London Irish v Bath

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London Irish v Bath

by AlecW on Thu Nov 03, 2005 10:47 am

Well, after an interlude of European competition, we now revert to the Guinness Premiership with the return of our good friends from the West Country, Bath. They have a new Head Coach on his way, with Brian Ashton returning to the Rec at the end of the year and the ending of the uncertainty as to the future coaching direction of the side mist be a relief. Messrs Brian Smith and Mike Catt will be looking forward to facing their former clubs.

Bath has been something of a bogey team for Irish in recent years, especially with "that" Malone drop goal and Barkley’s numerous penalties. There have also been winning tries scored against us (Elvis is alive and living in Bath) after lengths of stoppage time long enough to baffle even Chris White.

Bath will be missing a number of their starting line up to international duty this weekend. And we are missing Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Olivier Magne to international duty too (well, Charly is injured, but he’d be away with France anyway!). That’s the first time in recent memory that Irish have lost players to the Autumn (or any?!) Internationals. But it leaves our back row a little weakened, especially after “The Geezer’s” eye-catching performances for us so far.

We should underestimate the challenge from Bath (though weakened) at our peril. They have got over a bad start which saw them lose to Bristol, Saints and Leicester, with wins against Gloucester (always satisfying to Bath die-hards) and Newcastle giving them some much-needed momentum. Wins away at Leinster and then against Bourgoin (who are turning up this year, we understand) in the HC have maintained that momentum.

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Bath will be missing (at least) Grewcock, Borthwick, Stevens, Mears and Barkley. Bell is injured, with Malone also a doubt.

Up front, Barnes is no mean prop and though the other front row candidates are less well known, when have you known Bath field a “weak” front row? They will give Hats, Danie Boy and Rautenbach something to think on.

In the second row, I think Irish will have the edge and would back Big Bob and either Nick the Ball (available after a short suspension after doing a tap-dance on a Northampton player) or the rejuvenated Kieran Roche to edge it over Rob Fidler (no seasoned performer who has given us trouble in the past) and possibly Hudson. I’ve not come across Hudson – but he scored against Bourgoin, the Bath boys think a lot of him and I guess those factors make him a threat. I would possibly go for the extra bulk of Roche, with our biggest front row (as above) to counter the mauling tactics of the Bath front five.

In the back-row, we will no-doubt welcome back Zac Fea’unati to Irish after his superb efforts for us in the late '90s. He may end up confronting his cousin playing on the wing for LI. Scaysbrook and Beattie are effective players too, and our back row will have to make their tackles count, or we could spend a lot of time going backwards. Expect the Bath eight to keep it tight and we will have to hope that the front five can hold on, to let our very fast, creative back row get their hands on the ball going forward. I’d go for Dec, Murphy and Dawson.

In the backs, I don’t think we can afford to underestimate a backline containing Bory, Best or Perry, Crockett and Frikkie Welsh…! There is also someone called Salesi Finau who is quite useful, or so I’ve heard. Dom Malone may or not be fit, but we will face a pretty strong unit in the backs anyway.

In the half backs, I would play Hodgson for his sheer cussedness around the forwards – and I don’t think his service suffers much in comparison to Willis. Riki Flutey has been inspirational for us and I think must play. I just hope he has retrieved his kicking boots from wherever he left them on Saturday against Parma! I’d therefore make sure Barry was on the bench and raring to go.

Mike Catt will certainly be up for it against his former club and the quality of his passing in heavy traffic will be required to release our back three. I think that Paul Franze is probably going to give way to Rod Penney for this game. Franze has made a superb start to his Union career, but Penney has done little (if anything) wrong – put this down to my personal choice, if you like.

The back three is tough. I’d be tempted to play Fea’unati in this game for his sheer bulk, particularly as the pitch will probably be wet. But I’ll go for Staniforth and (non-diving, we hope!) Armitage on the wings and Horak at 15 – Horak proved his match fitness and form with an excellent display against Parma.

Bench: Strudwick, Gustard, Flavin, Skuse, Collins, Willis, Everitt. Catt can cover for several positions and I fear attrition in the forwards.

This game is definitely winnable. But we will need to be successful in the following areas:-

- The fatboys will have to win enough decent ball and to compete mightily at the breakdown. They must hold the Bath maul and their pick-and-drive tactics. I think we will have a clear advantage in the lineout and at least parity at scrum time.
- We must play for 90 minutes. No “down” time in the second half – or we will be punished by Bath, where Parma could not punish us. Play to the final whistle, not to 80 or 85 minutes.
- The quality of support play will have to be similar to that against Parma.
- We MUST kick our goals.
- We should try to keep the ball in hand and not force passes where they are not “on”. Fewer knock-ons too.

And finally...

Keep the ball away from that Malone feller with seconds to go...!

If we do all this (IMHO), we can win. But I think we can expect a tight game...
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