So, what was good about yesterday?
London Irish - 14 - Sale Sharks - 31
Sunday, 15 October 2006
Competition - GP Round 5
Referee - Mr W Barnes
photo by cormac
So, what was good about yesterday?
Lots of things, including -
● The programme report on the progress of our fellow supporter, Nick Chaitow, following the incident prior to the London Wasps game last Sunday. Wishing you a full and speedy recovery Nick from all rugby supporters everywhere, and well done young Max - we heard you proved to be a real hero.
● Watching Little Jack’s Daddy and his Girls on the big screen with the drummers.
● A superb English Autumn day. They don’t come much better. Ideal rugby playing conditions.
● Meeting our fellow supporters (including Auntie Angle Shark) and exchanging banter.
● A more relaxed approach by the stewards (well done the Supporters’ Club Committee).
Then ….. there was the match.
Round 5 of the GP; a critical match for London Irish. Supporters’ views veered between a win for Irish to Irish taking a losing bonus point. A big ask (as they say) considering the squad’s recent form and spate of associated injuries.
During the warm-up I watched both teams. Each looked well drilled and confident of their respective abilities.
Neal Hatley led out Irish to a resounding welcome from the 9000+ supporters, wearing shirt number 175 to mark his record-breaking number of appearances in the premiership.
Barry Everitt’s kick-off saw an energetic and committed follow-up by the LI pack, so effective was it that it took several regroupings of the Sale pack to stem the move. Maybe - just maybe - the London Irish pack can impose itself on their opposite numbers.
Within two minutes of the start, the Sale hooker (Sebastien Bruno) needed treatment for what appeared to be an eye injury. This was quickly followed by Richard Skuse and Juan M. F. Lobbe exchanging pleasantries.
Irish maintained the early pressure with a superb interchange involving Riki Flutey and Topsy Ojo that had the Sale defence rocking – Topsy demonstrated wonderful skill and presence of mind to keep the ball live along the touch line. Sale were forced to kick for touch.
From the resulting lineout James Hudson took the ball cleanly, creating another platform for an attack initiated by the ever-skilful Riki Flutey, ably assisted by Seilala Mapusua and Sailosi Tagicakibau, which had the visiting defence scattering in all directions. However, the RFU-appointed referee called play back indicating an LI knock-on in the first of what became a series of mysterious decisions that certainly baffled the East Stand Supporters.
Throughout the match Seilala Mapusua provided us with demonstrations of his (rightly) much vaunted talent. Once he settles in we could be privileged to watch a special rugby player.
Sale weathered this initial Irish pressure. They regrouped, then began to demonstrate skills with ball in hand akin to those of London Irish towards the latter stages of last season. Charlie Hodgson and Jason White led the Sale resurgence, entering the Irish 22 for the first (but not the last) time. At this stage the team showed good composure, meeting their opponents head-on. However, the strength, skill and guile of Andrew Sheridan, Sebastien Bruno and Stuart Turner started to tell. We were now defending desperately five metres out from our own line. Seven minutes into the match and Danie Coetzee had an early break (for the 4th time in four matches), leaving the team down to fourteen men. Irish had to regroup, with Olivier Magne leaving the field for David Paice to take the hooker position in place of Coetzee.
Charlie Hodgson converted the resulting penalty with consummate ease.
London Irish 0 - Sale Sharks 3
On fourteen minutes Nick Kennedy and Andrew Sheridan were ‘spoken’ to by the referee (I have no idea what was said! – maybe he was explaining some of his more baffling interpretations of the Laws).
The fourteen London Irish players showed grit, but from the backs Michael Horak showed real fire with his kicking and running.
Jason Robinson then showed why he may be interested in turning out for England again and why England should be interested in him. He placed an almost perfect kick from the left for Mark Cueto to effortlessly touch down for Sale’s opening try. Charlie Hodgson again converted.
