Fourie heroics in vain as Lamb leads Exiles to slaughter Leeds

London Irish 40 Leeds 24

Andy Key's assertion that he had "no concerns over where we are" was, on the face of it, akin to General Custer professing complete equanimity over his position at Little Bighorn. Yet while Leeds find themselves four points adrift at the bottom of the Aviva Premiership, having played five matches and won precisely none of them, their director of rugby knows he has a significant weapon at his disposal in the shape of Hendre Fourie, who, on this evidence, might well turn out to be a one-man cavalry regiment.

Come to think of it, Leeds are not the only team likely to be thankful for the gift of Fourie this season. The hard-nut flanker may not be much of an Englishman – he hails from Burgersdorp in the North Eastern Cape and knows rather more about the Stormberg Mountains than he does about the Pennines – but he has declared himself for the red-rose cause, worked his way into Martin Johnson's elite party for the forthcoming internationals and looks to have a half-decent chance of cramping the style of Richie McCaw when the world's best forward brings his All Blacks to Twickenham on 6 November.

He will have to find a way past Lewis Moody first, of course, but the current captain is buttering very few parsnips at Bath right now, and if England believe the best way of testing the New Zealanders is to reduce the game to an 80-minute bout of arm-wrestling – an obvious temptation for the current coaching team, given their rampant agoraphobia – they should give serious consideration to naming the uncapped South African among their replacements.

Fourie found himself on the painful end of a defeat at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday, and earned himself a spell of penance in the sin-bin for good measure, so he did remarkably well to end the contest as the pick of the 46 players on view, narrowly pipping the London Irish wing Sailosi Tagicakibau, who performed so brilliantly off the bench that it was difficult to believe he was on the bench in the first place.

Fourie was not quite as dazzling as the try-scoring Samoan, but then, there is not much call for dazzle in the areas of most interest to him. His tackling, turnover work and close-quarters off-loading was exceptional, to the extent that Leeds were the better side until he was dispatched to the cooler two minutes before the interval.

Key was not wildly impressed by Greg Garner's decision to incarcerate Fourie. "We have to look very carefully at what we're doing to the sport," he said. "We're in danger of swaying things too much in one direction. Everything is about the attacking side now, but there is a part of the game that's about defence, about competing for the ball. When Hendre was penalised and sent to the bin, the London Irish guy was the one isolated. On that basis, it wasn't a penalty and it wasn't a yellow card."

And there's the rub for Fourie. Last season, when an open-side flanker could still do what open-side flankers had done since time immemorial – get himself over the ball in the tackle, slowing its release at worst or pinching it at best – the South African was as effective as anyone in the Premiership, hence the offer of a new deal in March and, one assumes, a healthy hike in pay. Since then, breakaway specialists have fallen victim to new interpretations at the breakdown that require them to free a player after the hit, give him a "reasonable opportunity" to present the ball on the floor, make him a cup of tea and give him a peck on the cheek before attempting to relieve him of possession. Much more of this, and every specialist No 7 in the country will be filing an action with the European Court of Human Rights.

There had been a whisper that Leeds, having thrown more of the folding stuff at Fourie, were wondering whether it was money well spent, now he was forbidden to do all the things he was good at doing. That whisper was wrong. Fourie demonstrated at the weekend that he has successfully recalibrated his game. He may have spent time in the bin, but he also scored a genuine open-side's try, stretching over from a close-range lineout. No one, not even London Irish, begrudged him that.

Finishing this first tranche of Premiership matches at the top of the log, the Exiles have good reason to feel happy with life. They have not played particularly well thus far – Toby Booth, their head coach, admitted as much here – but they are scoring something in excess of three tries a game and are beginning to draw the best from Ryan Lamb, an outside-half who, for all his funny little foibles, has both the artistry and the animal cunning to unlock defences. With Paul Hodgson and Daniel Bowden making intelligent decisions either side of him, Lamb will pose a serious threat to all-comers.

One fleet-footed scamper out of defence late in the first half led directly to Fourie's alleged yellow-card indiscretion, and there were a couple of back-handed flips that will bamboozle the men from Leeds a second time when they watch them on the video. "He has incredible instinct," said Booth, who always suspected it would take Lamb a season or so to adjust to life away from his native Gloucester. "Now he has some extra information available to him, we're seeing a better level of game control."

What was more, not even Fourie found a way of roughing him up and knocking the cocky little so-and-so off his perch in time-honoured fashion. The flanker was damned good, but the outside-half was the one who left the stadium with a spring in his step.

London Irish: Tries Tagicakibau 2, Buckland, Stowers. Conversions Lamb 3, Malone. Penalties: Lamb 4. Leeds: Tries Thomas, Fourie, Burrell. Conversions Thomas 2, Lewis-Pratt. Penalty Thomas.

London Irish D Armitage; T Ojo, S Mapusua, D Bowden (E Seveali'i ,58), J Joseph (S Tagicakibau, 58); R Lamb (C Malone, 72), P Hodgson; C Dermody (capt; M Lahiff, 77), J Buckland (D Paice, 58), A Corbisiero (F Rautenbach, 51), N Kennedy, R Casey, K Roche (J Fisher, 72), D Danaher (M Garvey, 50), G Stowers.

Leeds L Hinton; M Stephenson, J Tincknell, L Burrell, S Tadulala (H Fa'afili, 69); C Thomas (C Lewis-Pratt, 77), S Mathie (W Fury, 62); M MacDonald (G Hardy, 63), A Titterrell (S Thompson, 52), J Gomez (M Alonso, h-t), S Hohneck (T Denton, 63), M Wentzel (capt), K Myall, H Fourie, D Paul (R Oakley, 20).

Referee: G Garner (Warwickshire).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform