So another one bites the dust. First Andrew Sheridan. Then Phil Vickery. Now Julian White. At this rate, England will be propping up their scrum on beer crates when they face Australia on Saturday week.
Four minutes into this re-match between last season's Guinness Premiership finalists, White buckled at the bottom of a ruck. The Leicester tighthead had to be helped gingerly from the pitch, wincing in obvious distress. Instead of replacing Vickery in the England front row, the big Devon farmer has joined him on the casualty list. White left the ground on crutches.
Asked whether the 36-year-old had any hope of making the autumn Tests, Richard Cockerill, Leicester's director of rugby, replied: "There's not a chance. He's torn his hamstring. It could take three to four weeks or it could take six to eight. It's disappointing for him, with an opportunity of getting on the Test stage at his age. It's a blow for England too."
That makes three front-row casualties in eight days for Martin Johnson. The England manager's search for talent in that department is turning into a nightmarish reality show – Prop Idle. Still, it could have been worse. Leicester's two England flankers, Tom Croft and Lewis Moody, were also in the wars. "Just knocks on the head," Cockerill reported. "They're both OK. Lewis has got a couple of stitches; nothing serious."
Somehow, amid all of the national-squad anxiety, a Premiership contest managed to break out. Not a particularly pretty one, it had to be said. Like last season's Twickenham final, it was a tight and fractious affair. Back in May, Leicester prevailed by a point, 10-9. Yesterday, they lost by six and neither side managed to cross the whitewash – not with a valid try-scoring effort, at any rate.
In what developed into a penalty shoot-out, Ryan Lamb trumped the opposition, 6-4. The one-time England Saxons fly-half landed six kicks out of eight, taking Irish to the top of the table, probably temporarily, with Saracens at home to Leeds today. Having backed down a blind alley against the Scarlets in Europe last week, the Exiles were happy enough to be back on main street.
"That'll do nicely, thanks," Toby Booth, their director of rugby, said. "Everyone's talked about the Scarlets blip. I think we showed a pretty admirable response. Even though it was a tight, nitty-gritty affair, it was important that we fought and earned our right this week."
Irish came out of the traps firing, Steffon Armitage very nearly driving over after Louis Deacon, the Tigers captain, failed to gather Peter Hewat's hanging kick-off. The Exiles ought to have scored from the recycled possession, but when Elvis Seveali'i chipped over the Leicester defence the Samoan centre ran out of room in which to apply a scoring touch in the truncated in-goal area.
Leicester built some momentum but their troubles at the scrum gave the initiative to Irish. Eleven minutes in, Martin Castrogiovanni, White's replacement at tighthead, was squeezed up and out of a scrum. Fortunately for the Tigers, Lamb's penalty attempt was lamentable.
Jeremy Staunton made no mistake with a close-range effort at the other end but then the Irish front row put the squeeze on Castrogiovanni again and this time Lamb was on the money. So, for that matter was Paul Hodgson, when Leicester sniffed the home whitewash from a five-metre scrum. The Exiles' scrum-half hammered Lucas Amorosino into the ground, having seemingly arrived on the otherwise uncovered blindside from nowhere. The England hopeful was razor-sharp all afternoon.
Lamb's right boot gave Irish the edge before half-time, dispatching a couple of penalties with clinical precision. It would have been worse for Leicester had the fly-half not been pulled up for a forward pass in feeding Samoan try-scoring machine Sailosi Tagicakibau, who raced over on the left to no avail. It was a similar story midway through the second half. Seilala Mapusua punched a mighty hole through the Tigers defence but the Tongan centre's pass to Lamb, who touched down, was also deemed forward.
Thus it came down to kicks, Lamb landing three of four attempts in the second half. Leicester's three – two by Staunton, one by the replacement scrum-half, Ben Youngs – were enough only for the consolation of a bonus point.
London Irish P Hewat; T Homer, S Mapasua, E Seveali'i, S Tagicakibau; R Lamb, P Hodgson; C Dermody (D Murphy, 68), D Coetzee (D Paice, 57), P Ion (F Rautenbach, 64), N Kennedy, B Casey (capt; K Roche, 55), G Stowers, C Hala'Ufia (A Perry, 73), S Armitage.
Leicester Tigers S Hamilton; J Murphy, D Hipkiss, A Allen, L Amorosino; J Staunton, J Grindal (B Youngs, 71); M Ayerza, G Chuter, J White (M Castrogiovanni, 4), L Deacon, R Blaze (G Parling, 55), T Croft (B Deacon, 58), J Crane, L Moody.
Referee: W Barnes (London).Reuse content