Lamb stars as Irish put Leicester in a stew

London Irish 18 Leicester 12
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The Independent Online

"And another one... and another one gone..." You could almost hear the bass line from John Deacon as poor Julian White became the latest coal-face operative to bite the dust on the England selection front in Berkshire on Saturday.

With Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery having also come to grief in the previous eight days, Martin Johnson is digging ever deeper into the national reserves to come up with some props with which to shore up his front row for the looming autumn series. At this rate, the England team manager will have burrowed all the way down under by the time the Wallabies roll up at Twickenham on Saturday week.

As it happened, Johnson was among the 16,199 crowd at the Madejski Stadium as his one-time Leicester team-mate was helped from the field and on to a pair of crutches after crashing to earth in a state of some distress four minutes into the fitful re-match of last season's Guinness Premiership finalists.

For such a solid front row unit as the 36-year-old farmer, a hamstring tear amounted to a Law Of Sod misfortune.

"Well, it's normally a speed injury isn't it?" Richard Cockerill, Leicester's director of rugby, and formerly a Tigers and England hooking member of the front row union, said with a characteristic twinkle of eye and voice when asked whether his veteran tighthead had ever before been hamstrung in similar fashion. "He went to compete for a ball, got hit, and slipped – he's not that flexible at doing the splits."

Thankfully, for both club and country, it was different when Tom Croft got twisted in a tackle midway through the first-half. The Tiger-cum-Lion, surely a shoo-in on the blindside flank for England, looked as badly stricken as White as he lay having treatment but then got to his feet and proceeded to run off any discomfort. Now there is a young man who can perform the splits and get away with it. All of that balletic stuff with the West Berkshire Youth Dance Group was no laughing matter, after all.

Croft also took a bang on the head, as did Lewis Moody, who required two stitches in a wound above his right eye. According to Cockerill, however, both flankers are "alright," something for which Johnson can be thankful following a tight, fractious affair – "ugly," to quote Mike Catt, Irish's attack coach – in which matters of national squad selection were of as much import as the scrap for Premiership points.

The match-up between Moody and Steffon Armitage was something of a trial for the openside flanker spot and both men had their moments. Moody stopped his opposite number in full flow with one bone-cruncher of a turnover tackle and was his usual mad-dogged self in the loose. Armitage very nearly burst through from the kick-off and sealed the contest with a clamping tackle of Scott Hamilton that snuffed out Leicester's last opportunity to overturn the six-point deficit on the scoreboard.

Paul Hodgson was sharp and snappy all afternoon at scrum-half for the Exiles – brilliantly bottling Leicester's one genuine try-scoring opportunity at source with a blitzing blindside covering tackle on Argentine winger Lucas Amorosino. Then there was Ryan Lamb.

Hodgson's half-back partner took the man-of-the-match award and, indeed, was the match winner, missing his first and last penalties but landing the six efforts in between them with sweet precision. Much of Lamb's distribution was first class but, then, there were also "mutton dressed as" moments from the former England Saxon who has yet to make the senior England grade. A couple of cross-field kicks, one in the opening minute, another midway through the second half, butchered clear scoring opportunities for London Irish.

In England terms, the one-time teenage prodigy remains a work in progress. The momentary pause in Tony Booth's response when he was asked about the fly-half's England chances underlined as much. "Um," the Exiles' head coach said. "I think that Lamby's doing a very, very good job. He's regaining the confidence he had in abundance in his youth. He's 23 now and he's learning to control the game with greater accuracy. If he continues to do that, I'm sure that England will come and have a look at him."

The chances are that the Johnson Jury remains out. We shall see when his autumn squad is revealed today.

London Irish: Penalties Lamb 6. Leicester: Penalties Staunton 3, B Youngs.

London Irish: P Hewat; T Homer, S Mapasua, E Seveali'i, S Tagicakibau; R Lamb, P Hodgson; C Dermody (D Murphy, 68), D Coetzee (D Paice, 57), P Ion (F Rautenbach, 64), N Kennedy, B Casey (capt, K Roche, 55), G Stowers, S Armitage, C Hala'ufia (A Perry, 73).

Leicester: S Hamilton; J Murphy, D Hipkiss, A Allen, L Amorosino; J Staunton, J Grindal (B Youngs, 71); M Ayerza, G Chuter, J White (M Catsrogiovanni, 4), L Deacon, R Blaze (G Parling, 55), T Croft (B Deacon 5-8), L Moody, J Crane.

Referee: W Barnes (London).