Bath 28-33 London Irish (18th February 2006)

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Bath 28-33 London Irish (18th February 2006)

by OxonRob on Sun Feb 19, 2006 12:49 pm

Grand Larceny! London Irish win by 5!
by OxonRob

It has never been done before! Never before have London Irish beaten Bath home and away in the same season in the Premiership. Well, today put paid to that!

The result reflected three glorious first half break-outs from broken play by London Irish that were, quite frankly, against the run of play. That being said, the Bath defence had gone missing big time on all three occasions, either asleep (the first try) or out of position in attacking mode. However, if the result was indeed Grand Larceny, surely no one could really begrudge our revenge for robbery by Elvis on this same pitch.

The final score also reflected a hugely committed Irish defensive effort, numerous Bath back line knock-ons throughout the game and the fact that if Irish could not always create flowing passing movements, they were content to stuff it up their jumpers and go for the next phase. Significantly, they seldom hoofed the ball aimlessly down the throats of the Bath back three.

Man of the Match

If there were a Man of the Match award for away games I’d give it to everyone who played at the Recreation Ground in the Irish colours. They all deserve praise. There must be some extremely bruised bodies among the Exiles players tonight. They put their bodies, hearts and souls on the line, in a performance that was as gutsy and brave as the previous week’s had been inept. To a man they gave their all, and more.

What was especially and joyfully satisfying was that the result turned on its head the age-old saying that you have to win up front if you want to win the game.

Second comes first

We are fond of thinking that our new pack is a juggernaut, a thing of power and might, our rugby ‘Honeybun’, heavy where it needs to be heavy, and broad where it needs to be broad. Against most GP packs that might be fair comment. However, this Bath pack (containing four of the current England front five, plus the huge new Wales 8, Delve, and recent England prop Bell) seemed broader and heavier than the Exiles one. Today the Bath pack largely had the better of their opponents, except when it came to finishing off what they started!

While initially knocked out of their stride by the aggression and impudence of the ‘little green’ men, which brought an unconverted Leguizamon try in the sixth minute, Bath came back big time, generally having the better of the line-outs and the scrums, let alone the rucks and mauls. But no matter that they had 60%+ of the possession and the territory, they simply could not make it pay.

Somehow or other the Irish defence held, occasionally turning over possession, occasionally being turned over – but hold it did. That dangerous banana defence either took out the centre-field runners, or slowed down their moves to the degree that the slower Bath wings collected a couple of tacklers with the ball. I sometimes feared that the Bath centres would get through. But then I wondered whether this wasn’t a piece of Smith skulduggery, allowing the ball carrier to nearly cut the line before being tackled in splendid isolation from his support. Wishful thinking, I suspect.

Stephenson, the Bath 15, was full of running all game, and combined well with Fuimaono and Crockett in the centre, as Bath were clearly intent on running their flow of possession. Walshe at 9 also stood out. Fuimaono repeatedly made breaks and half breaks until he left with a serious injury. It was really only in the second half that wings Frikkie Welsh and David Bory had any space to move in, space for being mown down.

London Irish conceded a number of penalties, increasingly so as the game careered towards a pulsating, nail-biting finish, but isn’t that always the lot of the team on the receiving end? From my seat buried in a corner of the Helphire stand I had no chance either to understand or to question any of Mr Davey’s decisions, much as both sets of supporters seemed to want to say something about some of them!

Before the game John A forecast a score of 20-27, and I wondered how our front five would fare against 4/5 of the England front five. I also looked at our young back line and wondered if they’d keep their nerve. (They did.)

The game in more detail

Irish kick off, and spend most of the first five minutes camped up in the right hand corner in front of the Bath line. Two Irish penalties, both kicked the few yards to touch, lead to a wheeled Irish scrum which breaks up with an altercation between diminutive scrum half Hodgson and the rather bigger No 8, Delve. The scrum is reset after Mr Delve and Mr Davey have had a cosy little chat, and Leguizamon breaks blind and goes over. Riki Flutey kicks short and left.

