This weekend sees the final round of Championship fixtures before Christmas, with the league making way for the final round of pool matches in the B&I Cup next week. Second-placed London Welsh visitNottingham on Friday, safe in the knowledge that after a 25-24 win overBedford we’re guaranteed to spend the festive period in the top four, with the Blues hosting fifth-placed Rotherham on Saturday.
Nottingham’s 34-22 win at Esher last Friday night saw them complete three successive wins for the first time since they recorded six in a row between November 2010 and January 2011, including a gap of six weeks without a game from 20th November to 1st January due to the snow. They currently sit in sixth place in the table with seven wins, two draws and four defeats from their thirteen matches, but six of those wins have come against the bottom four clubs. Of the top eight, only Doncaster have succumbed to the Green & Whites, with draws at home to Rotherham and Pirates and losing bonus points against Leeds, Bristol and Bedford. The only team to have denied them a single point was the Welsh in our 34-23 win atODP in September, and Nottingham are the only club in the Championship who have not featured in either the top or bottom four since the start of this season.
At Molesey Road last Friday the home side earned their first try-bonus (and only their second point) of the season. Nottingham’s record of 285 points conceded is bettered by only three clubs (Bristol, Welsh and Rotherham) yet Esher had barely averaged a try-per-game before last week, failing to cross the whitewash in five of their first 12 games. It was, however, only the second try-bonus that the Green & Whites have conceded this season, and the first since the aforementioned visit toRichmondin round four. They have scored four try-bonus points of their own, but they’ve all come in the last five outings, including a 62-10 win against Moseley a fortnight ago. Welsh, on the other hand, have collected a single try-bonus in the last five weeks, atPlymouth, having gathered five in the opening eight rounds.
Friday night fixtures are not popular with away fans, for obvious reasons, but with the groundshare with Notts Countymaking it difficult to schedule regular Saturday matches Nottingham have tended to prefer Fridays to Sunday afternoons this season. However, their average attendance is down 12.5% on last season, although at 1,348 it is still better than we’re getting at ODP. Their top three attendances have come on Sunday afternoons, but the four Friday night games have drawn an average of 1,146 which compares with our average last season of 1,182. Factor in the absence of a well-supported Premiership interloper (Worcester drew just over 1,700 to both Old Deer Park and Meadow Lane last term) and the fact that this season’s best-supported club, Bristol (average away crowd - 1,655) are scheduled to visit over the Christmas period and you start to see why the club are viewing the experiment as a success.
Quite apart from the gripes of the supporters, the London Welsh players also seem to have an issue with Friday night fixtures. Although we comfortably disposed of Esher at the end of September (37-3) we imploded at Bristol three weeks later, contriving to lose 35-33 to a last-minute try having led 12-0 after ten minutes, 23-10 at half-time and 33-25 with just ten minutes remaining. Last season we lost by three points at both Esher (22-19) and Bedford (19-16) in the space of a month, while in the inaugural Championship campaign we triumphed 19-10 at Coventry at the start of November but ended our season with another loss at the Mem, 28-15 in the play-off semi-final.
Nottingham’s top try-scorer once again this season is full-back Dave Jackson, who scored six tries in six appearances before injury struck against the Pirates in mid-October. Our own Ed Jackson (no relation) had scored eight in the opening eight rounds, but he’s failed to score since the last-gasp defeat at Bristolon 21st October. Winger Joe Ajuwa, on the other hand, has scored six in six appearances, failing to dot down only once, up at Doncaster in round ten, but grabbing a brace at Plymouth three weeks later. With 163 points, Nottingham’s much-travelled fly-half Kieran Hallet is fourth in the overall standings, but New Zealand-born James Arlidge has scored 69 points since returning from the World Cup, where he scored 40 points for Japan, including a full-house against France.
As last week against Bedford, Welsh need to be wary of the presence of two top-class goalkickers - one of whom has recently proved his worth at the highest level - in the opposition ranks. In his programme notes last week, Lyn Jones highlighted the fact that we’ve conceded more penalties than any other team in the league, almost a third of them at the scrum. Of our eleven yellow cards in thirteen matches, five have been shown to our props, and two of the fifteen penalty tries awarded in the Championship this year have been scored against us. Lyn intimates that he and Kelvin believe that there’s some kind of conspiracy theory behind this pattern, but it needs to be addressed before we can be taken seriously as promotion contenders. With home fixtures over the festive period against the clubs currently occupying the bottom two places in the table, Welsh have a great opportunity to put down a marker going into 2012. A fourth consecutive win atNottinghamon Friday night would put us in a very strong position; their home form is solid but not spectacular and is the main reason why they have slipped back into the pack following two or three highly successful seasons. Since the launch of the Championship the top three or four clubs have regularly picked-up wins at Meadow Lane, so if we’re to establish ourselves amongst those top clubs then only four points – and ideally five - will suffice.
