By Samuel Browne
September 26 2014
This weekend, the Irish bandwagon rolls up to Leicester for our traditional thumping…or does it? On a weekend when the most famous Tiger of all is missing the one event that has always seemed to have the better of him, can Irish sneak a few points from the claws of Leicester’s finest?
Last weekend against Saracens Irish really showed what they are capable of. We played a fantastic brand of rugby that didn’t rely on our historical ability to counter attack. We put together phase after phase of effective attacking play. This was facilitated by a powerful performance at the breakdown which enabled Scott Steele to play on the front foot. I have always worried that our back row struggles to function without Treviranus, but our second half performance was hugely impressive with Cowan, Low and Narraway carrying on the breakdown dominance. Narraway had a quietly sparkling match. His pass out of the tackle to Scott Steele for Lewington’s third try was pure class. He also controlled the ball well at the back of a wobbly scrum and made a lot of clear outs. He doesn’t seem to be a Hala’ufia battering ram, but does a lot of quieter things very well indeed. I imagine the only change to the team for this week will be the introduction of Low and probably an additional back on the bench to best expose Leicester.
Tigers are the most successful team in recent Premiership history. Their depth of talent is phenomenal. Richard Cockerill is currently embroiled in a great big moan about how unlucky they are having all these injuries. The poor little sausage. Anyone care to remember the season when we had to bring in Rhino Rudd at the last minute? Or the time we played Harlequins with Keiran Roche at 7 and no back row cover on the bench? We’ve all been there, Richard. Tigers are better equipped to cope with an injury crisis than any other team in the league (bar maybe Sarries). They will be as dangerous and deadly as ever. I’m not quite sure what their line up will be, but I suspect that our best chance of success will be taking them on up front. I’m a big fan of Owen Williams and would rate him far above Burns at 10. I guess he is being played there due to injury? Tigers have a few hundred international forwards on their books, but my stand outs are Kitchener (the man with the biggest head in rugby) and Salvi. Kitchener rules the lineout and carries superbly, something we will need to combat. Salvi has flourished at Leicester and now stands as one of the best ball-winners in the Premiership and probably in Europe.
Our scrum has become a pretty useful weapon. Had Luke Pearce not had a full frontal lobotomy shortly before kick off, we would have been well on top against Sarries. We can continue this against Leicester although Halani may need to up his game a little. Our back row should have enough pace to slightly overwhelm the breakdown and I am very much looking forward to the battle between Cowan and Salvi. We traditionally play with two guys who are very strong over the ball (Cowan and Trev) so we may need to tinker our approach here slightly as Keiran is more of a clearer and securer rather than a ‘jackal’. If the pack can secure good possession, I am hugely excited by the prospect of our 9, 10, 12 axis. Shane and Noakes were interchanging all over the place against Saracens. It made it nigh on impossible for the defence to read what was happening. It seemed to me that, if the play involved a kick then Noakes was at first receiver, but if we were running it, Shane stepped up. I may be wrong about that, however. When you have a trio playing as well as they were, the quality players step up and feed off this. Lewington was superb with the ball in hand (he still can’t pass though) and Fenby was an assured and secure presence at full back. This week, if 9, 10 and 12 are able to run the game as they did, I hope to see Short and Fergus stepping up a bit.
Overall, I think we have a great chance. We are a vastly improved side from last year but, like it or not, last week was a loss. If we have truly progressed, then we will be getting ticks in the W column in games such as last week’s. I honestly don’t know what to expect but would say that, if all of the above goes according to plan, we could sneak four points. But not by much.