Amlin Challenge Cup – Saturday 8 December, 2012
London Irish 22 – Gloucester 29
My cod and chips outside the ground were the perfect preparation for an afternoon of cod Irishness at the Madejski. Every time I go there, I hate it more than the time before. Supposedly there were more than 7,000 there for the third pool game of the Losers’ Cup, but my estimate was a couple of thousand less. Obviously Digger the dodgy dog is vile, but on this occasion, as the pictures of the youngsters were being taken, he stood behind the real Irish Wolfhound in what looked from my angle as a very suggestive pose! Then there’s the weirdo with the green suit and the bike – ‘nuff said!
However, it’s the announcer that really irritates. At no other ground is there such a childish display of overt partisanship as you get with London Irish. He read out the Gloucester team in a quiet monotone, and then gave it everything he had for the Irish players, vainly attempting to drum up an atmosphere. As usual, he failed, but he plumbed new depths with his ‘He fought the law, and he won…Chris Hala’ufia!’ I’ve met the announcer when he’s off duty, and he’s pleasant enough, but his public persona is just thoroughly unpleasant and disrespectful. If there is anyone left at Irish who remembers the club’s great heritage, they should have a quiet word in the ear of the man with the mic’ – he’s making a laughing stock of them.
Whatever experiment Nigel Davies had in mind failed totally. Forget good Glaws and bad Glaws – in the first half this was mediocre and boring Glaws, and it was a travesty that we were within four points at the break. When I saw the team selection on Friday, it briefly crossed my mind that we’d decided that the Losers’ was the third priority competition, and we’d effectively given up on it.
Irish didn’t look too bad – like Sale they have enough talent in their squad to beat the drop – but are clearly short on confidence and lacking in good decision making at 9 and 10. They might easily have been ahead by 15 points had things gone their way.
The reasons for Glaws being so poor seemed obvious to me. Freddie was a fish out of water at 12, and irrespective of what’s said publicly, I am convinced that Stuart Lancaster asked that he be tried there. The answer is clear: Freddie’s the best 10 in England. Once Taylor went and Freddie moved over, things got a lot better. What this game highlighted is that we are going to be ever-so exposed at 10 during the Six Nations, and it looks like Twelvetrees is going to have to be the man. How long is Burns Jnr out for?
Equally, Tinds made a huge difference – as has been the case ever since he joined us, the defence looked much better with him on the park. Ben Morgan simply carried on where he’d left off with England and, again, made a big difference when he appeared.
However, the biggest difference was Rob Cook coming on. I’m not sure that he did much more on this occasion than simply do his specialist job professionally, but that was a big step up on what Martyn Thomas did – I’m afraid the latter’s days at Kingsholm must be numbered as he just hasn’t shone whenever he has had an opportunity.
I’m no expert on the front row, but at times in the first-half we seemed to struggle, although there were probably not many more penalties against us than we won. My impression is that Wood seems to struggle on occasion against the monster Pacific Island props – Halani Aulika weighs in at over 19 stones. Harden and Murphy, however, were much better than the Irish front row they faced and that was key in the turnaround. Murphy in particular continues to be a revelation this season – well done to him and the coaches.
Big Jim didn’t play like a man who was distracted in any way, and he and Savage did a decent job. In the back row, ‘K’ was excellent, and Cox played well. Evans is young, and, hardly surprisingly, wasn’t up to Ben Morgan standard.
Once Glaws had their proper side out, the gulf between us and the Exiles was pretty sizeable, and in the end it was actually a relatively comfortable win – at half time it never crossed my mind I’d be writing those words! If we’d started with our best XV we’d have won by 30.
For me the best bit of the whole game was the last five minutes: Irish huffed and puffed, and threw everything they had at us, but I never doubted for a moment that the Glaws defence would hold out. That’s how much better we are this season.