London Irish 22 Worcester Warriors 9: James O’Connor takes all the points for Irish against wan Worcester

Warriors let slip their chance to close gap on rest of the field with crucial defeat

Madejski Stadium

New year, fresh fortunes for London Irish? There is no lack of work to be done if they are to sustain their shift away from the Aviva Premiership basement, but the change of ownership announced last month, the investment intended in the club's academy and the imminent return from injury of a prolific individual such as Tom Homer suggest a brighter future. Now all they have to do is try to retain James O'Connor.

The Australian wild child scored all their points against hapless Worcester, though it is easy to argue the man of the match award should have gone to George Skivington or Tomas O'Leary. But O'Connor, after a shaky first half with the boot, found his range and, for good measure, scampered over for the only try of a drab afternoon.

If the fates smile upon them, London Irish will have him until this time next year, but they will not build a side around him.

"He's a bit like a comet across the sky," Brian Smith, their director of rugby, said. "He's a world-class player, he'll go back home in January 2015, he should be playing international rugby for the Wallabies.

"But he's only 23, he's not running the changing room. We have him until the end of this season, it would be nice to keep him for the start of next season and we've put our best foot forward, but there's double the money available elsewhere.

"The massive money is in Japan and France, so it comes down to what the player really wants to do."

It was more important for Smith that Skivington played as well as he did, leading from the front as the Irish nosed above Newcastle Falcons in the table.

The lock ensured the success of a limited gameplan in miserable conditions which shaped the nature of the game: the midfield backs, who have won so many plaudits in recent weeks were virtually ignored, instead the forwards drove from set-pieces and drew penalty after penalty from Worcester.

Even when there was a glimmer of a losing bonus point in the final 10 minutes, the Warriors could not nail it down.

They laid down five scrums six metres from the Irish line, they saw James Hagan dispatched to the sin bin after yet another front-row collapse by Irish, yet a blindside thrust was easily contained by the 14-man home defence and their final chance went when Skivington – who else? – stole a Worcester line-out on his own line.

A more confident team would have made more of a 50-metre break in the first half by Paul Warwick and Josh Drauniniu, but the decision-making of the visiting backs was so poor the chance died when Alex Grove knocked on. Worcester now languish 11 points behind Newcastle, and their future is bleak.

"We were driven in the line-out, we lacked discipline," Dean Ryan, their director of rugby, said.

"In a game when there's not a lot more, these are the margins, We didn't cope well enough with the pressure Irish put on us. The longer the season goes on [without a win], the harder it gets for us but we're not giving up, we're not writing ourselves off."

Given that Leicester, the champions, constitute Worcester's next opponents, on 7 February, the season gets no easier if Worcester are to avoid replicating Rotherham's fate 10 years ago of failing to win in the entire league programme.

A grim first half ended level on points, largely because O'Connor kicked only two of his four penalty attempts and Chris Pennell kicked both of his.

Richard de Carpentier, the Worcester flanker, was slightly fortunate not to receive a yellow card for a wild challenge on O'Connor in the air but his back-row colleague, Leonardo Senatore, was sent to the sin bin in the third quarter for collapsing an Irish driving maul. Pennell's second penalty had already produced a more positive response from the Irish. They settled to their work, O'Connor popping over three more penalties (two from close range), before Skivington led the charge towards the Worcester 22.

He also won the line-out 12 metres out from which, after a couple of forward surges, the Irish ran the ball right and O'Connor, in acres of space, drifted through the remains of the defence.

Line-ups:

London Irish: J O’Connor; T Ojo (Halavatau, 74), F Mulchrone, E Sheridan, S Tagicakibau (A Lewington, 75); S Geraghty, T O’Leary; J Yapp (M Parr, 8-12, 56) M Mayhew (J Stevens, 65), L Halavatau (J Hagan, 52), G Skivington (capt), N Rouse, K Low, B Cowan (D Danaher, 65), O Treviranus (J Sinclair, 62).

Worcester: C Pennell (capt); J Stephenson, A Grove, R Fatiaki (J Matavesi, 56), J Drauniniu; P Warwick (I Mieres, 62), J Su’a (J Arr, 50); O Fainga’anuku (G Porter, 68), C Brooker (E Shervington, 62), R O’Donnell ( J Andress, 62), J Percival, M Galarza, R de Capentier, S Betty, L Senatore (C Jones, 64).

Referee: W Barnes (London).

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