One of the oft-repeated mantras of Zurich Premiership coaches is the importance of winning home games. They are sacrosanct, the foundation of a successful season, whereas any victories while travelling are a cherished bonus.
So it was absolutely imperative that Irish confirmed last week's narrow defeat of the then league leaders, Sale, with a good win yesterday. Instead, they had done to them by Leeds what they did to Sale, and ultimately it was their own fault.
Even in the dying seconds, with Leeds down to 13 men, Colm Rigney and Dan Hyde having been sin-binned for professional fouls and the ball resembling an uncontrollable bar of soap, they failed to make the five metres needed to the Leeds line despite three good opportunities.
The relief when the whistle blew was enormous, not only for the Leeds players but also for the spectators who must have wondered when the clowns and white tigers were on. It was a circus masquerading as rugby. The players were largely blameless, although Gary Gold, Irish's head coach, thought the referee was not for failing to award a penalty try at the end.
"It's a disgrace, a shambles," he fumed. "The RFU need to pay for 12 full-time referees." His ire, perhaps, should also have been pointed at his own players. But the conditions were poor; rain had been relentless and heavy before and throughout the match and any attacking chance that demanded more than a couple of phases invariably ended with a dropped pass or knock-on.
In keeping with the general tenor of the afternoon, the pivotal score of the match just before half-time was a gift created by a sequence of errors. Hyde, alert at flanker, could not believe his luck as Paul Hodgson, unsettled by a fast ball coming out of a scrum, fired an appalling pass to Barry Everitt to clear the Irish lines. It bumbled through Everitt's legs and Hyde, chasing as if the hounds of hell were in pursuit, hacked on to the line and dived on the ball. It was an opportunist score that flankers delight in, but even Hyde would have been startled by Irish's hospitality.
It gave Leeds an unexpected 10-6 lead going into the second half, and four points in such weather can be terribly difficult to chase down. "I thought that score was crucial," said Phil Davies, Leeds' director of rugby.
"It is a lot easier to defend a lead in those conditions but we spoke at half-time about being tight around the ruck, being tenacious and covering our inside and I felt we did all three really well. No one can deny us our win or the character and organisation that we showed."
Nor the smartness. Their game plan once in front was simple. Concede as few penalties and the yards they offer as possible, force Irish to attack from deep with good kicking, and when in Irish territory try to set up a drop goal.
Ross was successful with one in the 45th minute and continued to trade points with Everitt, though Irish never did regain the lead.
London Irish: M Horak; D Armitage, G Appleford, M Catt, J Bishop; B Everitt, P Hodgson; N Hatley, R Russell, R Hardwick, N Kennedy, B Casey, D Danaher, P Murphy, K Dawson (capt; K Roche, 10; R Strudwick, 50).
Leeds: T Stimpson; D Rees, C Bell, A Snyman, T Biggs; G Ross, M McMillan; M Shelley, M Regan, G Kerr, C Murphy (S Morgan, 74), S Hooper (capt), J Dunbar, A Popham (C Rigney, 67), D Hyde.
Referee: S Davey (Sussex).Reuse content