London Irish need to find a 'Plan B'
September 6, 2012
Saracens' Will Fraser and Charlie Hodgson tackle London Irish's Thomas O'Leary during last weekend's London Double Header © PA Photos
We witnessed one of the best games you will ever see last weekend at Twickenham with Harlequins managing to get past Wasps in the final moments of what was a titanic tussle. We will be based at Sale's new ground the Salford City Stadium on Saturday but before that we will take in Bath's game with Wasps at the Recreation Ground.
We've already seen Wasps in action so far this season and they will be looking to bounce back after Saturday's loss to Quins. They managed to storm away into a 27-point lead, but Wasps ran out of energy and part of that was because of the pace of their line speed early on. That caused Harlequins so many problems but it's tough to keep that going. Harlequins showed brilliant resolve and they passed the test of true champions. They kept plugging away and managed to get to the bonus point. I was really impressed with the likes of Mike Brown and Chris Robshaw as they continued to show the resilience they had last year and showed that it was not just a flash in the pan.
But Conor O'Shea may be worried about how easy they were dismantled on the flanks with Tom Varndell and Christian Wade exploiting their lapses in concentration. They combined and were just superb. But Wasps will be mindful this season that it's not just a season concerned with individuals. They need combinations and the whole team to work as an organic whole.
Bath won their match thanks to eight penalties from Olly Barkley and it's hard to call where this one will go. It's difficult early on in the season as no one has really clicked and hit their stride. I can see home advantage being all important but I wouldn't be surprised if Wasps did upset them. You haven't seen enough of either team and you're not sure how much energy was sapped out of them last week so I would expect a narrow home win.
When that game is finished, all the focus will be on Sale's match with Saracens and similar to the Bath Wasps game, we saw the away side in action last week. Saracens looked eminently comfortable against London Irish but I don't think they were tested nearly enough for us to work out what they'll be like as an outfit.
It was a pretty dire game but perhaps our expectations were raised a little bit unfairly high after the classic that preceded it. London Irish looked really poor and Saracens didn't need to get out of second gear as it was so comfortable for them. To be fair to London Irish, we've seen before with Brian Smith's sides that it takes a little while for them to become accustomed to their new playing style. The manner in which he wants them to play will take time to become second nature.
Yes, they had the big win over Munster but it's getting that consistency and also pre-season is a different animal. The first time you go into a full-on game suddenly some of the tries you were running in aren't quite working and you don't have that ability to go to 'Plan B' because you've had such an upheaval in the playing staff meaning there's no understanding between each other.
I don't think it was particularly surprising and I'm sure that London Irish will get better as the season goes on. I'm not expecting them to win anything this year but we saw last time around when Brian was in charge that they slowly progressed up to the top six and then to the final of the Premiership so they just need a little bit of time.
Saracens' opponents Sale will be disappointed that they failed to rattle the scoreboard more against the Chiefs. They were hammered. We saw what Sarries did to London Irish and their ability to open up defences but Sale completely failed to do this so that will be one aspect of their game they will hope to improve. I just think, however, that Saracens will be too strong for a relatively new-look Sale team.
It was great to be back in front of the cameras but I have to admit that I haven't really missed working alongside Austin once again. Only 41 more games to go...
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ben Kay is a co-commentator for ESPN
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup
The reopening of the openside debate, a dominant wolf-pack and a sublime performance in defeat - Monday Maul looks at the weekend's talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Rugby Championship alongside the best photographs from around the domestic game