A must win
Wounded London Irish and depleted Northampton can't afford to lose this weekend, says Miles Harrison.
Last Updated: 24/02/12 1:33pm
London Irish will be looking to bounce back from their disappointing performance against Newcastle with a victory against high-flying Northampton.
Despite Newcastle going down to 14 men, the Exiles still succumbed 19-10 at Kingston Park. Northampton, on the other hand, consolidated third place in the Premiership table with a 24-17 victory over Sale at Franklin's Gardens.
Miles Harrison cannot see the Saints overhauling Saracens in second place but he believes a win at the Madejski Stadium will keep them well in the hunt for a play-off spot.
What did you make of London Irish's performance against Newcastle?
MILES REPLIES: London Irish have been a bit off their game lately as their European demise and recent run generally shows. That match up at Kingston Park illustrated again that if you are not playing to your potential others in this league will pounce, regardless of their league position. There was a lot of niggle and Newcastle showed they are going to scrap for every point. Irish made too many mistakes and the Falcons, in the end, seemed to want it more.
Toby Booth says that players leaving at the end of the season is disrupting and distracting the team, is that it or is something else going on?
MILES REPLIES: The 'ins' and 'outs' that happen at this time of year certainly don't help but it is a fact of rugby life and it happens across the board. Some will have to deal with more movement than others but it is hardly a new situation and clubs really should be able to overcome the difficulties posed. And, to be fair, Toby is not an excuses sort of bloke; he knows that, regardless of these disruptions, Irish aren't firing. The 'something else going on' is that London Irish are not looking like a top-four side and their time to sort this out is starting to run out. That's why this weekend's game is simply 'a must win'.
Northampton were not at their best against Sale but still recorded what Jim Mallinder called 'a workmanlike' performance. What did you make of their display?
MILES REPLIES: Not one to disagree with Jim, I thought it was exactly that - 'workmanlike'! But they won and Northampton will have taken that. They played with much more verve against Gloucester a week before and lost. Last weekend was all about securing the home points, having had that slip at Kingsholm. It is all getting very tight now in the race for those away play-off spots. I cannot see Harlequins and Saracens being overhauled in the top two positions and Northampton and Leicester need to be watchful of Exeter and Gloucester in particular.
London Irish have one player in the England 22 to Northampton's six, but would you say that Alex Corbisiero will be missed the most?
MILES REPLIES: I wouldn't actually and that is not a comment on the ability of Alex, who is a fine player and very important to England, and London Irish at the moment. But it is the point about the comparative numerical loss which is the key one here. For Northampton, it is a huge number of players to have missing and, within that list there are players who are central to what Northampton are still looking to achieve this season.
Northampton have found Reading to be a happy hunting ground in recent league visits, can you see that changing on Sunday?
MILES REPLIES: Well, if they play like they can and they did against Gloucester, Northampton can win this. But Irish are rarely turned over at home in this league and, even if Northampton had their full complement of players, then victory would be hard enough. I can't wait to see what course this one takes.