Homer helps relight Exiles' Premiership survival bid
But coach Smith urges England to 'manage' Alex Corbisiero's recurring knee injury
The parade of Gloucester greats who gathered at Kingsholm to remember the late club captain Mike Nicholls before London Irish's 18-12 win in the Premiership saw a series of scrums that bore little relation to what the likes of Phil Blakeway and Mike Burton knew in the 1970s and 80s. Front rows buckling inwards due to mistimed "hits" and dodgy binding made for the usual resets and penalty awards.
The last of these gave Tom Homer, the London Irish full-back who had stopped kicking of late to protect a sore knee, a chance from the 10-metre line that he was called on to take in case Steve Shingler, who had earlier converted two out of five attempts, missed it. It flew over in style and Irish's win was confirmed when Gloucester blew an attacking maul and Freddie Burns, their newly capped England fly-half, failed to find touch with a penalty.
"I'd have run on and given Tom the tee myself if necessary," said Brian Smith, with the levity of a director of rugby whose team had ended a seven-match losing streak in all competitions and won for the first time in seven Premiership matches since early October to greatly improve their prospects of avoiding relegation. They had not prevailed at Kingsholm since January 2006.
But Smith was much less happy over the state of Alex Corbisiero's knee. The prop has played one and a half matches for London Irish this season – in the LV Cup – while starting twice for England against South Africa and New Zealand. The recurrence of the injury that waylaid Corbisiero on tour with England last summer has prevented him playing since facing the All Blacks on 1 December. Coupled with rumours of him moving to Northampton, it lent a financial aspect to Smith's comments. "His knee's a mess," Smith said. "We've put considerable resources into that position and we haven't had much value from that spot so far this season. We certainly hope we get some but there's the Six Nations looming and the way it's gone lately he's been right for England and not right for London Irish. That hurts him and it certainly hurts us. [Current London Irish loosehead] Max [Lahiff] is learning quick but he shouldn't be asked to carry the load he's carrying. He [Corbisiero] has got degenerative knee issues and England have got to manage it; we're certainly doing our part to manage it and wherever he ends up in the future, that's going to need to be managed."
Burns's passing and chip kicks were a little too loose, too early, and Irish's George Skivington scored two tries in the first half to raise his career total in the Premiership by a third; the second-row forward scored six in 124 appearances over nine seasons with Wasps and Leicester.
"It's only one game but it's a big win for us," Skivington said. "We've had a sit-down at the turn of the year, just as players, and if we're honest probably a few people have not been working as hard as you should. We've got a young squad and a new squad. I've just turned 30 and there are players who think I'm an old, old man – they're asking me about the war. But I'm not making excuses; we're halfway through the season and there does come a point where there's no one else to blame. The coaches can give you a game plan but if you're falling away in the last 20 minutes and your mind's going elsewhere there's no one else to blame."
The remaining nine rounds of the Premiership are spread over four months. The Amlin Challenge Cup and LV Cup take over for Irish and Gloucester next month – or "four games on the trot now that effectively don't mean that much to us", as Skivington put it.
The Gloucester captain Mike Tindall's day was lifted by Monbeg Dude, the horse he co-owns with club-mate James Simpson-Daniel and Wasps fly-half Nicky Robinson among others, winning the £51,255 Coral Welsh National at Chepstow. But even that went wrong for some Gloucester players. "I'm not a betting man," said Charlie Sharples. "But we watched the horse get pulled up at Cheltenham earlier in the season and I think that put a few of the boys off betting on it this time." So much for form, in racing and in rugby.
Gloucester: Penalties Burns 4.
London Irish: Tries Skivington 2; conversion Shingler; penalties Shingler, Homer.
Gloucester: R Cook; C Sharples, M Tindall (capt), B Twelvetrees, S Monahan; F Burns, J Cowan (D Robson, 51); D Murphy (N Wood, 51), H Edmonds (D Dawidiuk, 62), S Knight, T Savage, W James, S Kalamafoni, A Qera (M Cox 51), B Morgan.
London Irish: T Homer; J Joseph, S Tagicakibau, S Shingler, M Yarde; I Humphreys (S Geraghty, 50), P Phibbs (J Moates, 74); M Lahiff, D Paice (S Lawson, 39), H Aulika (L Halavatau, 68), G Skivington, B Evans (capt), M Garvey (J Gibson, 74), J Sinclair, C Hala'ufia.
Referee: D Rose (Plymouth).
Six nations player watch
With squads to be announced this week, how are players performing?
Danny Care and Chris Robshaw (both Harlequins and England)
Care lost his England starting place during the autumn but scored a sharp try yesterday to emphasise his current good form. England's current captain, Robshaw, scored too.
Alex Goode (Saracens and England)
Goode has a shoulder problem and Saracens say they are going down the "non-surgical route". In that case he'll be fit, but the final decision will be taken in two weeks' time.
Toby Flood (Leicester and England)
The fly-half is in danger of missing the first game after being cited for an alleged tip tackle on Worcester's Andy Goode on Friday, with a hearing tomorrow.
Alex Corbisiero (London Irish and England)
The prop is battling a recurring knee injury. He was selected to start Saturday's 18-12 Premiership win at Gloucester, but had to withdraw before kick-off.
Tom Croft (Leicester and England)
The flanker back from a neck injury, played 50 minutes on Friday as the Tigers beat Worcester 19-14 in front of England head coach Stuart Lancaster.
George North (Scarlets and Wales)
The wing was not seriously hurt although forced off on a stretcher as Scarlets lost 47-17 to Ulster on Friday, but is still a worry.
Craig Mitchell (Exeter and Wales)
The tight-head prop has given Wales a boost by returning off the bench as Exeter lost 30-19 to Northampton on Saturday after a ruptured bicep in September.
Rhys Patchell (Cardiff Blues and Wales)
The fly-half converted both tries and landed a penalty in an influential performance as Cardiff beat Munster 17-6 on Saturday.
Jonathan Sexton (Leinster and Ireland)
The 27-year-old registered 16 points, with a try, four conversions and a penalty, as his side won 31-16 at Edinburgh on Friday.
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