It was a difficult afternoon for London Irish last weekend after a red card to Brendan McKibbin left them playing with 14 men for the remaining 60 minutes. Despite a valiant defensive effort, the extra man eventually became key as the Exiles tired towards the end of the game.
It was perhaps the oddest sequence of events this season that led to McKibbin’s sending off. London Irish were awarded a penalty on halfway and kicked to touch. From the resultant lineout, the forwards orchestrated a powerful 20m driving maul which was eventually pulled down illegally by Matt Garvey, who was sinbinned while the referee awarded a penalty try. Since Bath flanker, Alafoti Faosiliva, had also already been sinbinned a minute previously, this decisions would have taken the score to 7-10 and left Bath playing with 13 men for 10 minutes.
Through an intervention by the TMO; however, it emerged that McKibbin had stamped on Henry Thomas’ head as he rolled out of the maul. This moment of madness swung the momentum of the game dramatically and from a position of relative strength, Irish found themselves 10-0 down and playing with 14 men for the rest of the game. This was further compounded when Bath scored a well worked try a minute later to lead 17 points to nil.
To replace McKibbin, the Exiles brought on Scott Steele who had impressed last season and took off winger Alex Lewington. Steele temporarily invigorated London Irish, getting the ball away from the breakdown quickly and probing the Bath defence with small snipes around the breakdown. One such break enabled him to score his first try of the season, dragging his team back into the game.
However; luck was not on the Exiles’ side as a scrum collapsed on Steele’s arm and he departed the field with a rib injury just 9 minutes after coming on. This left replacement fly half Chris Noakes to play in an unfamiliar position for most of the game. This meant that the speed of Irish’s ball was consistently a fraction of a second slower than it needed to be meaning that Bath’s defence was always well prepared for any attack. The lack of a right winger in Lewington also meant that Bath could exploit the extra space and scored three tries in this way.
Brendan McKibbin has since been banned for three weeks and will miss his team’s first two European games and the London Double Header. Coupled with the injury to Scott Steele, this leaves London Irish with just one senior scrum half in their squad and so it is likely that promising academy scrum halves Connor Murphy and Callum Watson will be given a chance in the upcoming games.