London Irish 0 - Sale Sharks 10
Irish were by now back up to full strength, Danie Coetzee having returned, but the Sale onslaught continued and appeared to gather greater momentum whilst, simultaneously, London Irish resorted to individual effort and enterprise - the team ethos apparently disappearing.
Even at this early stage of the match the entire Sale team were prepared to run at and gain considerable ground at will. Our lads did try and paid the price by taking (and delivering) some huge hits. How much can the human frame take?
Horak came to the rescue with a try-saving tackle on Cueto. Then further problems for London Irish when Mark Taylor broke through the Irish defence following an intercepted pass. Try number two. Converted by Hodgson
London Irish 0 - Sale Sharks 17
Now my neighbours in the East Stand were looking out to each other for crumbs of comfort or solace. There was a growing realisation, if not acceptance, that Sunday, 15th October, would not be the turning point in our season. Unusually there was the occasional expletive (industrial language to you and me) directed at nothing and nobody. Sheer frustration.
Then there was a moment of encouragement when, with ball in hand and through the weaving movement of Sailosi Tagicakibau, a try was scored beneath the posts. It could be done! Barry Everitt converted.
London Irish 7 - Sale Sharks 17.
Then, for the second home game in succession, something unusual happened. The shouts of encouragement from the supporters and the work of our persistent drummers was effectively countered by the cheers of the visiting Sale supporters (could it be to do with the revised seating arrangement in the East Stand?) Thereafter, throughout the game the travelling Sale supporters let their presence be known by several times out-shouting the LI supporters in the East Stand.
Instead of stimulating the team to retaliate again before half time, it looked as though we had had enough. The on-field treatment frequency was increasing. The Irish game plan, whatever it was, became obviously disjointed. The simplest of moves were failing. The players’ frustration was showing in their collective body language.
Sale capitalised with winger Oriol Ripol running in a heartbreaking try just before the interval, again converted by Charlie Hodgson.
London Irish 7 - Sale Sharks 24
Came the interval. Some supporters disappeared, not to be seen in their seats again. The Director of Rugby and his team would have to call on all their communication and motivational skills to urge the squad to raise their game.
We live in hope. The flame of eternal belief glows strongly in the hearts of London Irish supporters.
It was no surprise not to see our now-talisman Riki Flutey returning for the second half; Shane Geraghty took his place.
Irish immediately got stuck in. Sale absorbed the disjointed pressure. Then, just as it looked as though the desperate surges by the Irish pack might have yielded some consolation - if not a resurgence - poor handling led to a knock-on, relieving pressure on our opponents and increasing the desperation of our team.
Replacements were by now the order of the day. For Irish, Juan Leguizamon was replaced by Phil Murphy, Nick Kennedy by Aidan McCullen, Danie Coetzee by David Paice, Richard Skuse by Tonga Lea’aetoa, Kieran Roche by Steffon Armitage and Topsy Ojo by Dominic Shabbo (who showed genuine class with ball in hand and good running lines).
For Sale: Dean Schofield by the diminutive Sebastien Chabal, Mark Taylor by Chris Mayor, Elvis Seveali’I by Lee Thomas, Richard Wrigglesworth by Sililo Martens, Sebastien Bruno by Neil Briggs, Stewart Turner by Barrie Stewart and Juan M. F. Lobbe by Chris Day
On the hour mark, Sharks’ flying Spanish winger Ripol ran in another try, effortlessly converted by one Charles Hodgson.
London Irish 7 - Sale Sharks 31
Game, set and match.
Sale were reduced to fourteen when Sebastien Chabal was binned.
photo by cormac
Credit to the squad. They still fought with great individual enthusiasm, effort and skill and were rewarded with a consolation try by Steffon Armitage in the closing moments. This was converted by Barry Everett.
Final Score: London Irish 14 - Sale Sharks 31.
On the day we were second best to a Championship side.
What I saw was a comprehensive, ruthless and cohesive team performance by our opponents and a series of individual endeavours by London Irish - and, of those individual efforts, Michael Horak was the most prominent. Inevitably the cohesive unit will always emerge victorious over the individual effort, and so it was to be. Sale Sharks declared in no uncertain terms ‘we are the champions’. By half time the match was over. Whatever happened in the second half was academic – it was a matter of saving face for London Irish.
