Harlequins 27 London Irish 28: One referee shows way to deal with rules farce

Typical. Just when the fiddlers and fumblers of the International Rugby Board were feeling some real heat over their preposterous tinkerings with the law book – revolt in South Africa, fury in France, an embarrassingly lukewarm endorsement from the coach of a Wallaby team meant to be in the vanguard of change and growing evidence in England that it was becoming impossible to stage a game without a penalty-count in the numbers currently being discussed by politicians in Washington – two of London's finest suddenly served up a minor classic. They should be fined heavily and warned as to their future behaviour.

It started encouragingly with a dust-up – Will Skinner, who performed stunningly well for an hour in the Harlequins back row, threw an unusually meaningful haymaker at the London Irish lock Gary Johnson within seconds of the ball descending from the kick-off – and ended thrillingly with one of Skinner's closest comrades, Tom Guest, just failing to hold a difficult pass that might have resulted in the last-chance-saloon try to end them all. In between, there was a proper rugby match conducted in the full glory of the sport's unpredictability.

And the hero of the hour? Step forward Dean Richards. Not the Harlequins version, although the Great Shambling Bear of English union is clearly playing a blinder in driving his club onwards and upwards from the director of rugby's chair, but his exact namesake from the whistling fraternity. Richards the ref controlled the contest in the way contests should always be controlled: pragmatically, sympathetically and with great common sense.

When this match was at its tipping point during the second half, he recognised that both teams were attempting to play positively and allowed them to get on with it with minimal interference. So some people went off their feet at the breakdowns, who gives a damn, apart from a few doctrinaire obsessives in Dublin?

"We all know there are issues with the Experimental Law Variations and the protocols in force at the breakdown, and they haven't gone away," said Toby Booth, the London Irish coach. "But good refereeing is about empathy, first and foremost, and I think we had that out there.

"I understand why the IRB wants people on their feet in the tackle area rather than laying all over the ball, but when, as we did against Bath in our previous game, we make two 90-metre breaks and get pinged for someone going to ground at the final ruck – well, there's no empathy in that, is there? If we want to see attacking rugby, let's help it along by offering some encouragement."

Of course, it is possible that Richards will be chastised for his tolerance rather than congratulated for it. Possible, but unlikely. The assessor in the main stand was none other than Tony Spreadbury, who, during his own long career in the middle, made it his business to referee the game unfolding in front of his eyes as opposed to the game imagined by the law-framers across the Irish Sea. Refereeing is an art, not a science, and the best of it is selective, not comprehensive. Spreadbury must have sensed something of himself in Richards at the weekend.

Quite what Brian Smith, the most recent addition to England's coaching team, sensed as he saw his old London Irish charges fall 20-3 behind in the space of 26 minutes is anyone's guess. The Australian attack strategist has to be more even-handed nowadays, but given the Exiles' intense rivalry with Quins, rooted in decades of close proximity that ended with a bitterly unsatisfactory groundshare arrangement at the Stoop, he would have been less than human had he not fumed ever so slightly during the opening exchanges.

David Strettle, dropped from England's elite squad in July and smarting still, pinballed his way upfield to set up a try in the left corner for Ugo Monye, and when Chris Malone slid the craftiest of kicks into the visitors' 22 off the outside of his right boot, Mike Brown set Guest free for a second try.

Brown then took it into his head to start an argument with both Armitage brothers – rugby's equivalent of picking a row with the Kray twins. Perhaps he assumed the game was already won. Why wouldn't he have done? Everyone else assumed it.

Everyone, that is, except Seilala Mapusua, a Samoan centre very nearly the size of Samoa itself. Even when Quins were rampant and his 14 colleagues were missing in action, he resisted magnificently. When he had some help after the interval, he was better still.

Time and again, he smashed his way upfield to give Irish the right field position from which to launch their attacks, and when possession changed hands, he strong-armed the home side's midfield runners into oblivion.

"We've missed the captaincy of Bob Casey in recent weeks and it was good to be able to bring him off the bench here, but Seilala's leadership has helped us through," said Booth.

"You don't get many pearls of wisdom from him – you'd hardly describe him as Churchill, unless you're talking about the television advert. But he's a 'follow me' man who plays with an enormous amount of heart. I thought he was brilliant."

When they arrived, the Irish points came thick and fast: a penalty from Peter Hewat on the hour, a lovely second try from Delon Armitage two minutes later, an interception score from Hewat four minutes after that and a killer three-pointer off the right post from the same player five minutes from the end of normal time.

Yet Quins dredged their reserves of competitive spirit, responding with a close-range try from Danny Care and then launching one last attack that lasted an age before dying on its feet. It was no more than the game deserved.

Harlequins: Tries Monye, Guest, Care; Conversions Malone 2, Luveniyali; Penalties Malone 2. London Irish: Tries D Armitage 2, Hewat; Conversions Hewat 2; Penalties Hewat 3.

Harlequins: M Brown; D Strettle, G Tiesi, J Turner-Hall, U Monye (T Williams, 77); C Malone (W Luveniyali, 75), D Care; C Jones, G Botha (T Fuga, 68), M Ross (M Lambert, 75), O Kohn (G Robson, 68), J Evans, N Easter (C Robshaw 49), W Skinner (capt), T Guest.

London Irish: P Hewat; T Ojo, D Armitage, S Mapusua (capt), S Tagicakibau; EHickey (E Seveali'i, 45), P Richards (P Hodgson, 51); A Corbisiero, D Paice (D Coetzee, 58), F Rautenbach (T Lea'aetoa, 58), N Kennedy, G Johnson (R Casey, 45), R Thorpe, S Armitage (J Fisher, 79), C Hala'Ufia.

Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
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