Saturday 7 February 2015 – 3.00pm
Madejski Stadium, Reading
LV= Cup Pools 2 and 3 #4
This could have been the dead rubber to end all dead rubbers. Neither London Irish nor the Falcons have a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals of this unpopular and unsimple cup, and earlier this week I could see tomorrow’s match being a bit of a damp squib. But having seen the two teams selected, it might be a canny game.
Mind, I’ll be at Eccles v Wigton in North One West, a relegation battle with a lot more riding on it.
Despite our 39-19 bonus-point win over Sale on Sunday, Leicester had already ensured that we could not qualify from Pool 3, although despite having three wins from three games, the Tigers are not certain of a semi-final place because they only lead Wasps by thirteen points to nine. Interestingly, the Covvies have only won one game themselves, but have an amazing FIVE bonus points from three games!
In Pool 2, London Irish sit bottom on just one point, that from a 16-17 home defeat to Leicester in round one. The Exiles were then downed 43-22 at Wasps before last Saturday evening’s 27-18 loss to the Scarlets in Wales. Glenn Delaney’s side had led 13-6 at the break but three second-half tries ensured they left Llanelli pointless, even following Theo Brophy-Clews’ late consolation.
This will be the third time in four seasons that the Falcons and Irish have been drawn together in the Anglo-Welsh competition and the score is 1-1 at the moment, Irish winning at home in 2011/12 and our lads triumphing at Kingston Park in last season’s tournament opener.
For the Falcons, tomorrow offers the chance at redemption for two annoying results. The first I will mention was our first home game of the current Premiership season, when Juan Pablo Socino missed six kicks, including a conversion of Sinoti Sinoti’s try to narrowly miss out on a draw, and Irish returned south with an 18-20 victory courtesy of tries from Fergus Mulchrone and Andrew Fenby. It was former Falcon Fenby’s fourth score against the Falcons in 2014, the previous three all coming in the first half of last April’s Premiership clash in Berkshire.
In an utterly dire first half from a Geordie point of view, Fenby’s hat-trick was topped off with tries from Mulchrone, Eamonn Sheridan and Gerard Ellis. Rory Clegg’s four penalties were all the Falcons could muster and went into the break 40-12 down, and though we improved in a scoreless second half, it was an unhappy return trip north.
In terms of this season’s Premiership, tomorrow’s encounter represents a meeting of the ‘worst of the rest’. Both the Falcons and Irish have 21 points, twenty more than London Welsh but eight fewer than ninth-placed Gloucester, and our team are in tenth due to a far better points difference. Irish have only won twice at home in the league all season, 24-9 against their fellow exiles from Oxford in December and then 28-26 against Exeter last month, though back in September they were triumphant at KP as already mentioned and, notably, at Welford Road, beating Leicester 19-22. Form at Reading has been better in the European Challenge Cup and Grenoble, Rovigo and Cardiff Blues have all crossed back over their borders defeated. Irish’s good form in Europe has been rewarded with a home quarter-final against Edinburgh in April.
Struggling in the Premiership, Irish have not been helped by turmoil on the management front. Director of Rugby Brian Smith had long been confirmed as leaving to return to Australia in the summer, but his premature departure a month ago saw forwards coach Delaney moved up to head the playing side, assisted by club legend Bob Casey behind the scenes. Big plans are already in place for 2015/16 though – Tom Coventry, assistant coach at Super Rugby side the Chiefs, will take over as head coach.
Coventry and Casey have been busy on recruitment, with Ben Franks and Sean Maitland among players moving to the Madejski this summer, as well as young Harlequins flanker Joe Trayfoot. However, Tomas O’Leary and Tom Homer will be big losses.
The Falcons have named near-enough a first choice team for tomorrow, the only undisputed absentees being Rob Vickers and Dom Barrow, and they are both on the bench, the latter having recovered from injury. This team is certainly good enough to return north with the points.
Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Eric Fry, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Scott Wilson, 4 Calum Green, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Ally Hogg
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Alex Rogers, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Andy Davies, 22 Alex Tait, 23 Jamie Helleur
Irish have not named their first choice side apparently, but there are still some good players in their team.
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Eamonn Sheridan, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 James Short, 10 Myles Dorrian, 9 Tomás O’Leary, 1 Leo Halavatau, 2 Jimmy Stevens, 3 Halani Aulika, 4 Nic Rouse (c), 5 Sean Cox, 6 Kieran Low, 7 Conor Gilsenan, 8 Daniel Leo.
Replacements: 16 Mike Mayhew, 17 Ken Dowding, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 David Lyons, 20 Ollie Curry, 21 Darren Allinson, 22 Theo Brophy-Clews, 23 Fergus Mulchrone.
It’ll be interesting to see the crowd number tomorrow – I can’t imagine it will be very big. However, with both sides looking to hit the ground running when the Premiership next weekend (Irish visit Northampton, the Falcons travel to Exeter) and strong teams named, it might end up being an entertaining game, like our clash with Sale on Sunday was.
However, the St Patrick’s Day Party game between these two teams in seven weeks’ time is far more important to both.
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)