Brown's tackles prove too tough for dogged Irish

Gloucester 23 - London Irish 16
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The Independent Online

Danny Grewcock, Simon Shaw, Steve Borthwick, Ben Kay ... given their positional shortcomings elsewhere, England need another international-class lock forward the way literature needs another novel by Alan Titchmarsh. They have one all the same, and he goes by the name of Alex Brown - a guaranteed source of primary possession and, on the evidence of his record-breaking appearance at Kingsholm, an open-field tackler of considerable ferocity. The moment Kieran Roche, Phil Murphy and Scott Staniforth regain the power of speech after having their innards rearranged in front of 11,000 grimacing faces, they will surely confirm as much.

Roche was roundly assaulted by Brown, in perfectly legitimate fashion and in the best possible taste, as he fielded a re-start from Duncan McRae - a collision that resulted in a major-league fumble by the visiting No 8, a punt to the corner from the aforementioned McRae, a flash of line-out brilliance from James Forrester and a simple try for Jake Boer. Shortly after the interval, it was the turn of Murphy, an unusually substantial Canadian who looks like two Rockies flung together as one. He too hit the deck after knocking-on.

And Staniforth? He really copped it, bless him. Brown was more or less horizontal when he invaded the Australian's space from the back end of nowhere and sliced him in half at waist-height. Staniforth is a tough nut, as the British and Irish Lions discovered in the New South Wales town of Gosford in 2001, when he appeared for Australia A, and he was up on his feet in a trice.

He did not, however, look at all well for the rest of the proceedings - a fact that probably explained his own very public botch-up in the final seconds of the game. Three sensational tackles in a single 80-minute span? Few second-rows manage more than one in an entire career.

Strange to relate, the 25-year-old Brown spent his big day - an 82nd consecutive top-flight appearance, taking him past the tally of the Bristol flanker Derek Eves - struggling to prosper in his usual sphere of expertise. London Irish, superbly coached and resourceful in the extreme, competed strongly on the Gloucester throw and made a thorough nuisance of themselves from start to finish. They did not, however, expect to be flayed alive in the wide open spaces by a player once considered a defensive liability.

"There was a time when Alex was a line-out forward and nothing else," admitted Dean Ryan, the Gloucester coach, who first worked with Brown at Bristol. "Defensively, he used to get himself lost. But we've channelled his efforts in that direction, to the extent that we now see him as the best second-row defender in the country, bar none. I've been talking about Alex's ability to play at the highest level for a long time, and while I don't see every lock in England on a weekly basis, I certainly think he should be looked at in terms of a cap."

During Clive Woodward's tenure as England coach, the good men of Gloucester were forever being looked at. James Simpson-Daniel, Henry Paul, Andy Gomarsall - all found themselves in and out of England favour, generally quicker than three art thieves in a blue-chip gallery.

Forrester, back at the rear of the Kingsholm scrum after a season of injury hassle, may well mount an early challenge for a place in Andy Robinson's post-Woodward side, for there is something gloriously different about his expressionistic work on the No 8's canvas. But Brown will beat everyone to it if he carries on like this, regardless of the stiff competition from engine-rooms elsewhere.

For all their second-half dominance in conditions made unexpectedly difficult by a freak squall midway through the opening quarter, it took Gloucester the best part of 80 minutes to nail this one. And much to the frustration of Gary Gold, the Exiles' coach, there was a certain irony about the winning score, coming as it did from a simple give-and-take routine between Gomarsall and the substitute hooker, Chris Fortey, at the front of a line-out.

Fortey sprinted almost half the length of the field, thereby trebling his career yardage in a single bound, and after intelligent running from both Paul and Terry Fanolua, Simpson-Daniel put Andy Hazell away with a perfectly-weighted scoring pass.

"I accept there was a lack of concentration on our part, in that Fortey was allowed to go so far," Gold agreed. "But we were pretty unlucky, even so. We'd cut out their ball in the middle and back of the line-out all day long, which was why they felt they had to go for that move at the front. If we force our opponents to throw to the front of the line every week, I'll be a happy man. I'm more upset at the errors that led to their first-half tries. Points are bloody hard to come by in this league, and to see leads of 10-0 and 13-5 chucked away is pretty disappointing."

Irish were indeed the more capable side in the opening half, but the crocodiles in the Gloucester pack ruled the swamp after the break and would have claimed a bonus point but for Duncan McRae's hopelessly over-cooked punt to the left corner in injury time. The kick was meant for Simpson-Daniel, but Simpson could have stood on Daniel's shoulders and still seen the ball float over his head on its way into the stratosphere. McRae might have done better to run it through the hands and trust the most inventive wing in England to finish the move in time-honoured style.

Gloucester are playing at half-cock, but they have two wins from two and have yet to add three key ingredients - Phil Vickery, the World Cup-winning England prop, and the southern hemisphere signings Nathan Mauger, from New Zealand, and the Springbok prop Christo Bezuidenhout - to their Cherry and White mix. Few will back them to win at Northampton on Saturday, but even fewer will bet against them winning a trophy of some description this season.

Gloucester: Tries Azam, Boer, Hazell; Conversion Paul; Penalties Paul 2. London Irish: Try Appleford; Conversion Everitt; Penalties Everitt 2, Mapletoft.

Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, T Fanolua, H Paul, J Simpson-Daniel; D McRae, A Gomarsall; T Sigley (N Wood 31-41, 72), O Azam (C Fortey 58), G Powell, P Buxton, A Brown, A Balding (A Eustace 70), J Forrester (A Hazell 41), J Boer (capt).

London Irish: D Armitage; P Sackey, G Appleford, M Catt, S Staniforth; B Everitt (M Mapletoft 68), D Edwards (P Hodgson 52); N Hatley, A Flavin (R Russell 52), R Hardwick (P Durant 31-41), R Strudwick (capt), R Casey, P Gustard (N Kennedy 58), K Roche, K Dawson (P Murphy 40).

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).