It’s like déjà vu all over again. A one-word summary of this game might simply be: “frustrating”.
Frustrating because we’ve seen it all before: get a decent start, look good in attack, build up a lead. Opposition changes tactics at half-time and we look—
The details are slightly different, but the overall story of this game was depressingly similar to last week’s: butchered chances, lucky escapes, failing to capitalise on dominant periods.
At half-time, my little demon was jumping up and down like puppy trying to get a biscuit. He knows…
I’m not going to go over it – read last week’s report, it still applies. When we go in with a half-time lead, but without having been really dominant, you know that the opposition are going to have a chat about how to change things around and we’re going to keep on doing the same things.
Yes, there are some basic errors in there, but not as many as there used to be. The biggest problem, as I see it, is a lack of adaptability. We find something that works, get a lead, the opposition change, we don’t. We fail to wrest control back when the tide of the game inevitably turns against us.
We also seem to have decided that the speed/bulk balance should be biased toward bulk, with the result that, when someone does make a clean break, he is often left isolated and gives up the penalty. I just wonder what proportion of the penalties we give away are for holding on in the ruck? And how many of those penalties signal an end to a promising attack?
Enough. Positives: We’re fourth in the table. Last season, we were third at this point, but had flirted with sixth and eighth. At least this season, it’s been third, fourth, fourth, fourth.
The line-out is less of a worry than it was. Not perfect, by any means, but currently hovering around 75–80% completion rate. Quality of ball from the line-out is, I feel, a bigger issue than actually winning it. There’s no point in winning the ball if all you’re going to do is spike it into the ground in front of Faf’s toes.
Among the positives, I want to mention Marland. I’ve seen comments over the last few months questioning whether he should even be in the squad, let alone the team. In my opinion he is absolutely worth his place in the starting line up. I’m not going to use his injury to excuse anything, other than to say that, to my eye, he seems to be getting a bit more pace back with each passing week. Consider: he burned Odogwu over half the length of the pitch, and kept pace with Kibirige for a similar distance.
(On a related note, what was with Sam James bringing down Bassett, when every bookie in the country had him 100–1 on to score? Best try-saving tackle ever.)
Anyway, my point is not about his speed, it’s about his attitude. I watch Marland, I see someone who is looking for work; he’s coming off his wing to provide options, he’s often first in at a breakdown. He may not be a tackle machine, like Jonno, but I’ve seen him bring down some big guys in crucial positions. I don’t know what the issue is with Denny but, right now, he’s a shadow of the guy we signed a few years back. Marland is much more deserving of place than him. If Byron was fit, we’d have two industrious wingers out there posing all sorts of problems.
Assuming the ball ever gets to them, of course.
What else? JP ‘Burj’ du Preez is providing a useful target in the line-out, but it’s still an open verdict on whether he can provide the leadership in that area that Bryn the beard did. Let’s see what happens when Josh is back out on the field.
Best wishes to Zach Kibirige for a swift and complete recovery. I don’t care what the rivalries are, I don’t want to see anyone stretchered off the pitch. Good to see him up and smiling post-match.
A win at Gloucester next week is more than desirable; I think it’s necessary. Not for league position – that’s recoverable – but to regain some confidence. A win at Kingsholm followed by a win the Friday after at home to Worcester would give the team a bit of momentum going into the second Europe break. Get a Challenge cup place from those two games, and we should have loads of belief for the trip to Leicester at the end of January.
I’m not panicking yet, I’m just a frustrated supporter who wants his team to kick on and start living up to their obvious talent.