Leeds display survival spirit

Leeds 24 London Irish 29
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The Independent Online

The bottom of the Premiership is an unforgiving arena, and Leeds should be forgiven if they wake up this morning with all their doubts in place about the possibility of survival, after London Irish just denied them victory yestreday in a marvellous contest played at a furious pace.

It was a game that displayed every facet, the outcome of which was in doubt until the final whistle as Leeds pounded away at the Irish line for six minutes in an attempt to secure at least a draw, with a fourth try, which would have earned them three points, instead of the solitary point for losing by fewer than seven.

It was poor reward for a tremendous performance, though the Leeds director of rugby, Phil Davies, was quick to put it in context. "We're disappointed not to get the win, or at least another point for a fourth try," said Davies. "But we've five games left, and there is still all to play for."

With visits to fellow strugglers Bath and Harlequins on the agenda, if Leeds can reproduce the form they showed yesterday, they might still make it. With a steadier hand at crucial moments, this would have been win number seven. They sped off to impressive beginnings with two fine pieces of opportunism to open up a 17-6 lead once Barry Everitt had announced himself with a penalty and a smart dropped goal.

When Steve Bachop worked the ball across to the right, Geoff Appleford went for the intercept, Scott Benton grabbed the loose ball and scuttled over for the opening try. Two minutes later, Bachop's clearance was gathered by Paul Gustard, but his pass to Justin Bishop went to ground thanks to Cameron Mather's destructive tackle, and Benton was on hand to scoop the ball up for Dan Scarbrough to make 50 metres for try number two. Braam van Straaten added both conversions to an earlier penalty.

Having made such a stunning start, Leeds then came close to pressing the self-destruct button. It began with Van Straaten's high tackle on Appleford for which he was shown the yellow card. Everitt kicked the penalty from 22 metres to bring Irish to within eight points, and Leeds had 10 nervous minutes to see if they could hold on a man down. They did.

However, Van Straaten marked his return with a loose pass which Venter Brendan intercepted to send Paul Sackey across for a try. With Everitt's conversion, Irish were within a point at the break. Until Scarbrough grabbed his second try, it was all Irish as Everitt and Mike Worsley crossed.

From there Leeds looked doomed. But they fought back with great spirit and on several occasions the decisive try seemed imminent, though somehow the Irish clung on.

Leeds: Tries Scarbrough 2, Benton; Conversions Van Straaten 3; Penalty Van Straaten. London Irish: Tries Sackey, Everitt, Worsley; Conversion Everitt; Penalties Everitt 3; Drop goal Everitt.

Leeds: J Benson; D Scarbrough, J Mulder, B van Straaten, S Woof; S Bachop (C Hall, 75), S Benton; M Shelley (capt), R Rawlinson, K Fullman (G Kerr, 63), C Murphy (E Jones, 72), P Murphy, C Mather, D Hyde, C Hogg (I Feaunati, 62).

London Irish: M Horak; P Sackey, G Appleford, B Venter, J Bishop; B Everitt, H Martens ((D Edwards, 54); M Worsley (D Wheatley 71), R Kirke (N Drotske, 20), R Hardwick, R Strudwick (capt), S Williams, P Gustard (E Halvey, 52), D Danaher, C Sheasby.

Referee: A Rowden (Reading).