Bristol v Bedford 6.15 kick-off 23rd December. What a ridiculous time to have a game of rugby. Even the home fans will have to either leave work early or take the day off. This is clearly not in the interest of the supporters. . That's what i think of that. PADDYTAF
Judging by the weather forecast (Daytime 4degrees, Nighttime -1 degrees, 50% chance of early snow), this could be one of the first hard ground, played in a blizzard matches. There could be a sharp frost, judging by the relative absence of cloud cover. Hope it is not called off, as I've come up to Nottingham to watch it. No doubt I'll hear Derek from the other side of the pitch!
It did indeed get colder as the game progressed but no "precipitation" as the forecasters call it during the match thankfully. There had been a little dusting of rain apparently four hours or so before kick-off which left the pitch a little greasy, and the ball may have been similarly greasy though that counts for both sides equally. There were comforting glasses of mulled wine in the bar and turkey baps, but the chill got home towards the match end and I cannot have been alone in willing the referee's final whistle to put us out of our misery.
There are matches you kick yourself for missing, matches you remember for 20 years, but there are also matches best forgotten. This was one of the latter really, Welsh and Nottingham both seems evenly matched at first but one by one the latter piled up penalty points (and a drop goal), whereas we didn't. Are we really off-side more often than other sides, or whatever? We seemed out-pushed or out-played in the scrum frequently, and got blamed for one swivelled scrum at least when to me the other side was responsible. We got beaten in the line-out by some simple tapping down of the ball. I couldn't really tell who was directing play, which may mean the half-back combination is not working in harmony with the back row. All in all, a scrappy match, scrappier than the scoreline suggests (after all they only scored one try).
For me the man of the match was Billy Moss for two electrifying straightline charges - in the first half he made a couple of dozen yards only for the pass he made to fall into a melee of supporting players none of whom could catch it; in the second half, he repeated the charge, only this time lacking any support close by he passed to a Notts player who had to concede putting the ball into touch, but nothing came of the line out that followed. Joe Ajuwa also had one great run starting on the left and moving midfield, but his long high pass to a winger on the right was just too high for a catch on the run, and the slight pause was enough to close up the Nottingham defence before the line was crossed.
Our injury-hit squad had better be back to fitness, those who can, by the post-Christmas week as this was overall not a convincing team effort and Nottingham jump to an amazing 4th place until the weekend's matches are played. When they are over, if Bedford, Pirates and Rotherham all win, the latter with a bonus point, we'll be down in 5th place and Nottingham in 6th, Leeds being firmly unable to rise from 7th place (yet).
Thanks Dan, great insight that works really well when read with Damian's live updates.
I didn't make the journey (too cold, too far, too Friday) and those that did deserve a lot of respect for their dedication.
Way too many penalties being conceded at the moment and this can't be dealt with by continuing the claim in Lyn's programme notes that we have a history of being unfairly penalised. Too many changes from match to match - how can the players settle into a style if they don't get continuous game time with the same team mates around them? The failure to appoint an assistant coach also looks like one the management might be regretting.
Why we can't control the scrums is beyond me and our lineouts are often not so much hit and miss as just 'miss'.
There has been absolutely no official news on injuries this season. I know that Mills and Whatling both have foot injuries. Anyone have info on other players that are injured or are the changes just a very extreme squad rotation policy?
I thought our lineouts - thanks a lot to Martin Purdy - were often a success story in most matches (save this one) but I've not been keeping count and we certainly lost some on Friday night. Many team changes are forced by injury but I sense Lyn is also searching for the right combos which is difficult. He'll get there, I have confidence in that. As to who has injured what, there is little secrecy if you ask around, but it is perhaps wise not to itemise your areas of weakness.
I think that the problem we have at the moment is that if you asked 50 London Welsh fans to name their preferred starting XV you'd probably get 20 or 30 different combinations and permutations. And if you asked the same 50 people what they thought Lyn's first-choice XV was, you'd get almost as many difefrent answers. Christmas is not the time to be trying out different partnerships - you do that in pre-season, or in the opening few rounds of league matches. By now we should have a settled side, and yet some of the more consistent selections seem to me to be less deserving of their place than those being dropped or rested every other week (and I'm not talking about the two you think I'm talking about! )
I know that there's such a thing as rotation, that you have to try to keep everyone happy - and fresh - and that Lyn may view this as a first-team squad rather than just a first team, but the constant chopping and changing is doing nobody any favours. There's a lack of consistency from the players out there; there's a suspicion that making 13 changes gives the opposition the impression that we're taking them lightly and gives them additional motivation; and there's the frustration from the fans. We're third in the table going into Christmas, just one bonus-point win off the top spot - and yet here we are complaining again, because we know how good this team could be.
Whilst there is no need for every injury and absence to be announced in detail some engagement with the supporters is important. Communication and inclusion makes the difference between people being club members/supporters and not just being spectators.
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