This was an attritional but not dirty match. The physios were on constant call, and the replacements (each side using their full quota) were not merely tactical but essential. The depleted London Irish probably suffered more. Both clubs will, in all probability, have a price to pay when they embark on their respective Heineken Cup journeys next Friday night – against rested opposition in both cases.
● Appoint an on-field leader, an individual who will cajole, prompt, drive, co-ordinate and encourage from start to finish;
● Appoint somebody to assist the referee in his decision making a la Johnson/Dallaglio;
● Keep fifteen players on the field for the entire match;
● Play to OUR – not our opponents’ - strengths at all times;
● Keep heads up at all times – don’t waste time, energy or emotion by gesticulating at the referee, no matter how daft the decision.
Oh yes. There was a referee. Mr Barnes. Several of his decisions and interpretations of the Laws were, to say the least questionable, from my vantage point - and certainly the reaction of the supporters (biased though we might be) give credence to this opinion. This man was clearly unsure of himself. The giveaway signs? Embarrassed grin; eyes looking up to the sky for guidance; being in the wrong place at the wrong time; intercepting passes (OK, it was only one that I saw).
Gloucester look good, but this Sale Sharks team, if they maintain the standards displayed yesterday, will take some beating in the GP Championship proper.
What’s in the pipeline?
Our next GP matches:
· Bath (A) – a team looking to redeem their reputation
· Gloucester (H) – currently the form team of the division
· Leicester (A) – never a happy hunting ground for us
· Northampton (H) – can we repeat last season’s performance at the Madstad?
· Worcester (A) – can we end the year with a victory?
Looking at that fixture list, coupled with Heineken and EDF Cup games, I can’t help but feel that one door never closes but another one bangs right in your face.
Last night’s Premiership table did not have a pleasant look to it from my perspective. Mr Smith et al will have some hard decisions to take in the coming weeks - e.g. deciding on priorities. I fully appreciate we are only in round five of a twenty-two week programme, but (to use a construction analogy) the foundations are suspect and will have to be subject to further investigation and perhaps remediation.
15 - FB - Michael Horak, 14 - RW - Topsy Ojo, 13 - OC - Seilala Mapusua, 12 - IC - Riki Flutey, 11 - LW - Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 – FH - Barry Everitt, 9 - SH - Richie Rees, 8 – No.8 - Juan Leguizamon, 7 - OF - Olivier Magne, 6 - BF - Kieran Roche, 5 - Lock - James Hudson, 4 - Lock - Nick Kennedy, 3 - TH - Richard Skuse, 2 - H - Danie Coetzee, 1 - LH - Neal Hatley
Replacements: 16 - Tonga Lea’aetoa, 17 - David Paice, 18 - Phil Murphy, 19 - Aidan McCullen, 20 - Steffon Armitage , 21 - Dominic Shabbo, 22 - Shane Geraghty
15 - FB - Jason Robinson, 14 - RW - Mark Cueto, 13 - OC - Mark Taylor, 12 - IC - Elvis Seveali’I, 11 - LW - Oriol Ripol, 10 – FH -Charlie Hodgson, 9 - SH - Richard Wrigglesworth, 8 – No.8 - Juan M. F. Lobbe, 7 - OF - Magnus Lund, 6 - BF - Jason White, 5 - Lock - Dean Schofield, 4 - Lock - Chris Jones, 3 - TH - Stuart Turner, 2 - H -Sebastien Bruno, 1 - LH - Andrew Sheridan
Replacements: 16 - Neil Briggs, 17 - Barry Stewart, 18 - Sebastien Chabal, 19 - Chris Day, 20 - Sililo Martens, 21 - Lee Thomas, 22 - Chris Mayor
May good luck be your friend in whatever you do.
And may trouble be always a stranger to you.