London Irish v Leicester Tigers

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London Irish v Leicester Tigers

by OxonRob on Wed Jan 04, 2006 2:07 am

Leprechauns and Tiggers

Once upon a time, long ago, before the arrival of Saint Patrick, let alone the Guinness family, the emerald isle was blessed with a plethora of wild animals, who lived happily side by side with their human cousins.

Neither ate the other, it was understood, and therefore there was no basis for fearing each other, let alone for killing each other. This all changed with the arrival of the Norsemen, who chased the smaller Irishmen into the hills, from which they would descend at night to forage for food, thus starting the legend of the little people. The Norsemen ate all the original animals except for the snakes, but of course Saint Patrick put paid to them, which all goes to explain why Ireland still has Leprechauns, but no snakes - and no tigers.

Many hundreds of years later, through the medium of Rugby Union, Irishmen are again expected to face tigers, at least twice a year, but these days they have two legs. In all other respects, however, their predatory habits are unchanged, and they remain at the head of the rugby food chain.

This lot are beatable

On Sunday, we attempt to emulate just 50% of the achievements of the 2002/2003 season, when we beat Leicester twice. We had to do so then for two reasons; to avoid relegation, and to make up for not beating them in the two dire seasons which followed.

So what chance does a Leprechaun have against a tiger this year?

On paper, the men in green have little chance - but rugby is not played on paper.

Leicester Tigers may have racked up any number of championships, English and European, and they may employ more internationals than turn out in an average England squad, but they have an atrocious away record. They have won one single solitary away game in the premiership in the last 12 months, against the less than mighty Leeds. On the day that we visited Vicarage Road, the mighty Tiggers were in fact going down with all hands to HMS Bristol.

They doubtless had to ask themselves the same questions afterwards that we undoubtedly asked ourselves after our last visit to Welford Road. How badly did they want to win, and how intelligently did they set about achieving their ambition?

So, it can be done. The question is: Can it be done by London Irish on Sunday?

I think it can, but before we go into that, let’s take a look at the personnel involved in our two wins three seasons ago, and in our loss two months back.

Leprechauns have done it before

November 2002 (H) Leicester. Freshwater, West, Garforth, L Deacon, Corry, W Johnson, Kronfeld, Balding, Ellis, Vesty, Booth, Kafer, Smith, Tuilagi, Lloyd were beaten by: Mike Worsley (Neal Hatley, 47 mins), Allen Drotske, Rob Hardwick (Simon Halford, 47 mins), Ryan Strudwick, Nick Kennedy, Paul Gustard, Declan Danaher, Chris Sheasby, Darren Edwards, Barry Everitt, Pieter Rossouw, Brendan Venter, Nick Burrows, Paul Sackey, Michael Horak.

May 2003 (A) Leicester. Freshwater, Chuter, Garforth, M Johnson, L Deacon, Corry, Balding, Skinner, Ellis, McMullen, Murphy, Tuilagi, Lloyd, Holtby, Stimpson were beaten by: Mike Worsley (Neal Hatley, 48 mins), Adrian Flavin, Rob Hardwick (Simon Halford, 13 mins), Ryan Strudwick, Bob Casey, Declan Danaher, Kieron Dawson, Chris Sheasby, Hendrik Martens, Mark Mapletoft, Kevin Barrett, Rob Hoadley, Geoff Appleford, Paul Sackey, Michael Horak.

November 2005. (A) Neal Hatley (Michael Collins, 51 mins), Danie Coetzee (Robbie Russell, 65 mins), Faan Rautenbach (Richard Skuse, 59 mins), Bob Casey (Ryan Strudwick, 65 mins), Nick Kennedy, Kieran Roche, Declan Danaher, Phil Murphy (Juan Leguizamon, 47 mins), Ben Willis (Paul Hodgson, 52 mins), Barry Everitt, Justin Bishop, Mike Catt MBE (Michael Horak, 40 mins), Rodd Penney, Scott Staniforth, Riki Flutey. were slaughtered by the following Leicester team at Welford Road: Moreno, Chuter, Morris, Hamilton, Kay, W Johnson, S Jennings, B Deacon. Healey, Goode, Smith, Cornwell, Hipkiss, Lloyd, Vesty.

