London Irish v Northampton Saints

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London Irish v Northampton Saints

by OxonRob on Wed Feb 22, 2006 2:01 pm

While we are in a record-breaking frame of mind…
by OxonRob

This Sunday at 1pm we will see our friends from Saints trot out to do battle with the victors from the Rec. A clash of the titans? You bet!

In recent years it has been the norm for Saints to win at the Madstad (Doesn’t everyone?) and for the Exiles to win at Franklins Gardens. This year we may have reversed the pattern by contriving to claw defeat from the jaws of victory up there in extra extra time. Perhaps the chicken’s entrails now point to a London Irish victory this weekend?

In favour of that argument we have the fact that we have beaten Gloucester and Bath away recently, for the first time in the history of the Premiership. Our front five are working well, and our new high-speed strike force is both striking hard and improving all the time. I’d argue that we have not yet seen the best of our new Samoan wing, er, Paddy, either. In short, we now have power up front and pace behind (when available.)

Against that, we have the fact that we didn’t put either team away. Both came back at us. Maybe the killer instinct grows but slowly? We also seem to have lost our winning ways in the line-out in our last two matches. Presumably Toby has worked out why, but I sure as hell hope that he has got it fixed in time for Sunday. If we start to give away our own ball we’ll find this an even tougher game to win. We may also have the spectre of Newcastle hanging over us, and the team needs to chuck that one overboard before they even consider playing. Actually, my bet is that they have done so, even if we have not.

That may seem like a lot of ‘againsts’ but we are still growing as a team, and we are not going to get it right 100% of the time. Well, maybe we are, but we haven’t to date.

Saints are on a spectacular run of results, and the hacks suggest that this is chiefly down to King Carlos Spencer. I am not so sure. No fly half can weave constant magic off the back foot going backwards. Occasional magic, yes, but not ongoing unremitting magic. I shall therefore be looking at the battle of the packs and especially the battle of the back rows and half-backs to decide this encounter.

It’s a 6-10 game

What goes for Spencer goes for Flutey too. By his own high standards he was a bit quiet (but nonetheless efficient and effective) at Bath, but if he gets good service of quick ball we may see just as many sparks from the home team in attack as the Saints expect from Spencer.

Northampton have now put together a large and feisty back row consisting of All Black Sam Harding, Samoan Paul Tupai and NZ émigré Dan Browne. They hunt together as a unit, and they are mighty hard. I can’t help feeling that we need to counter their influence with genuine back row expertise rather than sheer bulk. We will be without Olivier Magne, so I’d be giving Gustard a start with Danaher or Dawson on the other flank, or alternatively combining an openside with Murphy at 8 and Leguizamon at 6. The debate about Leguizamon and Murphy goes on and on, and I am not calling it. As I have made clear, I see the back row tussle deciding the half-back and back line tussles – and it isn’t an Irish shoe-in.

Further up front we’ll need to find another hooker, I imagine, while Danie Coetzee’s broken finger heals. I simply can’t tell who is currently in favour. Paicey didn’t do too badly on Saturday, did he? I don’t see the absence of Steve Thompson as being that significant. Saints tend to do OK without him!

Saints will also be without Cohen and Lamont on the wings, but I dimly recall that they have other, effective, wingers at the club. Will Topsy Ojo be allowed to play, 48 hours after playing for England U21? Well he managed half a game only two days after his first international, but I seem to recall that he was then a sub not a starter. I’d hate not to see him get on the park at all, for he adds another dimension in broken play – but I really can’t see it. If he doesn’t, then I’d expect to see Delon move up to wing and Mike Horak return at the back. Predictable, eh? I cannot see either Penney or Bish coming in for Topsy, but you never know. It all depends on how Brian Smith sees the Horak/Armitage duel at 15.

I do tend to see a change at centre, however. Nils Mordt did pretty well on Sunday, but Franze looked electric on Monday night, and I’d be surprised not to see him named. What an embarrassment of riches. I don’t think anyone would let us down, so I am not going to push the case for anyone in particular.

This is all mere detail and window dressing of course.

The realities are that two decent backlines will both have the chance to show what they are made of – if they get the ball to do it with. I have no reservations about our front five, even without Coetzee, but our back row balance is critical. Since Toby Booth is more likely to get it right than I am, I think I’ll rather leave it to him!

Prediction: Saints get a losing Bonus Point.
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by AlecW on Wed Feb 22, 2006 2:18 pm

Not sure the hat suits you!

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by SwanieBoy on Thu Feb 23, 2006 6:33 pm

What a striking resemblance Rob! Great review.
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