Ryan Lamb commented recently he had seen less manure since moving to London from Gloucester a year and a bit ago, but there was something nasty on the ball judging by the way his old club handled it at times yesterday.
Twice in the last few minutes the visitors tossed passes around with a lackadaisical disdain which would have shamed an Extra B XV on a drunken weekend. That Gloucester recovered with a harum-scarum late break to earn a bonus point with Lesley Vainikolo's try summed up a mish-mash of a match attended by a crowd lower in number than any London Irish had here last season.
Irish's coach Toby Booth applauded his side's scrum and forgave Lamb the odd, eccentric moment in favour of his goal-kicking and overall influence. Booth also hinted at mischief in his assertion last week that Irish might be interested in signing Gavin Henson. "There would be massive questions over his [Henson's] motivation," said Booth. "It's pie in the sky – there' s less than a one per cent chance."
Lamb, like his opposite number Nicky Robinson, was 100 per cent successful from the tee, and said: "We should have put more points on the board but it's satisfying to win your first home game of the season."
The other pertinent statistic showed Gloucester conceding roughly three times as many penalties as Irish, and they suffered accordingly.
George Stowers, at No 8 for Irish, was free to play despite his red card at Bath the previous week but Elvis Seveali'i was not, pending a citing hearing for an alleged dangerous tackle in the same match. That allowed Seilala Mapusua his first start of the season and the Samoan centre featured prominently in the decisive try after 63 minutes. Gloucester looked to have snuffed out Mapusua and the wing Jonathan Joseph, but Mapusua skipped around the fringes and, in the broken field, a long pass by Daniel Bowden allowed Stowers to stretch through Robinson's tackle at the corner.
Lamb's conversion put Irish 23-9 up – he had kicked penalties after 51 and 55 minutes in reply to a third penalty by Robinson – and the gap might have been wider but for a fine cover tackle by James Simpson-Daniel on Stowers four minutes later. Gloucester were on the back foot after the first quarter, in which Lamb and Robinson exchanged penalties and Joseph and Declan Danaher combined to insert a forward thrust into a side-to-side move and make a try for the hooker James Buckland.
Robinson cut the Irish lead to 10-6 before a bizarre six-minute sequence in the run-up to half-time that had everything but points. Vainikolo conceded a five-metre scrum to Irish, which looked threatening when penalties against Gloucester led to a line-out and a driving maul. But that fell apart, the resulting Irish put-in coughed the ball up and Robinson punted into Irish's half. Lamb, retreating, flung a reverse pass infield which Mapusua could not hold on to, Gloucester's Mike Tindall chipped in behind and it took smart work by Joseph to hold off Simpson-Daniel.
"We didn't retain possession well enough," said Bryan Redpath, the Gloucester coach, "and when we did we gave away a penalty. You've got to keep faith with it. I look at Bath last season and they had 10 losses before finishing in the top four."
London Irish: Tries Buckland, Stowers; Conversions Lamb 2; Penalties Lamb 3. Gloucester: Try Vainikolo; Conversion Taylor; Penalties Robinson 3.
London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, S Mapusua, D Bowden, J Joseph; R Lamb (C Malone, 73), P Hodgson (D Allinson, 71); C Dermody (capt; M Lahiff, 73), J Buckland (D Paice, 73), F Rautenbach (A Corbisiero, 53), N Kennedy, B Casey (M Garvey, 65), K Roche, D Danaher, G Stowers.
Gloucester: C Sharples; J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall (capt), E Fuimaono-Sapolu (T Molenaar, 77), L Vainikolo; N Robinson (T Taylor, 73), R Lawson (D Lewis, 74); A Dickinson (N Wood, 51), S Lawson, P Capdevielle (R Harden, 58), J Hamilton (D Attwood, 53), A Brown, A Strokosch, A Hazell, B Deacon (L Narraway, 55).
Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).