Yet, when you look at the London Irish team which went so tamely to the slaughter two months ago, can you put your hand on your heart and say that its members were less able than their predecessors? Can you really look at the November 2005 Leicester team and see that much more class than their predecessors - who lost?

Rugby is one of those sports which involves brain as well as brawn, in which the coaches have to decide on the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents, and select a team to take advantage of the weaknesses and counter-act the strengths. Then they have to ensure that the players have a fair idea of how they are expected to act.

Were it otherwise we would not need coaches.

However, the coaches don’t get to play, normally-speaking, and it is the players who have to walk the talk, who have to deliver the dream. For all the wondrous coaching and man-management skills that we have recently brought to Sunbury, I believe that if our players have a weakness it is in their heads. They have sublime technical skills. We have seen them demonstrated to good purpose too many times this season to doubt it.

The need to erase our soft streak

In all too many games we have seen players lose focus and concentration, and the ability to think ahead. Luckily that mainly happens in patches. We recover, and we fight back. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. On other occasions we seem to think that we are the only team on the park, and, having amassed what looks like a decent lead, we then allow the other guys to get back into the game. Sometimes this costs us the match. Think about our fixtures against Worcester and Saints.

I did not see the Tiggers game in November, but I am persuaded that we lost belief early on, when the rub of the green went against us. What I don’t know, what none of us really know is the extent to which we were suckered. Were we the fall guys for the most monstrous con trick ever (Thank You, Austin Healey) or did we actually manage to defeat ourselves, by fighting back with brawn instead of brain?

It’s all a mind game

I am convinced that whichever team has the strongest minds and the greater rugby cunning on Sunday will win. That means that the most senior players must think throughout, instead of doing a gallant Blackadder charge over the top, in the belief that their colleagues are lemmings. And their colleagues will have to think throughout as well. This mental strength can and will win us the game. We must not be afraid of winning. Or of looking for a bigger win when we are ahead.

Man for man, there is little between the teams in terms of rugby skill.

Since that dark November day three things have happened which will affect the result.

1 Our new people have settled in and gelled as a unit. They are now a team.

2 We now keep going to the bitter end. We beat Cardiff against the bookies’ odds. We beat Agen when all seemed lost.

3 We have learned the winning habit.

On Saturday morning we were ahead of Leicester in the premiership, admittedly not by much, but we were ahead.

The big question is: Do we have sufficient undamaged players to go out there and use their noggins on Sunday? I think we do. Look at those 2002/2003 teams again.
Last edited by OxonRob on Wed Jan 04, 2006 11:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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by Shawshank on Wed Jan 04, 2006 9:47 am

Interesting thoughts Rob, but I would take issue with you saying that our players have "sublime technical skills".

I reckon that this is an area where we are still very much below the top standard - some of the passing again on Sunday was quite lamentable, with the ball being collected by the receiver behind or over the ear.

Alot of our players are also not so good at offloading, and a few of the backs still need lessons in kicking technique.

I think that they have proved they have it in terms of desire, spirit etc., and have shown a collective will-to-win this season.

It's still the technical shortcomings, mainly now in the backs, that are letting us down.
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by OxonRob on Wed Jan 04, 2006 10:18 am

That is precisely what I meant by occasional lack of focus.
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by JamesC on Wed Jan 04, 2006 1:11 pm

Good work, Rob. Am looking forward to it more than I realised.

A real chance to set the record straight in several ways. I think that both Leicester and Wasps and possibly now Sale to some extent have developed a more 'street wise' approach to the game - we have certainly progressed since last year in this area but not completely transformed. An example of the harder edge can be see in JFK who has not lost any skills in the process.
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by dom_pedro on Sun Jan 08, 2006 10:42 pm

unstickied and moved to the reports/previews area.
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