October 30 2019

  This Saturday there is a big game of rugby. 2 teams who know each other well. 2 squads of players who have been in training for this encounter for weeks. Britons and Saffers will be out there giving it all for their team (among others)……….oh and there is also another game in Japan between England and South Africa.  

London Irish are the visitors to Allianz for Round 3 of the Premiership. After a season in the Championship, Irish are back in the big time and with a remodelled team. Under the leadership of Declan Kidney & Les Kiss, Irish put down a marker when defeating Wasps at The Ricoh in the opening round. Last week the tables were turned when they were hammered at home by Sale Sharks by 6 tries to 1. Does all this sound a bit familiar? Saracens also lost at home (narrowly) to Saints only to go up to Welford Road at beat the Tigers in their own den. What a difference a bonus point makes! Sarries are currently in 5th (on 5 points) while Irish with 4 points are 10th.

Irish have brought in a lot of new faces for this season in an attempt to stay up with the big boys. Among the most controversial is the signing of Paddy Jackson from Perpignan. After his nocturnal activities became headline news during that infamous court case (in which he was found not guilty but didn’t exactly come up smelling of roses), Jackson’s signing was unpopular with many supporters and sponsors leading to the withdrawal of 2 major sponsorship deals from the club. Jackson has 25 Irish caps (winning the first under Declan Kidney) and a lot of talent. Irish seem to have backed him to put his past behind him and start again. He owes the club a lot for taking a chance on him and presumably that’s what they are gambling on.

 Jackson joins former Saint Stephen Myler at fly half. He is joined by fellow Irishman Sean O’Brien, Scot Allan Dell, Will Goodrick-Clarke (Richmond) and a whole host of southern hemisphere players: Nick Phipps, Sekope Kepu, Curtis Rona,  Waisake Naholo, Adam Coleman and Ruan Botha. A number of old Irish favourites left the club in the summer including the legendary Topsy Ojo, the owner of the best name in rugby Ofisa Treviranus, Grieg Tonks, Josh McNally and Gordon Reid. Among the current Irish players is former Sarrie hooker Dave Porecki (who I read scored 14 tries last season and was voted players player of the year – maybe one that got away?) Phipps, Naholo and Kepu are not yet available and will join after the World Cup so potentially the Irish Squad will be much stronger in weeks to come.  As to the likely starting 15, well Irish have stuck with more or less the same team for their first 2 games so probably something like:-

15. Tom Parton; 14. Ben Loader; 13. Curtis Rona; 12. Terrence Hepetema; 11. Ollie Hassell-Collins; 10. Paddy Jackson; 9. Scott Steele 1. Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi  2. Saia Fainga’a  3. Oliver Hoskins  4. Franco van der Merwe ; 5. Ruan Botha; 6. Matt Rogerson; 7. Blair Cowan; 8. Albert Tuisue

Sarries’ injury list grew even longer last weekend with the loss of Alex Goode for 4 months, Liam Williams for 3 and no sign of Barritt or Rhodes returning to the starting 15. There is a particular crisis in the front row – hardly surprising with our first choice 1,2,3,4,5 and 8 fighting it out in Yokohama, and injuries to Figallo, Pifeleti along with an ongoing suspension for Ibuanokope and in the half backs we’re arguably we are down to our 5th choice 10 (after Faz, Goode, Malins & Willemse) – although young Manu looked very calm and collected last weekend against Tigers alongside his mentor Richard Wigglesworth. This World Cup business has been going on long enough! Come on home boys! Meanwhile the “Home Guard” continue to hold the fort back home so I assume we will see something similar to last week (dare we hope for the return of Brad or Mike Rhodes?)

15. Matt Gallagher; 14. Sean Maitland; 13. Duncan Taylor; 12. Nick Tompkins; 11. Alex Lewington; 10. Manu Vunipola; 9. Richard Wigglesorth; 1. Richard Barrington; 2. Tom Woolstencroft; 3. Titi Lamositele; 4. Will Skelton; 5. Nick Isiekwe; 6. Calum Clark; 7. Ben Earl; 8. Jackson Wray

Our referee is Adam Leal supported by Craig Maxwell-Keys and Philip Watters on the line and David Grashoff in the TV box. (Meanwhile Matt Carley & Karl Dixon are refereeing in the Championship all very odd!) He also refereed the final game of last season’s Premiership between Wuss and Sarries and was in charge of a couple of premiership Cup games earlier this season. A quick review of our match report for the Wuss game suggests “the ref was quite strict”. Hopefully we’re on our best behaviour then!

Sarries will hope to push on from last week and to be honest, even in our stricken state, we should have enough to overcome the Exiles. But take nothing for granted…..just ask Wasps!