London Irish 'A' 21-20 Northampton Wanderers (20th Feb 06)

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London Irish 'A' 21-20 Northampton Wanderers (20th Feb 06)

by OxonRob on Tue Feb 21, 2006 1:52 pm

‘A’ team: Just a bit of mild shoplifting, guv!by OxonRob

Tonight London Irish ‘A’ played Northampton ‘A’ aka The Wanderers, at Sunbury, in what was billed as a ‘friendly’. This appellation deserves a prosecution under the Trades Descriptions Act.
On paper it looked like a stroll in the park for the Exiles, as we boasted 11 first team squad members in our starting line-up, while Saints managed only six. Seven of our ‘superstars’, including three full internationals, constituted the three-quarters. Up front the score was 4-3 ‘squaddies’ in favour of Irish.

The reality was that Irish had to mount a second-half comeback in order to post a huge and dominating win by as many as one point. That we did so with the aid of a bench containing no ‘squaddies’ at all might at first glance be interpreted as a compliment to our younger men, and something of a slap in the face to some of their older colleagues. The truth is not so simple.

I don’t know what they feed them on up there in cobblers country, but my, the Northampton team looked big. This was because they actually were big! Some of them had considerable skill and pace to go with their size, too. Sadly, just one or two of them confused worldliness with what is now referred to as ‘professional opportunism’ - what I prefer to call cheating. But then I never could get into Mr Blair’s new language.

I am not of course saying that this was totally one-sided, but it was curious that once referee Andrew Small started to penalise what was going on, the game suddenly became a more even contest, and the hosts came back into it, even before Northampton lost 8 Hopley to a yellow card.

The difference between the sides in the first half seemed to reflect an ad-hoc selection of individuals hoping to be noticed against a team full of familiar faces. Where our guys got isolated, Saints tended to give more support to their attacking runners. After the break the team ethic resumed, and by and large Irish gave as good as they got.

How did our guys do?

The game careered at high speed from end to end, and the Irish centres both looked full of running. Franze lasted the whole game and gave every appearance of a full recovery. He got everywhere, in defence and attack, and was a handful throughout. Tiesi looked quick as well as quick-witted. A silky runner, he seemed to glide past people even if, occasionally, he held on too long. More in the Penney mould than a Franze clone. I dare say he’ll take his chance when he has learned the names of his team-mates!

Bish looked Bish-ish. Busy, committed, concentrating and keen. He is hard to bring down, too. Oh brother, this man is a competitor, and he still tackles and covers as he always did. Rodd Penney, out of position on the other wing, got few enough chances, but looked as quick as ever. Behind them Horak was calm and competent, but curiously anonymous. It was only when he was replaced that you realised what he had brought to the party.

It seemed to me that Laidlaw was on a confidence-recovery programme after his game in the firsts against Newcastle. He looked a little tense in the early stages, and yet so confident later on. He is such a good player, but I suspect that he needs a confidence-boost and to learn not to lose his mindset to a couple of errors.

Ross ensured that ball was shovelled down a flat line at speed, but he was so often getting man and ball together at 10 that his centres didn’t always have that much space left to work in. This reflected slow ball from up front as well as a curiously less than normal service from Edwards, who to my eyes didn’t have a good evening. Things got a lot easier in the backs when Metzger replaced him.

Up front I confess, people were harder to make out individually. The donkeys were kept busy, and in the first half especially the Saints pack kept rumbling past and over them. Gary Johnson at lock, on his comeback from injury, looked to have some natural authority, and we saw glimpses of Strudders’ prediliction for running into open space with ball in hand.

For Saints, my eye kept alighting on their pair of blonde half-backs and their back row, all of whom seemed to run very hard with great determination, proving difficult to bring down. In fact, Patston, their 10, was my Man of the Match by a country mile. Boy, does he like to run from close quarters! With a lot of first half ball, their centres promised much and always looked handy, but never quite managed to get on top of their opposite numbers. It would have been worrying had they done so!

Snippets from the game

A blow by blow account really isn’t possible but I tried to record one or two more memorable moments.

The game began just after I noticed Dec Danaher bossing some of his colleagues into position to receive the kick-off. The ball, of course, came unerringly towards our hero, and bounced high above and around him and backwards into the hands of the Northampton 4, Rea. Northampton attacked left, but someone hurled the ball behind their 11 Fowler and 13 Vilk. Their hosts’ attempt to pick it up gave possession back to Saints in the form of a scrum from which they attacked once more.

