London Irish blog: Never in doubt (vs. Sale Sharks)By Mad Monk
April 19, 2011
That's what Big Bob said after the match. Not that many were thinking that for half an hour after half time. There is also some doubt about our flanker. There are reports in the press that Steff is off to Toulon despite having 2 years left on his contract.
Then there is talk about former Bath captain Lipman. Having left in disgrace for his forty days in the wilderness there is a possibility he will complete his rehabilitation with the Exiles. Boothy is denying the two are related, but with George going it is pretty clear the club are not going to release Steff without another class back rower in the bag.
With all this happening off the pitch the supporters have a bit to do as well. Not least getting up to Bolton and back. The impoverished amongst us (me and Al) do it as a day trip. Too right it is more than 80 minutes of rugby. Twelve hours more on this occasion.
The MR2 is still poorly in the local garage so I nick Mrs Monk's C2. It is a late kick off, after a four hour drive we go for a late lunch before heading to the ground. This is Sale's big game. They are aiming for 17,000 which would be a record by some margin for the North West club. I am not sure how much home advantage they will gain. Flat pitch, grass, oval stadium. Reebok is very like the Madjeski right down to the blue seats. Toby is licking his lips.
I find my seat between Big Al and Mr & Mrs Dodge. [pic: Al-Monk] Bob is starting having recovered from his calf injury. Sale is without Cueto following the gouging incident. 18 weeks reduced on appeal to 9. Would that be because it was his former flat mate that said he didn't feel anything, or because with 9 weeks he can still make the England training camp for the world cup? Cynical, moi? Having listened to Judge Blackett it is undoubtedly the former.
Doyle is the man with the whistle. I will try and refrain from commenting on his performance as he is one other the newer referees (well new to me anyway). Irish kick off and immediately get possession as prop Paulica Ion collects the spilt ball. It is his first start for Irish in a while. The ball goes forward and Sale gets an early scrum. Good shove from Irish, clean ball from Sale. I will not say that very often this match so make the most of it. The clearance kick from Sale is sliced horribly gifting Irish an early attacking lineout.
Kendo takes cleanly and the ball is out to Tom on the crash, then recycled in what is looking a lively start for Irish. After several phases it is an unsympathetic pass to today's captain, Mapasua that goes forward giving Sale a second opportunity to clear their lines. This is the start of the forward's unhappy relationship with Mr. Doyle. I believe at times they wished they had brought their own Mr. Doyle, the Irish wolfhound mascot. The free kick to Sale is much longer, and deliberately touched by the pitch-side official in front of me to prevent Delon taking the quick throw.
The ball is thrown to Bob at back of the line; the clearance kick goes to halfway. A fine tackle from Gibson but Stowers up in support is guilty of going in off his feet. This gives Charlie Hodgeson a chance to open the Sale account from the halfway line. It misses. Maps passes the restart straight to Elvis who is swamped by Sale shirts. The ball is turned over and Sale has their first real possession of the match. This ends in a Penalty when Dodge points out to Mr Doyle that Sale are holding on. Irish kick the penalty to half way and take the line out at the back. The kick ahead is collected safely by Sale. We have given away possession for the sake of field position.
Irish pin Sale back in their own half and are rewarded when Sale are caught going in at the side. Tom is asked to go for the posts. It is his turn to miss so there is still no score. The kick off is returned by Delon. When it comes back with interest Tom takes it well under pressure. Bowden kicks deep down the centre of the pitch, Sale run it back. The chip over the defender is intercepted by Dodge who flips a blind pass over his shoulder before running into touch. Unfortunately his support runner has a retreating Sale player in front of him who accepts the gift gratefully, then pops it back to his team-mate who finds a good touch. Kendo takes it at the back cleared by Dodge to half way. Sale just about secure their line. When it gets out to Tuilagi it is the clash of the twelve as Maps comes crashing in. Sale recycle towards the wing but Topsy reads it, makes the interception and has an unopposed run in under the posts [pic: TopsyTryReebok]
Tom makes no mistake with the extras and is on hand to collect the restart and thump it into touch. Sale closes the line so Irish get a scrum then a penalty from the scrum. Bowden puts his side up into the Sale half. Kendo takes the ball at the lineout; Dodge feeds Maps who smuggles the ball to Bowden who loses it in contact to Tuilagi. Sale put the ball through the phases. Just when they are looking dangerous the final pass goes straight to touch. Irish set up a maul from the lineout. The Garryowen, when hoisted by Dodge has too much on it for the runners to catch and Sale have possession again. Irish are defending well but are pinged for going over the top when Sale offer no resistance at the break-down. It is in the same place as the attempt at the posts he missed earlier so this time he puts it in the corner. Sale has a period of possession in our half that ends in a penalty when Irish do not roll away. This time Charlie Hodgeson does fancy it, but again misses.
Tom takes a deep 22 Drop-out and catches up with the Sale player about half way. A big Sale prop seems to be though but having been slowed by the first tackle is halted by Delon. The ball is laid back for a chip through which ricochets off an Irish shirt resulting in a knock on by Sale as they try to re-gather. Inexplicably Sale is given a penalty from the scrum at our put in. Looking at the replay Alex looks to be in trouble. He was certainly fingered for that offence. This time Charlie Hodgeson makes no mistake and puts Sale on the scoreboard after nearly half an hour of play.
