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The pointless 12-man escape London Irish refuse to celebrate

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

This Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership fixture between London Irish and Northampton has rekindled memories of the bizarre nine minutes that took place earlier in the season between the two teams. The Exiles were September visitors to Franklin’s Gardens and despite starting the second half with just 12 players against 15 Saints after suffering three yellow cards in quick succession, they managed to keep their line intact without conceding any points.

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Northampton did eventually go on to win 38-22, scoring three tries after London Irish had emptied their jam-packed sin bin and were restored to 15. However, Saints’ inability to score against just 12 opposition players greatly frustrated their boss, Phil Dowson.

That dissatisfaction then had an even more curious sequel the following weekend as Northampton collapsed in the closing stages at home to local rivals Leicester when they found themselves in the exact same Irish situation of managing three overlapping yellow cards.

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London Irish assistant Les Kiss spoke at the time that in all his years coaching he had never been involved with a team that had to cope with being short three players, but that shortage didn’t have a follow-through at his club’s training ground at Hazelwood.

The Exiles had been in the habit of training for scenarios where they are one man down due to a card, but they refused to change their ways post-Northamopton to practice being short more players than that – with very good reason.

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“There is a balancing act there,” explained Declan Kidney, their director of rugby ahead of this Saturday’s renewal of the London Irish rivalry with Northampton at Brentford. “You know that cards are unfortunately part and parcel of the game. The cards you pick up you hope are the ones that are nearly outside your control, the accidental ones or whatever.

“You practice for one but if you start practicing for two or three you start giving a hint to the players that it is okay if we get two or three yellow cards. You don’t want to be encouraging yellow cards. It’s a bit like teaching – you might put one fella outside the door, but you don’t put three.

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“Without a doubt, that was a massive effort by the lads on the pitch at the time but then the trouble was the energy that it took. We spoke about that afterwards. It is all well and good to talk about the effort made by the 12, but it is what is costing the 12 doing it.

“So, you are trying to avoid them [cards] at all costs if you can. I’m not sure what the average is but I remember the last stat about two years ago said that a yellow card at our level is worth between seven and 10 points.”

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