Gonzalo Tiesi tackled Vilk into the week after next, and the ball spilled forward, under the feet of the onrushing Bishop who hacked on. Three men chased the ball, which sat up conveniently, and our Justin was able to run in the simplest of tries. Ross Laidlaw converted. 7-0. Nice start.
Only a couple of minutes later, a superb 22 to 22 clearance by Laidlaw having found touch, the visitors’ large and speedy 7 Kelly broke from the back of the line-out and made it all the way back to the opposite 22 where colleagues managed to be on hand to secure the breakdown situation, and move the ball to the right wing from which Vilk ran in for a fine try, converted by 10 Patston. 7-7.

Laidlaw managed to demonstrate that the gulf between genius and failure is a very narrow one when he booted a long penalty to the corner, and it went dead about 12” beyond the corner flag.

Patston, the Saints fly half, soon replied with a superb close break deep into the Irish 22, where Paul Franze finally collared him. (I notice Corin Palmer necking a can of Red Bull. Maybe he needs energy as a result of sleepless nights with Palmer junior?)

Bish quickly took a short one, Dawson-like, in front of the Northampton posts, but got buried.

Franze broke and made good ground, but Laidlaw’s pass following the inevitable ruck had an early warning sign attached to it, and 11 Maggs intercepted and cantered through for a soft try and the lead. This time 15 Pritchard converted from in front. 7-14.

Horak nailed the Saints useful 9, Jones, after a blindside break from a line-out, before Tiesi in his turn made a lovely break from 13, hotly pursued, but accompanied by two colleagues. He held on too long and his attempt at a pass failed in the tackle.

A flurry of penalties to the visitors culminated in one right in front in the 30th minute, converted by Pritchard. 7-17.

The Irish line had by now started to click as a unit, and both Franze and Tiesi featured in some good running moves, interrupted by the unseemly sight of the Saints 7 (Kelly again) breaking with ball in hand from the side of an Irish rolling maul!

From an attacking line-out Franze made good ground into the 22, and from the ruck which followed the ball came to Tiesi who broke beautifully, and then handed on to Gary Johnson who scored under the posts, Laidlaw converting. 14-17.

Northampton riposted with a penalty in front of the Irish posts, to end the half. 14-20.

Tom Warren came on for Richard Skuse, Ollie Hoad for Dec Danaher and Peter Murchie for Mike Horak, reducing the ‘squaddie’ influence from 11-6 to 8-6. A reduction in LI effectiveness? Not on your life!

Patston started by grubbering through and nearly made it to the Irish line. This was followed by 8 Hopley (a relation of Damian? He looked similar.) breaking from a scrum on the Saints 22. Enough! Irish came back at them, and Laidlaw nailed a superb touch kick from a penalty a couple of feet on the correct side of the Saints corner flag. It came to nothing because Northampton managed to turn our maul from the line-out into one of their own.

Northampton were by now getting pinged any number of times, mainly but not exclusively for offside, and the forward flurries involved both teams rather than mainly just the one.

It was doubtless coincidence but Metzger’s appearance at scrum half seemed to release Laidlaw that bit earlier. Two or three minutes after Metzger’s appearance, Hopley was sent to the bin for the rest of the game, and the Exiles pressed hard.

A drive to the 22 in front of the posts ended in a ruck, from which the ball came to Ross. He feinted his pass, held on and jinked his way through the sporadic cover for a magnificent personal try which, it turned out, sealed the game for Irish. He converted to make the score 21-20.

London Irish - Horak (Murchie 40mins); Penny, Tiesi (Gower 58mins), Franze, Bishop; Laidlaw, Edwards (Metzger 68mins); Halsey, Campbell (Bolton 83mins), Skuse (Warren 40mins), Johnson, Strudwick (capt), Blakeburn, Danaher (Hoad 40mins), Donnelly (Gardiner 68mins).

Northampton Wanderers - Pritchard; Maggs, Vilk, Barnard, Fowler; Patston, Jones (Bishop 70mins); Beech (Harbut 63mins), Grove, Noon, Rae (capt) (Easter 55mins), Gerard, Beattie, Kelly, Hopley.
Last edited by OxonRob on Thu Feb 23, 2006 8:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
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by tjinkerson on Wed Feb 22, 2006 3:58 pm

Thanks Rob

I thought that Danaher had a great first half. At times it was hard to tell if he was a forward or a back, he seemed to be everywhere!

As for the score, had the Wanderers not chosen to kick two penalties, or had we chosen to kick a couple of ours that were within reach, it would have looked far more healthy. But it was a friendly, and I'm pleased that we didn't resort to kicking. I can forgive Northampton the second penalty kick, there was no time left to do anything else before half-time.

Once again, a very pleasent evening.

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