The Premiership's powers-that-be contend that close-run results such as this demonstrate the quality and fairness of their salary-capped competition, but not everything about league rugby, 2009 style, is so happy-clappy. London Irish wrung their hands over one England player – Shane Geraghty – talking tough over his contract with clubs at home and in France on the fly-half’s trail, while Bath’s captain and England flanker, Michael Lipman, pondered retirement in the face of the physical punishment he has taken this season.
Lipman said he had suffered five concussions since taking a bang behind his right ear in a pre-season friendly against Edinburgh. An accidental hit on the same spot from his team-mate Matt Banahan during a match against Toulouse has sidelined Lipman for the past four weeks, and though the 29-year-old said he had passed the requisite tests, he ruled himself out of this game after training last Friday. “I ran into our biggest player Peter Short a couple of times and felt dizzy afterwards,” said Lipman, who is in Martin Johnson’s England squad.
Lipman noted with alarm last week’s retirement of Raphael Ibanez – the Frenchman cited daily periods of “lethargy” after bouts of concussion – and that of Australia’s Elton Flatley in 2006, not to mention the two players knocked out in the recent Scotland v Wales match. New Zealand’s flanker Richie McCaw and full-back Leon Macdonald have been forced to take time off with similar complaints. “I’m seeing a neurosurgeon in Bristol this week,” Lipman said.
Geraghty, the some-time inside centre, has activated an opt-out clause in his contract, which is up next year, and Toby Booth, the London Irish head coach, said: “If Shane goes, it will not be a rugby decision.”
Geraghty, 22, hinted he may stay in the Premiership, presumably on a better deal than the one Irish are offering. “I don’t think playing in France would be the best for my England career,” he said. Irish have signed Harlequins’ fly-half Chris Malone for next season.
Geraghty did his bit in Irish’s fightback from trailing 17-0 after 45 minutes, but much of the impetus came from the South Seas imports Seilala Mapusua, Elvis Seveali’i and Chris Hala’ufia. There were first-half tries for Bath by Stuart Hooper, Banahan and Joe Maddock, and they stole or spoiled a handful of their opponents’ line-out throws. They also bombarded Irish’s England Under-20 full-back Tom Homer fairly effectively with the high ball; Irish had Peter Hewat injured and Delon Armitage away with England.
But Adam Thompstone’s pacy try launched Irish’s three-try fightback, and their counter-attacking was epitomised by Topsy Ojo’s 66th-minute score.
Bath: Tries Hooper, Banahan, Maddock; Conversion James; Penalty James. London Irish: Tries Thompstone, Mapusua, Ojo; Conversion Geraghty; Penalty Geraghty.
Bath: J Maddock; A Higgins (N Abendanon, 62), A Crockett (capt), E Fuimaono-Sapolu (S Berne, 67), M Banahan; B James, M Claassens (S Bemand, 74); D Flatman (A Jarvis, 55), P Dixon (R Hawkins, 67), D Bell, J Harrison, S Hooper (P Short, 62), A Beattie, J Faamatuainu, D Browne (J Scaysbrook, 64).
London Irish: T Homer; T Ojo, E Seveali’i, S Mapusua, A Thompstone; S Geraghty, P Hodgson; C Dermody (Corbisiero, 80), J Buckland (D Coetzee, 55) A Corbisiero (T Lea’aetoa, 47), J Hudson, B Casey (capt, G Johnson, 77), R Thorpe, S Armitage, C Hala’ufia (D Danaher, 47).
Referee: C White (Cheltenham).