Horsman's brute strength overcomes Irish adventure

London Irish 15 Worcester 20
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The Independent Online

Worcester won the game with a penalty try three minutes from the end; London Irish might conceivably have had a case for something similar as the second half moved into its 50th minute. "I was certainly waving my arms around in search of one," admitted Mike Catt, the Exiles captain, who had played a blinder in inspiring the boldest of attacking approaches from his backs, who will soon be bestowing honorary membership on Olivier Magne, the wonderful French flanker recruited from Clermont Auvergne during the summer.

Magne had a hand in each of the tries scored by Scott Staniforth before the interval and his sublime chip for the second, delivered at pace as he red-carpeted his way down the wing like royalty, would have drawn applause from Zinzan Brooke himself. The Irish deserved better than a 15-10 half-time lead - Delon Armitage might well have scored had he not been obstructed by Thinus Delport down the left, while Barry Everitt missed a decent penalty opportunity - but they had no reason to believe they would not prosper later on.

When Kieron Dawson, another strong contributor in a back row completed by the iron-clad Canadian Phil Murphy, homed in on the Worcester line within minutes of the restart, there was more than a whiff of game, set and match. But Dawson fumbled in the act of scoring, Worcester extricated themselves with a characteristically powerful scrummage and slowly but surely, the worm turned.

Central to this process was Chris Horsman, the Worcester tight-head prop, who has a streak of nasty the breadth of the Malverns and is not shy of putting it on public display. Martin Fox, the referee, took a very dim view of Horsman's late hit on Dawson and fast-tracked him towards the sin bin, but the former Bath forward's prowess at the set-piece, not to mention his aggression at ruck and maul, marked him out as a key figure. When the visitors won an attacking scrum a few metres from the Irish line in the 77th minute, he applied so much heat at the engagement that his opponents popped up like so many ducks in a shooting gallery and conceded the decisive score.

Shane Drahm, on the field early in the second quarter after James Brown damaged a knee ligament, then landed a 44-metre drop goal to go with the less extravagant one he had nailed late in the first half, leaving the Exiles in need of a try. They tried pretty much everything they knew, hammering away inside the Worcester 22 with the aid of repeated penalty awards. Yet even though Pat Sanderson was sent to the cooler at the death for interfering with an Irish drive, nothing came of the huffing and puffing.

"We have six points from our opening two matches, without playing particularly well in either," said Worcester's director of rugby, John Brain. "We believe we can beat anyone, anywhere."

That may have been milking it a little, but the least fashionable club in the Premiership will leave their calling card wherever they go.

London Irish: Tries Staniforth 2; Conversion Everitt; Penalty Everitt. Worcester: Tries Windo, Penalty; Conversions Drahm 2; Drop goals Drahm 2.

London Irish: D Armitage (S Geraghty, 80); S Staniforth, R Penney, M Catt (capt), J Bishop; B Everitt, B Willis; N Hatley (M Collins, 66), R Russell (A Flavin, 5), R Hardwick (R Skuse, 40), R Casey, K Roche (R Strudwick, 70), O Magne, K Dawson (P Gustard, 46-57), P Murphy (Gustard, 66).

Worcester: T Delport; J Hylton, D Rasmussen, T Lombard, B Hinshelwood (M Tucker, 73); J Brown (S Drahm, 24), A Gomarsall (M Powell, 68); A Windo, A Van Niekerk (C Fortey, 53), C Horsman (M McDonald, 79), P Murphy (T Collier, 77), C Gillies, S Vaili (McDonald, 53-59; K Horstmann, 68), P Sanderson (capt), D Hickey.

Referee: M Fox (Leicestershire).