London Irish v Bath
by Bill Currie
With the Report to do, I considered it prudent to skip my traditional pre-match AGs in The Three Guineas - although I did manage to sink the one that Kit bought for me. A brief chat with MrDean, Ling, Kit, Steve, Troublegb was all I had time for. Besides, the queue at the bar was eight deep by then!
The earlier-than-usual bus it gave us the rare opportunity to have a chinwag with Brendan, Cheffy and Bisach at the LISC merchandise tent. After Bisach had shown me the St Pat’s Day shirt in the programme, I decided that I did need another drink after all!
After a slow one in the Cowshed with one ear on Rip the Calico and both eyes on the footy, it was soon time to negotiate the turnstiles where no except the person in front of me would face the customary “Computer says NO!” I was not to be disappointed, but at least there was no queue, so even those who do not do queues could have just waltzed through. Well, ok, shuffled through then.
As we took our seats, Sonof commented on the amount of sand on the pitch and along half the length of the East Stand touchline. It reminded me of Seaburn beach in Sunderland, and it looked as though our goalpost scrambles, sliding tackles and try-scoring celebration swallow dives during our fortnightly home games were taking their toll.
So, with the children’s Guard of Honour formed, the “Gladiators entered the Arena,” a phrase I borrowed from the darts commentator Sid Waddell as he announced the arrival at the oche of Jocky Wilson and Leighton Rees. Gladiators indeed. As the crowd gave a wonderful reception to Spud leading out the Exiles, I couldn’t help but notice the three lone Bath fans who took their seats immediately behind the drummers, particularly as one bore the surname/nickname “BEAST.” Before very long, each had acquired a drum and was beating with the best of them.
And so it was Mr Wayne Barnes and not Mr Chris White that got the game underway. Perhaps Mr White has now been earmarked to referee in Beefy’s final 90minutes of Premiership Rugby away to Northampton?
The crowd got behind Irish from the outset, and Bath found it almost impossible to get over the half-way line. Shane was once again fearless and tackling above his weight. You sensed that it would not be long before we got points on the board. And indeed it wasn’t long to wait, as Big Bob drove for the line; the ball was slipped to Mike Catt who cleverly looped the ball to Sailosi who went over near the corner. Great try, nice boots!
The flags stayed down for Shane’s conversion attempt, which mystified even the Bath fans seated next to us, but the lack of jeers from the South Stand suggested that the touch judges had called it correctly.
photo by AlecW
Bath were soon under pressure again when Nick the Ball hacked forward and forced them to concede a 5m scrum. There followed two penalties for Irish. From the first the maul was pulled down by either Grewcock or Borthwick. I sought confirmation from Sonof, his eyesight being better than mine, and he was quick to confirm that it had indeed been one of those two. “Thanks Son.” From the second penalty, a great reverse pass from Kieron Roche gave Topsy the opportunity to plonk it down over the line and gave Shane the simplest of conversions in front of the posts.
Right on 22 minutes, it’s a yellow for Nick Abendanon for killing the ball after a great break by the Exiles. Shane opts for touch but from the line-out, Bath concede a penalty for hands in the ruck and Shane decides to take the three points.
The Irish pressure was relentless and although Bath’s Joe Maddock offloaded for Fuimaono-Sapolu to show Sailosi a clean pair of heels, Mr Barnes signalled a forward pass, much to the relief of the Irish fans. Then before half-time, both Sailosi and Topsy missed opportunities to give the Irish the 4 try bonus point that had seemed to be on the cards from the outset. There was still time for Olly Barkley to attempt a long-range penalty after an Irish offence at the scrum just inside half-way, but although he seemed to have height and distance, his kick went just left of the post.
BEAST had now worked his way into the front row (of drummers) and with drum in hand, urged everyone to “Stand up for the Ulstermen.” We all stood up, but only because it was half-time! The BEAST stopped banging, anyway!
There was a bit of a buzz as Caimh’s half time prize draw got underway. During the draw, I couldn’t help thinking what a disappointment it must be if your seat gets chosen then Caimh announces that you can’t have the prize if you’re a miner – or should that be a minor? That’s not the way to attract colliery workers to the LI Experience, surely?
10 minutes later, Beefy is on for Faan and the second half gets underway properly. Nick Abendanon kicks an up-and-under except it turns out to be more of an up-and-up, and Steffon rises like a salmon, although actually I think he may just have stood still, to take a great catch under pressure.
There followed a few minutes of sloppy handling from both sides at which point, Melvyn Tartan Trews tries to get the East Stand singing “The Hokey-Cokey” but gets cut short when the drummers initiate another “IRISH” chant. When will Melvyn realize that England will never adopt that dance as a riposte to the Haka?
On the pitch, 50 minutes have passed and Irish are still camped in the Bath half. Of course, the moment I write that, Barkley hoofs it into touch towards the Irish 22m. I note that Irish have only lost one line-out until now, but then again, we haven’t stolen one either!
photo by AlecW
With 53 minutes gone, Danie is replaced by Robbie, this time for the remainder of the game, and not to have the claret wiped up. Three minutes later, Robbie is pole axed by Steve Borthwick at a ruck and Mr Barnes halts play immediately. Fortunately Robbie recovers after two minutes and is back on his feet shortly after. Mr Barnes feels that Borthwick has done nothing wrong and awards a scrum to Bath. From there, we have a good passage of play across towards the West Stand but yet another knock-on just inside our 22m gives us the advantage. Just then Sonof pointed out that Juan Manuel was ready to come on, and there is a bit of a buzz as more and more fans realize that he is literally chomping at the bit. Juan Manuel on for Spud is followed by James Hudson on for Big Bob, against his former colleagues. Bath have started to get a foothold in the Irish half and on more than one occasion it is left to the cool head of Mike Catt to calm things down.
BEAST has now tried to get the East Stand singing “Oh when the Saints go marching in” but unsurprisingly nobody joins in. Perhaps the drummers on either side of him pointed out that the last time that was played in the East Stand, the home team won 40-5!
Whilst we were following play across field from East to West, a bout of fisticuffs broke out on the Irish 22m and the touch-judge informed Mr Barnes that Juan Manuel was the perpetrator. First touch? Delon appears to have suffered a strain or perhaps cramp and is replaced by Mike on 65 minutes.
From the resulting penalty, Olly Barkley kicks into touch, where Bath win the ball and the forwards drive the tiring Irish defenders over, to give Danny Grewcock the try. Olly Barkley adds the conversion.
For a while it seems as if Bath might just get back into this game but then the pressure was off as Irish were awarded a penalty on our own 22m. Bath brought on James Scaysbrook for Gareth Delve on 70 minutes, although Caimh appeared to have lost his bearings by announcing “Replacement for Sale, coming on ……..” And Caimh’s not even blond!
71 minutes gone and it’s Barry on for Shane. He’s immediately into the tackle, making his presence felt. The Man of the Match award is announced on 75 minutes with no prizes for guessing who, but surely Steffon must have run winner Catty close? With the countdown clock showing 00:00, Irish get a penalty on the Bath 22, and then Mr Barnes immediately pushes Bath back 10m for someone talking out of turn.
Catty appears to shout at Barry “Block Y19 Row Z,” Barry obliges and it’s game over. As I placed my pen and notebook in my jacket, I said to Sonof “Doesn’t ‘The Fields’ sound so much better after a victory?” And for me, Sarries at Vicarage Road was in the dim and distant past.
As we leave the East Stand, BEAST is still enjoying himself, still singing “Stand up for the Ulstermen” and rumour has it that London Irish is now his 2nd favourite GP club!