
Real Irish nail-biting can now commence officially. However, we are forcing the play, following up with brio, and trying to keep play in the Wasps half of the field. They still break out from prison on a regular basis, however, and had Reddin not passed direct into touch Lewsey would have been in for a try. Dangerous beasts, these Wasps, when cornered, but that’s not news.
Tiesi is in his turn on the end of a try-scoring pass which he decks, but in all fairness it came to him at 2,000 mph just below his chin and from behind another player.
Staunton kicks long and Tagicakibau seems to try to slap the ball back to Armitage from a mid-air jump. He fails, putting Armitage in all kinds of trouble, and we only just prevent a Wasps try. My, but they won’t lie down, will they? Happily, that wonderful man Spreadbury gives Irish a penalty right on their own try-line, and Mafeking is saved.
With 13 minutes left Skuse retired hurt and Paice returned in the guise of loose head prop, Collins moving across to replace the departing Skuse at tight head. Our young hooker can play a decent game at prop, on the evidence of this game and that against Leeds!
Following a burst from Murphy from an Irish line-out, Flutey chips delicately ahead and he and someone else (inevitably Danaher, I’d guess) nail the receiving Van Gisbergen under his own posts and behind his line. Scrum five to Irish. Flutey goes for the corner, where Magne unluckily knocks on.
Now it’s our turn to press, and it is all Irish. Somehow Wasps resist, but it is no more than we had done, earlier. We are keeping play in the Wasps red zone but not making a lot of it. With one score in it and only six minutes left, there are no nails left to bite, so we all clutch each other. Fraser replaces Abbott, who must be injured, because he has been outstanding all afternoon.
Murphy memorably turns over Dallaglio, putting away Ojo up the right. When he is stopped, Irish get a penalty which Flutey converts to give his team an unassailable two score lead with 3 minutes left. Unassailable? We remember Newcastle last week!
37-46 after 77 minutes
We steal a line-out, Willis breaks and puts Ojo away. Schumaker would not have caught him!
37-51 with a minute left
Shane Geraghty comes on for Catt, and as the Irish spectators count down the last ten seconds of the game, Flutey latches onto a midfield fumble by Wasps and tears away from their 22 line for another try of his own. Geraghty narrowly misses the touchline conversion. Who cares?
37-56 the final score
We broke every record in the book, but I’ll leave others to tell that story.
WASPS: M Van Gisbergen, P Sackey (rep: J Lewsey, 47), A Erinle, S Abbott (rep: F Waters, 74), T Voyce, J Staunton, E Reddan, T Payne, R Ibanez (rep: J Ward, 40), P Bracken (rep: J Va'a, 49-56), S Shaw, R Birkett, D Leo (rep: J Haskell, 63), M Lock (rep: J Worsley, 47), L Dallaglio (captain).
LONDON IRISH: D Armitage, T Ojo, M Catt (captain), D Feau'nati (rep: G Tiesi, 58), S Tagicakibau, R Flutey, P Hodgson (rep: B Willis, 56), N Hatley (rep: M Collins, 41), D Paice (sin-bin 34-44)(rep: R Russell, 48), R Skuse (rep: D Paice, 66), B Casey (rep: N Kennedy, 50), K Roche, D Danaher, O Magne (rep: R Russell, 39-44), J M Leguizamon (rep: P Murphy, 58)
Last edited by OxonRob
on Mon May 01, 2006 6:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.