The Craic
Get Tom Cruise on the phone!
By Griff
March 2 2018

London Irish's preformance in the Avivia Premiership has been disappointing. After the glorious victory over Harlequins in the opening day at Twickenham everything felt good but since then there have been no more victories and many, many poor results leaving the Exiles at the foot of the table looking down the barrel of a second relegation to the Championship. Their nearest competition comes in the form of Worcester Warriors, a mere 16 points ahead in the table. Their visit to the Madejski felt very much post-must-win but, with the maths not completely signalling the drop, Irish had something to play for and Worcester had the means to put the men-in-green away.

That was the scene at the start of this match: Warriors support buoyant after famous wins over Exeter and Gloucester, Exiles resigned to another long season in the wilderness. Many of the home support simply wanted a win for a change.

Now, I'm a supporter of the relegation system - I think it's necessary to keep the competition alive. If promotion/relegation were to go then you could write-off the fixures for, say, Sale and below for the rest of this season. This would mean the higher teams who are still to play those teams would likely get an easier ride and crowds would suffer. Effectively you'd be making around a third of premiership matches into exhibition games and I don't think many people would be keen to watch them. While I support the system I'm not going to suggest it makes for good rugby - good spectacle, but not good rugby.

So the Irish/Worcester game was a thrilling spectacular of sparkling, running rugby... not.

Basically it was two teams out-of-form trying desperately not to mess-up. For once, though, Irish weren't the worst! Half way through the first half I turned to a close neighbour and said "How did this lot beat Exeter?!". I can only assume it was an off-day for the Warriors because they made a genuinely poor London Irish side look good.

It was a bright start for Worcester - they had much of the first couple of minutes posession and pushed Irish back towards their goal-line. During this foray into the Irish 22 Filo Paulo was given a yellow card for a "No arms tackle". It was a genuinely odd thing, a Worcester player ran an attacking line directly at Filo who stepped to follow the attacker's line when he stepped and then Filo dropped his shoulder to brace for impact. I have no idea what the attacker was doing - he was ahead of the ball quite early in his run, perhaps a mis-timed dummy run. Had Paulo only dropped his shoulder I don't think an offence occurred but the fact that he made a half step to check the attacker's lateral movement means that it's a tackle. Yellow was the right call but it was really weird.

The ever-reliable Chris Pennell took the three to put the visitors up and the Irish support settled-back in their seats for business-as-usual with their team self-destructing within the first 10 minutes.

The yellow-card period, though, was weathered by the home side with aplomb. Not only did Irish not concede any points in that period but they even managed enough pressure to gain a shot at goal to level the scores. How much this was down to Exiles endeavour and how much was Warriors simply failing at everything is up for debate. The men-in-green did put in a good shift to cover the missing man so let's be generous.

With an even compliment of players play settled into a pattern - neither side really making anything from their chances. Irish were better in this regard and it was becoming obvious that the Worcester scrum - ham-strung a little by a late change at hooker - was struggling. Their line-out was nothing to write home about either, it was going to be a long-day for the Warriors. Irish supporters could only console them that the home-team can turn any advantage against themselves and that, most likely, Wuss would have a bonus-point win by the final whistle.

Greig Tonks stroked a second penalty to give Irish the lead and the home support shuffled uncomfortably knowing that going ahead just makes the heartbreak that little bit worse.

And then, the weirdest thing happened, Irish got the bounce of the ball. James Marshall gave a sweet inside pass to Piet van Zyl who facing a blue wall deftly chipped and followed-up. The bounce was the stuff of full-backs nightmares jinking away from the defender and into the welcome arms of the chipper himself to dot down for a try. With the extras Irish were 13 - 3 up - this was going to be really bad...

The visitors reduced the defecit with a penalty just before half-time but at the break Irish were still a converted try up.

In the second half the teams traded penalties (both scored) and then fell back into the game-plan of failing to make yards. There were a number of kicking rallies - mostly won by Irish but not really adding to the spectacle much.

Towards the end of the half the visitors line-out had started to regain control giving them more opportunity to pressure Irish and the home-side were forced to dig deep and defend... which they did! Exiles even managed a few forays into the Worcester half, two of which ended with home penalties gladly kicked by Mr Tonks.

And it was over, JP Doyle blew the whistle and the home-support looked aroud for what it is we're supposed to do in this forgotten position. The boys done good - OK that's not true, the boys done less badly but hey I'll take that.

The defecit in the table went from 16 to 12 (and not, as feared, 20). There is a really long way to go in a short time - Mission Impossible if you will. No-one expects us to do it, least of all ourselves! It does keep the interest going for a little while - what price an away win in Coventry?

Come on you Irish!