Aviva Premiership – Saturday 5 January 2013
Gloucester 12 – London Irish 18
The first thing to say is well done to Brian Smith and London Irish. They’ve had a torrid time since the Boovmeister left, and with Shaun Edwards helping their defensive effort, they’ve been leaking tries like nobody’s business. However, with Edwards devoting himself full-time to Wales, their defence was rock solid.
They were better than Gloucester in almost every aspect of the game: at the scrum, at the line-out, and at the breakdown, but the most worrying thing for a Glaws fan was that they simply wanted it more. Ten minutes in and the bloke behind me said, “Christ, this lot are up for it”, and he wasn’t wrong. In contrast, Glaws ambled about, dropping passes (Irish had no problem holding onto the ball), kicking aimlessly, and generally looking as though their minds were elsewhere. At one point I asked the question, “Has Redpath come back and nobody bothered to tell me?” That’s how bad it was.
The big question is, was this a blip, or has it been coming for some time? Several times this season, I/we have trotted out the hoary old chestnut that it’s the sign of a good team to win ugly. The problem is that there’s another possible explanation: that Glaws are a moderate team that has got very, very lucky. I’m not trying to drum up a crisis, but I no longer know how good we actually are.
Let’s deal with the specifics. Our scrum, mullered by the Tigers last weekend, was mediocre. Dan Murphy did OK, and Shaun Knight did a bit better than last weekend, although goodness knows that’s damning with faint praise. However, the one that worries me most is Nick Wood.
Speaking with The Great Leader, Bob-Il-Fen-Ton, he used the word ‘imperious’ about Woody’s performances last season, but he now seems to be a shadow of the player he was. It could be too many curries on his Benefit tour, or maybe he needs to play more rugby, but something has gone badly wrong. He was on the fringes of the England squad, but he’s now getting stuffed more often than he shines – it’s deeply, deeply worrying. Big Pacific Island props seem to get the better of him, and he’s going to be meeting more and more of them now that the word is out.
In fact, everyone is going to be putting their biggest pack out against us until we show that we can handle it better than we have done in the past two Premiership rounds.
It would be easy to say that Huai Edmonds was poor, but I suspect that our line-out was just a shambles. In effect we didn’t have a competent working second row. Tom Savage is the future, but he needs an experienced hand to help him out, and Will James simply isn’t up to the job. We missed Big Jim, and while he’s not irreplaceable, he needs to be replaced with someone of similar stature.
I got lambasted for criticising James the other week, but I stand by every word of it. He is a yellow card generator, and that makes him a liability for the team. He should be deeply ashamed as he let down the coaches, his team-mates, the club, and the fans today. When he lost his head, our last chance of winning went with it. Desperate and dull, dull, dull – it’s happened far too often, and I don’t want to see him again in Cherry and White until the message has got through.
Ben Morgan apart, the back row was poor. Q and K were invisible – again. You have to wonder whether they’re the rugby equivalent of flat-track bullies?
Now to the half-backs. Jimmy Cowan was desperately poor, right from the start – I can barely remember a pass that came to Freddie at the right level. When Dan Robson came on things were no better, although he did seem to instill a sense of urgency into matters. That said, Freddie had a ‘mare too, and it was Ryan Lamb-esque at times – that’s seriously scary. I just hope it was a one-off and that the plaudits he’s receiving haven’t gone to his head. We all love his flair and ambition, but too many times of late he has terrified me when he tries to throw the big pass in our 22 – it’s great if it works, but these aren’t the conditions for it. If Flood gets banned – as he surely will – Freddie has set Hingerland a major problem, as he was a million miles off international class in this match.
Our kicking from hand was poor, and there was no obvious kick chase in evidence. Too many players simply wandered round the pitch with no palpable sense of urgency. Rob Cook was guilty of that, and again didn’t inspire under the high ball. Monahan made a couple of decent runs, but he also gave away a try when he failed to collect an up-and-under – although, where was the support for him? Missing in action I’m afraid.
Charlie tried, but you don’t get much for trying at the top level. At last, thank goodness, a word of praise: I thought Tinds, and even more so, Twelvetrees, were pretty good, but a couple of decent centres can’t win you a game when everything else is malfunctioning.
David Rose did OK, and probably couldn’t believe the dross that Glaws produced.
Before the game there was a moving tribute to Mike Nicholls, with lots of old timers on the pitch. You really have to wonder what they made of this shameful Gloucester performance.
My one hope is that this was a hangover from the epic battle at Welford Road in what were very wearing conditions. Cockers rested a stack of players for the Wuss game, but Glaws didn’t have that luxury, and I fear that last Saturday’s effort was in part responsible for this loss – at any rate, I’m clutching at that straw.
The next four weeks are almost irrelevant as far as I’m concerned, and my mind is focused on our trip to Saints on 09 February. Lose there and we’re in the mid-table scrap, with Heineken Cup rugby in the balance – win and we’re right back in the mix for the top four. I don’t do must-win games, but that is a seriously important fixture, and Nigel Davies and his boys need to get minds focused for that.