Adventures of Sinbad: Calm Nigel and racing horses
James Simpson-Daniel's weekly column: The Adventures of Sinbad.
Bright to you in association with rugby charity Wooden Spoon
THE SIGNIFICANCE of Saturday's London Irish game is difficult to overstate.
It is massively important that we get a result in Reading: no one wants to start the season nought for two.
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With a trip up to Worcester in a week's time, our local rivals would be licking their lips about us going to Sixways in that situation.
So it's time for us to cut off the slippery slope before it develops.
Our new boss Nigel Davies has not been quite so candid about what's at stake, but all the players know.
Nigel is a great coach who has made an excellent start – one of his finest qualities is his calmness under pressure.
He is unflustered and unruffled by the Northampton defeat, even though he is very emotional and frustrated about it all at the same time.
That's a real skill, and it rubs off on the players: the last thing we need is panicked or harassed guys forcing the issue and making bad decisions on the field at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.
Nigel's passion is clear for all to see, but he knows how to temper that at the right times.
For some of our younger, developing players, I think that will be a huge boost.
It's then for some of us senior players to add a bit of balance around that, in the way that I think I've been quite honest here about just how pivotal this game will be.
We were poor in the first half against Northampton – but the way we rallied, we should have ended up winning the game.
It was frustrating for us in the back three because we really didn't get anywhere near the kind of ball we were after.
We didn't do ourselves justice, and even though we got back into the game we left a lot of chances out there on the field.
In one respect at least we created those chances, but in another we must sharpen up now.
It's not all doom and gloom, and Nigel has reminded us of the positive aspects for us to build on, but no one is about to shy away from the work ahead.
Irish will be desperate for a backlash after their start, and our defeat there last season is still worth us bearing in mind.
So we've got to appreciate that and take it all in our stride.
Last year's game will have some knock-on effect, but it won't dominate things and it won't be in the forefront of our minds.
But if anyone needs any extra motivation – and really, we won't – then there are enough of us who were involved and had a wretched day at the end of last season to channel that, to produce something entirely at the other end of the spectrum this time around.
TOMMASO IS FITTING IN REALLY WELL
TOMMASO D'Apice has settled in very well to life at Kingsholm.
His English is not fluent – yet – but then, he's only been here a few weeks.
But he speaks English very well, he knows what's expected of him and he's already winning the respect of the lads as shown in the picture above.
He loves to get stuck in and get involved in all the tight stuff; he's put in a few big hits in training.
But then he has also shown he's got the eye for a gap, has good hands and is quite prepared to pop up and get his hands on the ball, and link play too.
Nick Wood has given him his endorsement, and that's not something he does lightly, so that's good enough for me.
I'm not about to start judging the technical abilities of front-rowers, but by all accounts Tommy's made a good start.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF A BARGAIN
TAKING on a horse in a foot race was a first for me this week.
Setting off up the famous Cheltenham Racecourse hill with the deafening sound of eight-year-old mare Moulin de la Croix galloping up behind me was a pretty terrifying experience!
This was just one horse, so I can't even begin to imagine what the roar must have been like in cavalry charges in historic battles.
Myself, Dave Lewis and Mike Tindall helped launch the Super Sporting Ticket tie-up between Cheltenham Racecourse and Gloucester Rugby.
For three race meetings this season – including St Patrick's Day at the Festival – and three Gloucester matches, sports fans can buy one standing ticket to cover both a day's racing and a Cherry and Whites game for as little as £23.
The racing ticket would cost £22 alone normally, so this is amazing value.
There's a big crossover between the two sports, and people at the racing often say they are regulars at Kingsholm.
This is an absolute bargain way to combine two top-level sporting events, and I would urge supporters to snap up the tickets.
Hearing the sound of Moulin de la Croix clip the hurdle meant it was time for us to start sprinting up the hill – the photographers wanted to snap some smart shots of us for the promotional material.
It was all very well them telling us to get closer to the horse as we tried to line up the perfect shot – but they weren't the ones in the line of fire so to speak!
Joking aside it was a pleasure to help launch the venture, and I hope it's one the fans take advantage of.
KIWIS ARE MY TOP BET
NEW Zealand's All Blacks take on the Argentina Pumas in the Rugby Championship at Wellington's Westpac Stadium this weekend (8.35am GMT, Saturday).
Everyone expects a home victory, so my first tip has to be a handicap bet – and I'd go for the All Blacks on -26points, at Evens.
Like I said last week, it's neck on the block time for me here!