Battling Leeds ease relegation worries

London Irish 13 Leeds 23
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The Independent Online

Leeds devalued the clout of their Headingley encounter with Worcester next weekend by wrecking London Irish's hopes of reclaiming fourth spot from Wasps with this thumping victory at the Madejski Stadium. But neither reality will trouble the Yorkshire club, who will this morning no doubt be suffering nosebleeds after climbing to the dizzy heights of ninth in the Premiership.

Before yesterday's game, the Leeds versus Worcester match appeared to be a make-or-break affair for both clubs. Now it is Worcester whose nerves will be jangling the loudest on the day. Those obsessed with the arithmetic will insist that it is not over until the big bird bellows. Try telling that, though, to the shrewd but hugely vocal management duo of Andy Key and Neil Back, who have inserted a spine of steel into this Leeds squad.

Things seemed to be going to script when Chris Malone edged Irish 6-3 ahead with two penalties either side of a Cieron Thomas effort. But after Thomas equalised with his second goal after 13 minutes, Leeds expertly tightened their grip on proceedings.

Shortly after Thomas had arrowed over his third penalty, Delon Armitage dropped a probing high ball; his team-mates appeared to freeze for a few seconds, during which Leeds centre Luther Burrell snaffled up the ball, sidestepped past Irish full-back Peter Hewat and touched down by the posts. Thomas embellished the score with the conversion to leave the home supporters stunned.

Hewat dragged Irish back into the game when he latched on to a pass from Jamie Gibson and surged over the Leeds try-line. Malone added the conversion to ensure that Irish did not change ends seriously adrift, although if Leeds had capitalised on some superb approach work the margin of victory would have been even greater.

The turning point came as the game entered the final quarter when Irish won four penalties in the Leeds 22 and opted for scrums each time, but failed to ram home their advantage. No sooner had Leeds cleared the danger than Malone threw a pass that was intercepted by Lee Blackett, who escaped John Rudd before sending Jon Goodridge over for the decisive try.

London Irish: Try Hewat; Conversion Malone; Penalties Malone 2. Leeds: Tries Burrell, Goodridge; Conversions Thomas 2; Penalties Thomas 3.

London Irish: P Hewat (Joseph, 57); J Rudd, T Homer, S Mapusua, D Armitage; C Malone, P Hodgson; A Corbisiero (Murphy, 55), D Coetzee (D Paice, 70), F Rautenbach (J Tideswell, 70), K Roche, B Casey (capt.)(M Garvey, 71), J Gibson, G Stowers (R Thorpe, 52), S Armitage.

Leeds: J Woodridge; H Fa'afili, L Burrell, S Rabeni, L Blackett; C Thomas, S Mathie; M McDonald (G Hardy, 71), A Titterrell, J Gomez (P Nilsen, 40), E Lund, M Wentzel (capt), C Clark (T Denton, 45), A To'oala (R Oakley, 56), H Fourie.

Referee: W Barnes (RFU).