March 30 2012
First things first, apologies for the delay in writing this match report, I completely forgot that I volunteered (I am blaming the Guinness) and have been tucked up with work of all things this week!
Paddy's Day Party games never really start at kick off time for the fans, and so it was that I found myself in the 3 Guineas at about half past eleven in the morning awaiting my companions for the day. For this years spectacle it was a slightly smaller group than last year, consisting of 3 first timers with no club allegiance and a Leicester Tigers fan who I had never met before.
After a few pints in various hostelries within the town we ventured to the MadStad and soaked up the sun and fantastic atmosphere around the stage area. It pains me to say, as I am sure they are lovely girls, but the arrival of Fanfare on stage heralded and early entry to the stadium for us, where more Guinness was consumed along with the obligatory chicken curry pie.
The novices in our group were keen to find out more about the teams, and the Tigger in our group kindly pointed out that on paper they had a stronger side, with a hefty bench to bring on and ensure that they won the match.
To be fair, for the first 15 minutes the newbie's with us were hard pushed to believe what they had been told, as we started with real gusto and an intensity that has been sorely missing recently. This urgency and dynamism in our play brought a couple of early penalties, one missed and one scored by Tom Homer, as Leicester had to show all of their steel to weather the storm. With thirteen minutes on the clock and another penalty advantage in the offing, the soon to be departing Dan Bowden also tucked over a drop goal to gives us a deserved 6-0 lead.
The Tigers though were always going to come back into it, and slowly from about the 15 minute mark, they started to impose themselves on the game, in particular at the contact area and in the scrum. It was no real surprise when the first try came, nor was the manner of it. After the Irish scrum had gone backwards and been penalised a couple of times Toby Flood spotted a gap in the defensive line and dived through to score just to the right of the posts. Amazingly his conversion attempt was charged down by Darren Allinson, who was very impressive on the day, and we remained in front, albeit only for another five minutes.
As Leicester continued to knock on the door close to our line, Julian Salvi did what all good opensides do and spotted the opportunity to pick up as the ball came out of the side of a ruck and dived over, to give Flood a chance to redeem his earlier failure off the tee. He duly obliged, and it was 6-12 on the scoreboard, and a worried look on my face as we seemed to have lost a bit of that opening zip from the first 15 minutes.
That being said the team were still at least attempting to do the basics right and where rewarded with another penalty just after the half hour mark, which Tom popped over to reduce the deficit to 3 points. Just minutes later I was off my seat as from a set lineout move Allinson spotted the gap and having shown excellent pace to get through it, also showed excellent awareness to draw the last defender and feed the ball inside to the ever willing Bryn Evans who crossed the whitewashed for the try. With the extras added, and to the surprise of some Tigers fans around me the half time whistle went with us in front 16-12.
The Tiger in our group was still confident and looking at their bench he probably had every right to be, but I was also cautiously optimistic, as our pack were competitive, and Losi was looking very dangerous every time he had the ball in his hands.
Sadly my optimism dampened as two Toby Flood penalties put the Tigers back in front 18-16, but almost from the restart Tom Homer broke the line to run in an excellent solo try, followed by an even more impressive backfilp to celebrate. I don't think there was ever any doubt that he would add the extras and suddenly we were ahead again by 23 points to 18.
The immediate response from Tigers was to make a couple of changes in personnel, which really highlighted what had been talked about in our group before the game. Our two second half replacements so far had been England international loosehead Alex Corbisiero replaced by academy player Max Lahiff (albeit he is an excellent player with a big future), and twice capped international David Paice replaced by solid Premiership campaigner James Buckland. Tigers, as if to show they meant business replaced England international tighthead Dan Cole with the world class Martin Castrogiovanni, and Tongan international Steve Mafi with British & Irish Lions flanker Tom Croft.
Within minutes Leicester had another penalty and the deficit was 2 points. Big Trev came of the bench to replace Garvey, and immediately began tackling anything that moved, but sadly a gap appeared in our defensive line, and Gloucester bound Billy Twelvetrees exploited it to the full before feeding Manu Tuilagi for the try. Extra added and it was now the Tigers with a 5 point advantage with the score at 23-28.
Another Flood penalty with about 15 minutes to play took the lead to 8 points and there was a sense of worry around me that Tigers might now run away with it. To the credit of the Irish pack, that didn't happen, and as they threw their bodies in to every ruck as if their lives depended on it, first one, then a second and then a third penalty was awarded. With nerves of steel Tom Homer made each and every one look easy to put us back in front 32-31 with 5 minutes to go.
Sadly, something that has been an issue for us for a while came to haunt us again, as with 2 minutes left to play a scrum in front of our own posts lead to the award of a Tigers penalty which Toby Flood sent flying between the post to put the Tigers back in front 32-34. As the clocked ticked over into dead time, with us possession, and temptation to kick the ball out and take the losing bonus point was resisted and the team attempted to break through a strong and determined Tigers defence in order to gain the opportunity for the winning score. Alas the Tigers defence was resolute and forced the error which saw Tom Croft pick up the loose ball and dart over under the posts. Cruelly the conversion denied us the losing bonus point, but I think it is fair to say that the Tigers were good value for the win, it was just harsh for us to come away with nothing as the performance of the team merited better than that.
There were two incidents in the game that I have not mentioned in the body of the report, and I will briefly touch on them here.
1. Fine player that he is, Ben Youngs needs to address the issues he has with getting frustrated on a rugby pitch, as England need him back to his best, as he is still the best 9 we have in the country when on form. Yes Jamie Gibson was holding him, but his reaction was disproportionate to the act. Hopefully Cockers will straighten him out for the good of himself and the national team.
2. Declan Danaher. This man is the epitome of spirit and pride in the shirt. He is providing the in your face leadership that Big Bob used to out on the field. His reaction when he won the penalty that Tom Scored to put us 32-31 up was fantastic, and that is something that going forward into next season he can hopefully get transmitting through the squad.
Outside of the game, I want to thank Persins. I was sat about 5 rows behind him in the Upper West, and his impromptu trumpet solos where magnificent, in particular his rendition of 3 blind mice (no prizes where that was direct). I salute you sir.
My own thoughts coming out of the ground was that I am quietly encouraged. With a couple more decent signings in key positions, I think we can be back being competitive in the top half of the table next season. The club seems a happier place with Brian Smith back at the helm, and hopefully the combination of him and Toby can move us significantly forwards. For the newbie's in my group, they were suitably impressed and have bought London Irish shirts and want to go again. Pencilled in is Saracens on the 14th April, although it will mean me having to give them (as well as myself) the afternoon off work (I am their boss) to attend the game.
All in all, despite the result it was another craicing Paddy's Day Party game again. Best of luck to the Tigers for the rest of the season, they are an excellent side, who I think may regain their crown this year. But lastly, and most importantly of all, COME ON YOU IRISH!!!!!