February 26 2012
Trips to the Madejski haven’t always been happy ones. But with seven tries, lots of enterprising play and endeavour, and a Saints win with seconds to spare, this was the most fun you can have on an industrial estate in Berkshire. Unless you really like the Next sale that is.
London Irish 23 Northampton Saints 30
The opening phases of the game set the tone for the 80 minutes to follow. Cut and thrust from both sets of backs, fierce battles at the breakdown and some wonderful turnover work from Calum Clark thwarting promising Irish attacks.
The first telling moment of penetration came from the Saints. Myler put up a hanging high ball, which Diggin rose highest to claim. Some strong carries from the forwards took play to 10m from the Irish line, before a lovely cut out pass from Myler released Noah Cato outside a flailing Armitage. He dragged a would-be Irish tackler over the line with him in the left corner, Myler missed the difficult conversion and Saints were ahead 5-0 after 12 minutes
The next 10 minutes were all about the Exiles. Good phase play from Irish saw breaks from Nick Kennedy and James Buckland bringing play to within 5m of the Saints line. A penalty momentarily relieved the pressure, but two minutes later more good phases from the home pack drew a penalty for Saints hands in the ruck. Jarvis slotted the kick for 5-3.
It was to get worse for the visitors soon after the restart. A high ball caused confusion on the 22, with Irish recovering. The ball was moved left to Ojo who offloaded back inside. Artmeyev should have snuffed out the danger but couldn’t gather, Armitage pounced on the gift and scored the try, converted by Jarvis. 10-5 to Irish on 25 minutes.
Penalties were traded by Myler and Jarvis to take the score to 13-8 before double errors from Saints wingmen put Irish in for a second try. Artemyev knocked on in a promising position, and when the ball was kicked through Cato dawdled until the figure of Armitage overtook him. Good covering tackles were made but the weight of numbers in support saw Sailosi Tagicakibau score in the left corner, Jarvis hitting the post with the conversion. 18-8 to the home side. One last Northampton attack from a lineout on halfway gained a penalty for an Irish player in at the side, which Myler slotted for a 7 point half time deficit.
Irish came out with intent to kill the game off early. A lovely break by Jonathan Joseph and offload to Declan Dannaher took play into the Saints 22, however a charge down from Tonga’uiha and a huge Manoa tackle led to a penalty and a chance to clear.
From the lineout a few rumbles from the forwards got Saints onto the front foot before a sweeping backs move sent Pisi away down the left. He ignored Cato on his outside and was dragged down short. Good recycling saw the ball moved back left, Myler spotting Wilson unmarked on the right and finding him with a long looped pass for the try. The difficult conversion was missed but at 18-16 four minutes into the second stanza, the game was thoroughly on.
The Saints were well and truly on top for the next 10 minutes. Paul Diggin, having a fine game at fullback gathered his own up and under to launch one attack, with the offloading game getting going before an eventual knock on by Manoa. A hooked clearance from Bowden left a lineout on the 22. The ball to the back was dropped off the top to Tonga’uiha on the charge. 2 more quick phases from the forwards created space on the left, and another fine pass from Myler sent Paul Diggin over. Myler made his first conversion and it was 23-18 to Northampton after 53 minutes.
The lead was short lived. Another fine carry from the Toulon bound Kennedy threatened the visitor’s line before he was stopped short by Sorrenson. Unable to slow the ball down at the ruck, there was acres of space on the right and slick Irish passing sent Declan ‘Mr London Irish’ Dannaher over to tie the scores up, with the conversion missed.
The play tightened up for the remainder of the match, perhaps quite understandably. Irish could have scored in the right corner but for the otherwise impressive Joseph ignoring a support man on his outside and Ben Nutley snaffling a penalty. Good tackles from Downey and Manoa saved the Saints on other occasions, whilst a lovely break from Artemyev was the best Saints moment.
However more was to come. Some good tactical kicking from Ryan Lamb, on for the impressive Myler placed the Exiles under huge pressure. A pulled down driving maul from a lineout gave a shot at goal with 5 to go. Lamb missed by the width of a gnats hair and a draw seemed inevitable.
There was to be one more fatal mistake in the game. An Irish scrum in their own 22 came under huge pressure. The ball squirted out and was shovelled to Armitage. Huge pressure on the kick from Pisi led to a charge down, the big Samoan gathered and offloaded to Nutley who scored his first Saints try. Lamb took his time over converting and a 30-23 lead was established with 2 minutes left on the clock.
After this, all there was to report was a thoroughly professional exercise in winding down the clock. 3 slow ‘one-out’ phases were run through before the clock hit 0 and Lamb hammered the ball into the crowd to end the game.
Both teams should emerge with huge credit. From the game, which was a great advert for Aviva Premiership rugby. Irish appear to be coming back to their expansive best, and the Saints pack are starting to hit top gear at the right time. With the results of Saracens and Quins this weekend, the race for the top 2 is back on. Improvement like this week on week, and who knows?
Saints 15 Diggin, 14 Artemyev, 13 Pisi, 12 Downey, 11 Cato, 10 Myler, 9 Roberts, 1 Tonga’uiha, 2 Long, 3 Doran-Jones, 4 Sorrenson, 5 Day, 6 Manoa, 7 Clark (capt), 8 Wilson.
SUBS: Waller, Mujati, McMillan, Nutley, Craig, May, Lamb, Glynn
Irish 15 Armitage; 14 Ojo, 13 Joseph, 12 Bowden, 11 Tagicakibau, 10 Jarvis, 9 Samson, 1 Lahiff, 2 Buckland, 3 Rautenbach; 4 Kennedy (capt), 5 Garvey; 6 Danaher, 7 Thorpe, 8 Hala'ufia.
SUBS: Dermody, Blaney , Ion, Roche, Sinclair, Spratt, Homer, Allinson
SKY Man of the Match - Stephen Myler says:-
Debut try scorer Ben Nutley says:-