London Irish 22 Leicester 39
London Irish 22 Leicester 39
A match that had pretty much everything - pace, imagination, tries, ferocious personal contests, pantomime villains, real-life villains - during a captivating first half, faded to grey after the interval as Leicester, snorting and snarling in time-honoured fashion, reduced the meaty London Irish pack to pet food. "Certain individuals let us down in terms of our collective physical presence," snapped Gary Gold, the Exiles' coach. There will be some beastings on the training fields of Sunbury-on-Thames over the coming days.
In order to stand an earthly of winning this fixture, Gold's team had to reduce errors to a bare minimum and stand toe to toe with Mr Martin Osborne Johnson, who won a thing or two with England if rumour is to be believed. They did neither. In fact, they did the opposite straight from the kick-off, Kieran Roche fumbling comically in his own 22 and looking on aghast as the Leicester captain wrapped his mighty mitts around the loose ball, scattered the retreating Irish forwards to the four winds and created a try for Martin Corry.
Six minutes later, Johnson was unbeetling those dark eyebrows of his in the sin bin, having taken the so-called "professional" approach to try-prevention - "cynical" would be more a accurate description - following an athletic high-ball routine from Delon Armitage in the left corner. But Barry Everitt's successful penalty came at a price, for the Exiles now had to deal with another kick-off. Another fumble left them up to their necks in strife, and although Leicester emulated their butterfingered opponents, Irish lost control of the scrum and red-carpeted the ultra-rapid Seru Rabeni all the way to the line.
Leicester have so many natural-born ne'er-do-wells in their pack - Johnson, Julian White, Neil Back, the increasingly accomplished Deacon brothers - that they will never forge a loving relationship with the refereeing fraternity. Sure enough, they got on the nerves of Wayne Barnes to such a degree that Everitt landed three further penalties in the second quarter. But once Johnson had drawn the sting from the competitive Bob Casey, who could not be counted among those pacifists lambasted by Gold, the tide turned inexorably in favour of the visitors.
Brett Deacon, full of stitches as well as energy after a spell in the blood bin, claimed Leicester's third try after good work from Geordan Murphy; Andy Goode started and finished a slick move on the hour; Austin Healey completed a slick blindside raid.
For their part, Irish worked Scott Staniforth in on the overlap after an intelligent contribution from the lock Nick Kennedy, who showed some neat footwork to avoid being sliced in two by a low-flying Rabeni. Unfortunately for the home side, such poise and awareness were otherwise conspicuous by their absence.
London Irish: Try Staniforth; Conversion Everitt; Penalties Everitt 5. Leicester: Tries Corry, Rabeni, B Deacon, Goode, Healey; Conversions Goode 4; Penalties Goode 2.
London Irish: D Armitage (M Mapletoft, 65); P Sackey, G Appleford, M Catt, S Staniforth; B Everitt (N Mordt, 79), D Edwards (P Hodgson, 61); N Hatley, A Flavin, R Hardwick, N Kennedy, R Casey, R Strudwick, K Roche (P Murphy, 46), K Dawson (capt).
Leicester: G Murphy; A Healey (S Bemand, 71), O Smith, D Gibson (A Tuilagi, 58), S Rabeni; A Goode (L Abraham, 79), H Ellis; G Rowntree, G Chuter, J White, M Johnson (capt), L Deacon (B Kay, 81), B Deacon (H Tuilagi, 40-42), M Corry (H Tuilagi, 17-31, J Buckland 79), N Back
Referee: W Barnes (Middlesex).