It is perfectly possible to have an off day in one of rugby's less visible positions and still be spotted by the whole planet. Ask the World Cup-winning prop Phil Vickery, whose humiliation in the darkened recesses during the opening Lions Test against the Springboks in Durban last June could not have been more obvious to the naked eye had he taken the field with a feather boa where his shorts should have been. But there is something especially embarrassing about messing up at No 10, as poor Ryan Lamb did in front of 60,000 Twickenhamites at the weekend.
Had London Irish's new playmaker kicked even moderately well, the Exiles would probably have reaped the full reward for their second-half efforts by winning the game. As it turned out, he did not kick moderately well, or even moderately badly. While the West Countryman hit the spot with a couple of penalties, another four shots at goal went west. Three of those were too straightforward for words, and as each attempt slipped left or right of the sticks, the former Gloucester stand-off's confidence dipped a little further. When he was finally withdrawn for compassionate reasons, possibly at the request of his therapist, there was barely a murmur from the legions of green-shirted supporters. They could not bring themselves to disturb The Silence of the Lamb.
A few hours earlier, on Friday evening, the Australian outside-half Sam Norton-Knight had suffered a similarly harrowing time on his debut for Cardiff Blues. An hour or so after London Irish trudged off with nothing more than a measly losing bonus point to their name, the vastly more experienced Nick Evans also endured the torments of purgatory while under-performing for Harlequins. As for Jonny Wilkinson, over there on the far side of the Channel... well, he was "rested" by Toulon after a dodgy performance in midweek. Life at No 10 is no bowl of cherries.
Lamb is too gifted a footballer not to make progress with his new club, especially with a tutor like Mike Catt overseeing his development. But London Irish, among the favourites to win this season's title, would prefer it if their marquee summer signing found his bearings sooner rather than later. This opening tranche of Premiership fixtures offers them rich pickings – they will certainly expect to beat Gloucester at home this weekend, Leeds at Headingley seven days later and then take at least five points from their games with Wasps and Sale – but no team goes far without an outside-half in form. Lamb may be newly arrived, but he can already hear the clock ticking.
Saracens, meanwhile, celebrated this success in a fashion that suggested they would not have been entirely surprised had they lost. Under fresh management, they started like a train – tries from Glen Jackson and the highly promising Andy Saull in the second quarter were the products of a workforce keen to impress the new bosses – and ended the first half 15 points clear. They might have been better off still had Jackson succeeded with a relatively unchallenging drop goal attempt a few seconds before the interval. But things were very different in the second period as their opponents established a quicker tempo and, with the ever-rumbustious Bob Casey to the fore, raised the heat on the blowtorch up front.
Delon Armitage, the England full-back, rather overdid the aggression by sprinting in from the back end of beyond to clock Schalk Brits from behind – when the dust settled on the ensuing brawl, both men were sent to the cooler – but the tide had very definitely turned. Unfortunately for the Exiles it did not turn quite enough, even though George Stowers, the latest Samoan to surface at the club, smashed through Jackson for a try that gave the Exiles a scent of victory.
Saracens: Tries: Jackson, Saull. Conversion: Jackson. Penalties: Jackson 2. London Irish: Try: Stowers. Penalties: Lamb 2, D Armitage.
Saracens: A Goode; N Cato, K Ratuvou, B Barritt, C Wyles; G Jackson (D Hougaard 78), N De Kock (J Marshall 73); R Gill (T Mercey 67), S Brits, C Nieto, S Borthwick (capt), H Vyvyan (M Botha 64), W Van Heerden (F Ongaro 57-67 and M Owen 84), A Saull, E Joubert.
London Irish: D Armitage; A Thompstone, E Seveali'i (P Richards h-t), S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau; R Lamb (P Hewat 67), P Hodgson; C Dermody (capt, D Murphy 72), D Coetzee (J Buckland 52), P Ion (F Rautenbach 52), A Perry (R Casey 52), N Kennedy, D Danaher (G Stowers 8-13), S Armitage, C Hala'ufia (Stowers 52).
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).Reuse content