It is a better restart from Irish. We do not reclaim it but are close enough to disrupt Sale. The ball is passed back to Hodgeson on his own line from where he puts a monster of a kick fully 75 yards that looks to be landing plumb on the line. Bowden is tracking it and chests it to keep it in play then gathers it to pass and keep the ball alive for a quick counter. Delon kicks into space in the far corner forcing Tuilagi to put it out near his own 10 metre line. Steff breaks through the Sale defence after the lineout finally being brought down inside the Sale 22. Quick ball allows brother Delon to get even closer. Five metres out and Sale kill the ball first diving in then not rolling away. Sorry but isn't that a yellow card in that position?
Tom restores the 7 point lead. He then has a little go on his own after an exchange of long kicks after the restart. A half break from Maps is laid back; Topsy comes in on the angle from deep. There is a chip through by Bowden who is taken out by Koye preventing him from following up his kick. The offence is missed by Doyle but the sweeper carried the ball back over his own try line so Irish have a 5m scrum. Irish get clean ball from the scrum. The backs are lining up watching the forwards his closer. It is Paicey who scores for the third time in three matches, a statistic he takes a moment to savour [pic: Paice3outof3]. It only leaves Tom to add the extras to take Irish up to 17-3 with the interval approaching.
Delon, after a moment's indecision with Tom claims the ball and drills a superb kick in the far corner. Sale gets the ball but it is slow. The clearance is infield, taken well by Delon but a well timed run sees him clattered. He does well to protect the ball and allow Dodge to get the ball away. He is back in the move on the loop but tracks laterally and is out of space when he is brought down. Dodge attempts a cheeky move down the blind side but is beaten by the touch line. Sale clears from the lineout but Irish come back at them. Bowden weaves his way through. He has no need of Delon riding shotgun on his shoulder who has nothing to do but congratulate his team mate [pic: DelonBowden]. Again Tom is called upon to add the extras. There is just time for the restart. Delon kicks a long touch which Sale take quickly, Tuilagi puts a grubber through which Delon connects with on the volley. A fortunate bounce and the skill of Charlie Hodgeson allows him to get the ball off the pitch for half time.
This is Sale's big match. That means you can't just have a quick game of U7s mini rugby, you have to do silly things with five metre high plastic balls. They want me to go inside one and roll around. Now I am one of those people who get sick on the teacup ride at Disneyland. The idea of an old bloke dressed as a bishop rolling around in his own vomit inside a transparent plastic sphere on a rugby pitch whilst 16,000 laugh is not my idea of fun. You think I am an exhibitionist?
Luckily the second half is about to start. If you are reading this as a bedtime story to kiddies, it is alright, the story has a happy ending, Hodgeson restarts for Sale and they go in all guns blazing. First three minutes are critical to their hopes of getting back into this game and sure enough Sale gets a penalty inside the golden three when Irish don't roll away. Hodgeson doubles Sale's score to 6. I can live with that if we now get possession. A good take by Sale at the restart. They counter down the wing. Bowden is there and makes the intercept. He chips ahead and is blocked by Hodgeson and another offside Sale player as he tries to chase it. All Doyle gives us is a Sale knock on.
Doyle is fussing over the scrum. The problem is he believes Sale are getting the upper hand so is looking for offences from Irish. Alex is suffering; he has some padding removed from his shoulder. Can't think that would help the problem, but maybe Sir thinks it will help straighten the shove. On this occasion Irish are the benefactors. Tom is charged with a long range goal attempt from out wide. Correct decision? We are chasing a bonus point wouldn't it be better to go for the corner? Since it went over I guess the answer is no.
Unlike Sale we do not secure the restart and straight away we put ourselves under pressure. Sale player is not releasing but Doyle decides it is Irish preventing release. Charlie Hodgeson with a three converted try deficit to overturn has no hesitation in kicking into the corner. The home crowd have something to shout about. Sale pack force down the blind side. Ref gives them another penalty, Charlie takes the lineout again. Sale takes the ball safely at the front but Irish get a good shove on the maul. This seals off the blind side for Sale making it easier for Irish defend. Sale come in on the crash ball and spill it. Irish clear.
Why our clearance almost to half way was not considered an advantage I don't know, but Doyle pulls it back for a five metre scrum, our ball. This is made worse when he then gives the penalty to Sale, fingering the Beast who is now carrying a shoulder injury. Sale smells blood and scrum again. They get clean quick ball, their 8 runs round the blind side but knocks on. Irish gathers and makes a real hash of the clearance. This time he does comes back for the initial knock on which was a double movement by thwarted Sale 8 trying to ground the ball. Johnson is on for Casey and Alex is also off. The Beast is clearly suffering with his shoulder. Changes in the scrum have not helped. On the second reset Koye is round and over the line. He is convinced he has scored, but the TMO does not agree. [Pic: SaleBallNotGrounded]
Sale have dominated both possession and field position in the second half. For fifteen minutes they have been camped on the Irish line yet have not reduced the deficit. Are we weathering the storm or are the floodgates about to open? Maps tries to run the ball out of the danger zone. Having created the space the ball is fed back to Delon for the clearance. Delon is hit very late by the Sale flanker Fearns. No action taken by Doyle. Meanwhile Allison is on for Dodge. Play restarts where Delon's kick went out up near half way. Sale is attacking again but a pass goes forward. Irish are awarded a free kick and finally boot the ball deep into Sale territory. They have however kicked away possession, a commodity in short supply for the visitors since the interval. The ball is kicked back for Tom to put to touch.
