Rugby Union: Stransky papers over cracks

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Leicester 34

London Irish 19

ON A golden afternoon there was, from both sides, rugby of leaden quality. From the confrontational posturing of the opposing front rows engaged in their private skirmishes to the wincingly embarrassing fundamental mistakes behind, it was a game devoid of shape and spectacle.

Even the most passionate of Leicester's loyal supporters must now concede that their season is over. Out of the cup and flagging badly in the league, they can only hope that the leaders stumble in the home straight. That is always assuming, of course, that Leicester can keep winning and on the evidence of this jaded performance that is a highly big assumption.

For long spells London Irish, whose sole hope of Premiership status next season depends on whether or not the decision is taken to suspend relegation, looked sharper and a yard faster.

Their besetting sin was their ignorance of where the offside line is drawn. So often did they overstep it that the referee's whistle was scarcely out of his mouth for the first quarter.

And Joel Stransky punished them with three first-half penalties. The third kick had nothing to do with offside but was awarded for a senseless late tackle on the Leicester fly-half by Isaac Fea'unati, for which he received a yellow card.

Although Leicester tidied up their act a little in the second half, they have fallen so far below the standard they have set over the years, and even as recently as the early part of this season, that there has to be serious cause for concern.

Bob Dwyer's frustration at his inability to put things right is becoming clearer with every passing week. The dynamism has gone out of the pack and the back play is woefully uneven. Yesterday, their front row could make little headway against the wily Irishmen. Even the simple procedure of locking the scrums together seemed beyond the scope of both front rows, which wasted valuable time and concentrated too much of the referee's attention on this tiresome feud.

The spark of imagination, such as it was, came from London Irish. David Humphreys had recovered sufficiently from the horrors of Lansdowne Road last week to give composure and direction to his backs and had Niall Woods not been tempted to run recklessly so close to his own line the Irish might just have unsettled Leicester enough to cause a surprise.

The full-back's rashness, however, led to Stransky's fifth penalty five minutes into the second half and in that critical period Malcolm Kelly was shown a yellow card and Kieron Dawson was dispatched to the sin bin for persistent infringement. In view of their previous misdemeanours, we must assume it was for offside.

Curiously, it was while Dawson was cooling off that London Irish produced their most constructive rugby, Woods charging down the left wing and Justin Bishop weaving infield from the right. Woods kicked his third penalty for the Exiles which certainly had the desired effect on Leicester. They sprung from their traps and for the first time produced a move of conviction and energy generated by Paul Gustard, the replacement for Martin Corry. Will Greenwood scored the try, Stransky converted and the pressure was off. Greenwood scored his second 10 minutes later and tries followed by Dawson and Leon Lloyd. If the margin of Leicester's victory was greater than they deserved, it could not conceal the extent of their decline in recent weeks.

Leicester: G Murphy; M Read, W Greenwood, J Overend, L Lloyd; J Stransky, R Edwards; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F van Heerden, L Moody, M Corry (P Custard, 53), N Back.

London Irish: N Woods, J Bishop, S Burns, M McCall, N Burrows (D Charles, 31), D Humphreys, P Richards; L Mooney, R Kellam, G Halpin, M O'Kelly, N Harvey (capt), C Bird (K Spicer, 68), I Fea'unati, K Dawson.

Referee: S Piercy (RFU).