0-5 after six minutes

In the tenth minute Malone attempts a penalty from the half way line, but it falls short, and Tagicakibau brings the ball back to half way. From the ensuing ruck we pass right but are intercepted. Bath, however, knock on! Two minutes later Malone chips too far and the ball finishes in-goal, but Bath for a moment, look like scoring. On 15 minutes a Bath knock-on gives a scrum to the visitors and we see the first signs of pressure as it moves backwards. However, Armitage relieves Mafeking to half way, from which line out Bath return to the fray only to knock on again, in the centre. My notes tell me of some big hits going in.

A penalty to Bath for not releasing sees Malone convert.

3-5 after 20 minutes

Bath bring the kick-off back into the Exiles half, but Flutey is onto a Fuimaono fumble like a flash and breaks left. The tackle on Flutey gives Irish a penalty inside the Bath 22 which Catt kicks to the corner, where the Irish line-out is followed by a Bath scrum. Bath find touch on the half way line, and canter up. Irish take a quick throw-in to Ojo who breaks through 28 men and scores, with not a hand laid on him. (Perhaps he has borrowed that invisibility blanket from Harry Potter?) Flutey does the honours.

3-12 after 25 minutes

We knock on Bath’s kick-off, giving Bath a scrum on the 10 metre line from which Crockett and Welsh attack right. We turn over their possession, and boot the ball back into touch near the Bath goal line. A bit of ping pong later, Bath attack from a line-out on their 22, but we intercept. The second of two penalties to Bath (a high tackle by Armitage?) results in Malone getting his third pop at goal.

6-12 after 32 minutes

Our defence may be creaking but the water is still leaving the ship faster than it comes in!

An extensive injury break in the Irish 22 sees Casey leave with a blood injury (replaced by Gustard) but Fuimaono stays down and is eventually helped from the pitch (being replaced by Maddock.) Post-match we hear that he could be out for nine months. Let’s hope it’s sooner, for he looks to be far and away Bath’s best back.

Yet another Bath onslaught is turned over on our 22, and suddenly Armitage bursts from the melee and sprints ¾ the length of the park to swallow-dive under the posts. I do wish he wouldn’t! Flutey converts.

6-19 after 37 minutes

Casey comes back on, Ojo intercepts another loose Bath pass just inside the Bath half, and the bonus point is secure before half time. Flutey converts. “What on earth is going on?” I can almost hear Brian Ashton say.

6-26 at half time

Only Leguizamon’s try could possibly be said to have come from a structured Irish attack, and in all truth we have been under the cosh most of the time, but that is some lead. The lady behind me is anticipating another cricket score in the second half and so am I - but from the other side! Surely Ashton will advise his charges how to turn their possession into points?

Collins is on for Hatley and Willis for Hodgson. Casey steals the first line-out, but we are simultaneously penalised, and Malone kicks into the corner, in front of me. Grewcock jumps at two and passes to the wing straight from the top of his jump. It’s not far to the line, and mercifully it is all over in a flash, Delve touching down without apparent opposition. Oh dear. That was easy – and it looked like an Ashton plan.

13-26 after two minutes

It seems that it is only moments before there is a mirror-image score on the other side of the pitch. Irish are penalised for pulling down at another line-out, Bath kick for the corner, and a rolling maul from the front of the line-out gets the score, which is attributed to Mears the hooker. Malone fails to convert.

18-26 after seven minutes

We are left wondering whether the ghost of Elvis lives on, and whether our third quarter disease has come back to haunt us. Heart-in-mouth time.

Despite the fact that our scrum is taking punishment, Riki Flutey has now decided to try to break the game, and is prominent in several good moves in the Bath half. In fact we are taking the game to them in the threes, but slack passes from Catt and Casey scupper two of them, the latter resulting in play mauling its way back to the Irish 10 metre line where a penalty is awarded to Bath. Malone obliges.

