The view from the top can be disturbing. London Irish have seldom occupied so exalted a position in the English hierarchy and so may be excused for taking so long to hit their stride yesterday against Leeds Carnegie, the bottom team in the Aviva Premiership.
By the close, though, Leeds had been mauled almost as badly as against Leicester a week earlier and Irish, thanks to a try bonus point, had stretched their lead at the top of the table. They did so with what appeared to be a preparation for winter: punching close to the set-piece, launching their powerful wings into midfield, they ground Leeds into submission on the turf where the Yorkshire club won as recently as last April.
It was no coincidence that the Irish ascendancy began when Hendre Fourie, the Leeds flanker whose form is of so much interest to England, was sent to the sin-bin just before half-time. In his absence, James Buckland burrowed over for the first Irish try and, before the close, Leeds had been reduced to 14 yet again when Rhys Oakley, their replacement No 8, obstructed Seilala Mapusua and received a yellow card.
Where do Leeds go from here? They lost two players to injury during the week and Danny Paul sustained rib damage in the first quarter here, but the pain for a coach as keen ondefence as Neil Back must come with the leaking of so many tries – eight to Leicester, another four in Reading. They registered three of their here but it earned them nothing, leaving Leeds adrift with one point from five games after the first set of fixtures.
"It was the improved performance we were looking for," Andy Key, the Leeds director of rugby, said. "It was like our post-Christmas performances of last season, the kind of performance that, against some other sides, would have brought a win." Not surprisingly, Key disagreed with Fourie's yellow card, one of 17 penalties awarded against Leeds to eight in their favour.
In the first quarter they looked the more effective team, Ceiron Thomas dummying his way to the line, and they clung to the slimmest of leads when Fourie was sent off on 34 minutes. But they could not stem the stream of penalties, several at the scrum – which Toby Booth, the Irish coach, had taken care to warn the referee about in his programme article.
In fact the visiting scrum stood its ground, though the line-out struggled by comparison, but once the Irish started to empty their bench, Leeds were in decline. The main beneficiary was Sailosi Tagicakibau, back after an ankle injury and eager to reclaim a place against Munster in the Heineken Cup.
Perhaps what passes in the modern era for a free-for-all involving 26 of the 30 players on the field freed some inhibitions. Tagicakibau jinked his way over from a five-metre scrum and George Stowers touched down against an upright to give Irish total control, and though Fourie bullocked over from a line-out and Luther Burrell registered the last try of the game, Tagicakibau's second try left Leeds with no hiding place.
London Irish D Armitage; T Ojo, S Mapusua, D Bowden (E Seveali'i, 55), J Joseph (S Tagicakibau, 55); R Lamb (C Malone, 68), P Hodgson; C Dermody (capt; M Lahiff, 74), J Buckland (D Paice, 55), A Corbisiero (F Rautenbach, 51), N Kennedy, R Casey, K Roche (J Fisher, 68), G Stowers, D Danaher (M Garvey, 50).
Leeds Carnegie L Hinton; M Stephenson, J Tincknell, L Burrell, S Tadulala (H Fa'afili, 66); C Thomas (C Lewis-Pratt, 74), S Mathie (W Fury, 59); M Macdonald (G Hardy, 59), A Titterrell (S Thompson, 51), J Gomez (M Alonso, 41),S Hohneck (T Denton, 59), M Wentzel (capt), K Myall, D Paul (R Oakley, 19; sin-bin 73), H Fourie (sin-bin 34-45).
Referee G Garner (London).Reuse content