Saturday, 23 November 2013

Job Done

A win is a win they say.  4 points in the bag; they don’t paint pictures on the scoreboard.   Which is true enough, come May the performance today will be a distant memory but the 4 points last forever.  Or at least until the end of the season.
If you haven’t heard it was a win.  20 points to 11, 4 for us and none for them.  And that is pretty much that.

It was a match that thoroughly failed to spark at any point.  Tigers were ahead for the whole match and didn’t have to get out of 2nd gear.  So they didn’t.  Content to chug along in low gear grinding it out up the hill.  Irish looked lively at points but there was never any final product, so their watchable approach play was in the end meaningless.

The tries were both from the referee’s whistle rather than any moment of magic.  One in each half.  The first half effort was the primary score in the match after Toby Flood pulled his first penalty wide.  Given an immediate second chance after Irish tackled our man in the air he instead went to touch.  After a series of drives, and a series of penalties for pulling the maul down, Tigers went wide and were “choked” into a turnover. 

But a scrum turnover set the scene and Martin Fox wasted no time in racing under the posts.

In contrast the second half’s penalty try took an age.  Depending on your point of view it came from great Irish defence or fairly substandard Tigers finishing.  Niall Morris had charged down a James O'Connor clearance.  It had fallen perfectly into his hands and he charged for the posts.  But he couldn’t get it down; Marland Yarde had chased him back hard and got underneath him. 

It took almost 13 minutes.  13 minutes of pure scrummaging.  At times Tigers had them seriously rocking backwards.  The try could have been conceded on the second scrum when the Irish challenged disintegrated.  But after going under the posts on the first collapse in the first half he hesitated and went for a vanilla penalty.

It didn’t all go Tigers way.  After god knows how many penalties and resets we mucked it up.  Just like against Saints we were going forward too fast.  The tight five were practically sprinting forward; at the back Crane failed to keep it under control.  Thankfully Blair Cowen knocked on the loose ball and Tigers could ramp the pressure up again.

After umpteen warnings and talkings to Welshman John Yapp was sin binned.  Irish sacrificed Topsy Ojo, on his 200th appearance for the Exiles, so as not to lose a man in the pack.  Did Tigers accept the gambit of the overlap and unguarded wing? 

Of course they bloody didn’t.  

They thundered and they gouged and they smashed their way in the scrums until Fox put the Irish out of their misery.  13 minutes of literally nothing but scrums.  I wonder what visiting Wallaby James O’Conner thought about that?

Irish scored a late consolation through centre Fergus Mulchrone, a summer singing from Rotherham.  It was a length of the field break away with Mulchrone evading several tacklers as he ran diagonally to score in the corner. 

So that was the tries but it was a funny old game.  Tigers scrum scored both tries and one of the penalties.  Clearly we were dominant there.  But we were completely out muscled in the ruck.  It seemed every contact situation resulted in Irish going forward.  Eamon Sheridan, another unheralded arrival from Rotherham, completely dominated Dan Bowden.  The modern fad of “choke” tackling was everywhere as the massive Sheridan (something in the name?) stepped round and smothered any attack we had. 

Chris Hala’ufia is always good for some impetus and Canadian Jebb Sinclair, who by all rights should have been in Portugal with the Cannuck national team, was again physically impressive.  In contrast Crane was plodding and often went backwards in contact.  With Tom Croft he seems so much better, ying to Croft’s yang, but without Croft he seems lost and the backrow fails to function.  Salvi could, generously, be said to be doing the “unseen work” in the ruck.  Gibson however has been a busted flush at blindside.  The idea was that he would provide the savvy break down work of a 7 and the industry of a 6.  But instead he provided the incontinent stream of ruck penalties of a so-so seven and the power of a powder puff 6. 

Time to see if Waldrom and Crane can be the wrecking balls to get our game going, or if Michael Noone’s LV Cup form will carry through to the Premiership? 

Irish’s cynical defence gave away a penalty every time Tigers got a hint of decent ball; combined with Matt Smith’s injury and yet another centre partnership it is perhaps none too surprising that our attack was neutered but it was painful to watch.

We simply don’t run straight or draw the man.  Instead we crab across the pitch, taking our wingers space and running it into touch away from the forwards.  Dan Bowden and his wide passes are completely counterproductive as they eat up all the space, rather than creating it.  Come back Anthony Allen, all is forgiven!   

With Allen’s rotting leg still healing I think I will repeat my call for Javiah Pohe or Pasqualle Dunn to feature.  Gloucester away might not be the ideal place to blood a young centre but we need the target they would provide. 

Then again a win is a win.  They don’t paint pictures on the scoreboard and the result was never in doubt.  Can that really be deemed a bad match?

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