21-26 after 15 minutes. Oo-er.

Murphy replaces Leguizamon, and Bath get a penalty on half way. Nothing to do with Phil though! From their line-out on the London Irish 22, Bath run the ball at pace but go into touch just short of the right hand corner. Gussie again comes on for Big Bob Casey, this time permanently, and the visitors elect for a short line! We don’t often see that! The throw is adjudged crooked, however, and a scrum or two later Bath put the ball down their line yet again, and yet again we are worried that they have got the touch down in the corner. No way. That excellent and incisive referee Mr Davey calls play back for a forward pass.

On 20 minutes, Paice replaces Coetzee at hooker and Bath are penalised for a scrummage offence. Whew, we have survived the third quarter (just)! It must surely get better soon, mustn’t it? The crowd around me are spending as much time standing up as sitting down now, so deep analysis and understanding have become virtually impossible.

I note that Bath do enjoy breaking around the back of the line-out.

Catty now kicks the first of a number of absolutely huge relieving kicks to the Bath 10m line. To our eyes the Bath wing carries it into touch but the blind touch-judge disagrees. The long Bath throw is adjudged crooked!

Williams now replaces Welsh on the wing, and Flutey attempts a drop goal but pulls his kick. Magne is down. Armitage runs the 22 drop-out back and Irish are given a scrum on half way. The Exiles backline aren’t going anywhere fast so Catty hits another huge blitzkrieg of a kick into the right hand corner, putting Bath under pressure well into their half, where Irish need to keep them. The men in green try to rumble over but fail and get a scrum just short of the line instead. Magne now goes off, replaced by Dawson.

Bath return upfield, only for another huge Irish kick (Catty again?) to their right corner, where the defending wing knocks on. Quick ball from the scrum goes down the Irish line to Tagicakibau who happily runs it in for his first try for his new club. Flutey converts and I see that Horak is on for Armitage.

21-33 after 30 minutes

We are now evidently intent on keeping Bath in their 22 if we can, but they won’t lie down, even without Grewcock and Stevens who have been replaced. A Bath scrum on half-way is penalised and they kick into the Irish corner, needing two scores for a win from behind. In the stand we have no nails left, and little enough voice! A rolling maul fails, but Irish are inevitably penalised for trying to stop it. They roll on again. And again. And again. The Irish defence is now either on the deck or in the maul. Crockett canters through the gap in the middle of the line. Malone converts.

28-33 with two and a half minutes left

Can we hold out? Hatley returns for Rautenbach, and we press Bath back into their 22 from which they try to run everything that they don’t drop!

London Irish do hold out.

Afterwards, the London Irish team came back en masse to acknowledge their supporters, and to give those supporters one last chance to applaud their own skill, bravery and sheer good luck. Well, why not?
Last edited by OxonRob on Mon Feb 20, 2006 12:07 am, edited 3 times in total.
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by James LI on Sun Feb 19, 2006 1:01 pm

Robin,

A great report. Just how can you take detailed notes, watch the game and chew your nails at the same time?

Many thanks
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by dom_pedro on Sun Feb 19, 2006 11:37 pm

Thanks for the report. Would loved to have been at the match yesterday. I saw the Elvis try a few seasons ago from the Blackthorn stand, close the the try line, surrounded by Bath supporters - so would loved to have seen yesterday's win from the same spot. :P
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by ascotintheantipodes on Mon Feb 20, 2006 10:36 am

great report as usual, Rob. Couldn't stay up for the webcast - wish I had.
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by whoseyourdaddy on Mon Feb 20, 2006 3:05 pm

Another top report. Nice to watch the game and then read someone elses interpretation on the event!
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by OxonRob on Mon Feb 20, 2006 3:26 pm

Thanks guys. We does our 'umble best.

I hope that we saw the same game, WYD!!
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