Doyle penalises Irish at the lineout, Charlie Hodgeson puts the ball back in the corner. Sale takes the line and Irish again try to push the maul towards touch sealing off the blind side. Doyle forces Irish players to peel off and push from behind which allows Sale to gather some forward momentum. They recycle and advance through the forwards. Steff continues to scrap for every sniff of ball as a good flanker should and is rewarded with turnover ball. Doyle does not agree and gives the scrum to Sale. There are more changes to the Irish front row, Faan is on for Ion and Buckland for Dermody. The ball shoots out on the Sale side. The pass is intercepted by Maps who hacks on. Delon wins the footrace and gives it another hoof of his own only to be pulled back by his collar. Unfortunately he knocked on in the process so another scrum. Irish wheel the scrum through 90 but Doyle gives the penalty to Sale deciding they had done so illegally. Hodgeson renews his love affairs with the far corner. Sale is up there again looking for their first try as we enter the final quarter.
This time Sale gets a good drive from the lineout. Having had little success from the forwards they spread it wide. Bowden intercepts and sets off on a 90 metre sprint for the bonus try. Oh dear that would never do. Doyle calls him back and gives a penalty to Sale. Hodgeson predictably plonks it back in the corner on the basis that it hasn't worked all game so it is going to have to work at some point. Finally they get over the line. The ball is not grounded but Sale gets one more play. Hodgeson converts. Sale are on the comeback train. Tuilagi breaks from the restart. Sale lifted by the try, throw everything at us but lose a scrappy piece of play that allowed a turnover for Delon to clear. Sale run it straight back at us and get a second try in as many minutes. They are back to 20-27
Finally Irish are roused from their stupor by the ghost of Leeds where they gave away a similar lead to a weaker northern side. Thinking they can attack from anywhere Sale spreads the ball after the restart when they are deep in their own 22. They finally make the clearance but already it feels like we may have weathered the storm. Sale bring on fresh legs for the final push. Irish however have the lineout and possession thanks to the Thorpedo. Irish cross the first 22. (The Bolton ground staff painted it in the wrong place so we have a greenish 27metre line and a white 22) As they approach the real one we get a penalty for a high tackle on Bowden.
Tom is asked to put the game beyond a single score but it is his wrong side and he cards a rare miss. Sale breathes again but have less than ten minutes. In an exchange of kicks Hodgeson is looking for territory and finds touch near the Irish 22. It is messy lineout ball but Irish finally get it back and clear. We then steal the lineout then gain a penalty when Sale prevents release. The tide has turned as Tom kicks for the corner. A try bonus would open all sorts of permutations that might lead to a top four finish. I am keeping my crystal balls firmly hidden beneath my cassock. Time enough for that later; let’s get through the final few minutes. Clean take at the back by Nick. Out to the centres, Steff barges through and goes to ground. Bowden finds Thorpe who finds Maps. Steff rips it off his captain and makes another yard. Elvis has a go, back to Maps who spills the ball in the tackle. It is practically illegal to criticise him these days but he does that a lot. Sale has a scrum. After a couple of collapsed scrums Doyle gives the penalty to Sale. Toby screams “Next job, next job!” In other words put the decision out of your mind and concentrate on the next task. The lineout is stolen by Irish again and taken on by Gibson. The kick ahead goes dead touch in goal so it is a scrum near centre spot with three minutes left. JJ comes on for Elvis in a last throw of the dice.
Last attack by Sale unravels when they dive over at the breakdown. It is Irish’s turn to go for the corner. A good drive earns them penalty advantage. We are into the final minute. There is some indecision when Dan is not clear whether there will be time to take the lineout. There is. The ball leaves Cabbage's hands with one second on the clock. Steff tucks the ball under his arm and the whole pack power towards the line with Sale deflecting the maul towards the corner flag. Doyle goes upstairs where there is s clear view of Steff's arm on the ball on the line. [pic: SteffTrySale] Tom's extras make the final score 34-20 lifting us to within 4 points of Saints.
Nice to see Toby, Macca and Bob with smiles on their faces. [pic: MaccaTobyBob]. We hang around to share the euphoria of the moment, but are eventually pushed out by the stewards, When Bob emerges with his “Never in doubt” comment we forgive him the wisdom of hindsight. Sadly it is a long haul down south so I do not hang around. The try bonus has certainly elevated our ambitions to look at the play-offs. My crystal balls are safely hidden until Tuesday’s catch-up game but then I don’t think I will be able to resist getting them out for another airing before the crunch game this Saturday versus Saints.