Two power packs and two sets of running backs
A bit of a close call, this one, despite the fact that there are nine GP points and three GP places between the clubs. On-song and up to strength, I’d be putting my money on London Irish, but will we be on song and up to strength? After a pack without four senior members managed to beat up the vaunted Bayonne pack last weekend, do we even know our own strength?
This season Worcester seem as capable of turning over Leicester, Wasps and, er, London Irish as they are of losing to Leeds and Bath. And before we get cocky about the nature of our defeat by Worcester, as in the Ref got it wrong and later owned up to the RFU, let’s remember that we have not beaten either Tiggers or Wasps, and that we still seem capable of losing games such as Newcastle at home the other week.
London Irish and Worcester are the Houdini teams of the Premiership, in the sense that we both get a lot of bonus points when we lose (four each, so far) although it has to be said that Wuss seldom rack up huge winning margins. Ahem! What about beating Wasps 37-8 a couple of weeks back? Well, there are exceptions to every rule, and Wasps were weakened by International call-ups!
So, who will we play this weekend? After Worcester’s high-scoring away win last weekend against Saints (25-34) and the Exiles’ 48-5 win against Bayonne it is tempting to look forward to a thrilling open game full of running. We know that London Irish are on a try-scoring roll, and are full of confidence in the threes – but, after their win against Saints, so are Worcester!
I am tempted to suggest that with four win bonus points to one, Irish seem the better bet in the try-scoring department, and that the Exiles’ doughty defence will see off the efforts of the importunates from the West Midlands, but frankly I cannot do so with any real confidence. Not at Sixways, anyway.
Where I do see the potential for Irish superiority is in the break-out department, rather than in planned plays. Assuming that injury has not robbed us of anyone, my preferred Irish back four of Tiesi, Ojo, Tagicakibau and Armitage is more capable than most of suddenly scoring game-breaking tries, both with and against the run of play. Witness Irish away at Bath, where a dour, reasonably even, forward-dominated struggle was turned on its head by three first half moments of brilliance. On the other side of the coin, Worcester have discovered their own flier in Havili. Happily there is only one of him, however!
We have long held the Worcester front five in some awe for their ability in the tight. Despite being without the behemoth Tim Collyer at lock and tight head Chris Horsman, they are still pretty handy, and will need taming if we are to have any supply of good quick ball for the fast men at the back.
For me the critical area will be the back row, where Pat Sanderson is again demonstrating why so many people rate him as the best English open-side not to be playing for England. Pat seems to glue his team together, and we’ll need to deal with that glue. Otherwise, Powell or Gomarshall at 9 for Worcester could have a field day, setting up what has become a very useful back line, in which Drahm and Delport may be the big names, but are not the only names we should be thinking about.
Sufficiently muddled now? My point is that Worcester are mercurial, in that they are equally capable of playing like headless chickens, of blasting their opponents from the park, and of beavering away up front, and nicking the three pointers in a dour war of attrition. But so are we! Why do I keep thinking of Newcastle and shuddering? Oh well, I guess we all have days like that!
In short, we have to neutralise the Worcester pack in the formal phases, meet their loosies where it matters and squeeze the life out of the service from 9. Sounds like business as usual.
Can we? Certainly! Will we? I suspect we might, but am prepared to be wrong, and to have to endure a nail-biter in the finest of London Irish traditions. What I don’t see is Worcester or Irish running away with the game. For my money, whoever wins, it’ll be within ten points. If I am wrong, and the margin is greater, I’ll take an emphatic London Irish victory, for I don’t really believe that Worcester can destroy us by a cricket score, not this season.