Leeds glimpse glory with Doherty's destructive pace

Leeds 15 - London Irish 6
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The Independent Online

David Doherty rescued this fractured Powergen semi-final at a sparsely attended Headingley yesterday, to ensure that Leeds will make their first Twickenham appearance, next month. When Leeds come to look back over the rubble of their disappointing season, this win and the emergence of Doherty are definable high points. Doherty, 18, Leeds-born, with Irish parents, is a rare talent whose apprenticeship was in rugby league, and he played for Great Britain Under-18s last season on their tour to Australia. Three months ago he was uncertain as to whether his future lay in league or union, before opting to stay with the Tykes.

David Doherty rescued this fractured Powergen semi-final at a sparsely attended Headingley yesterday, to ensure that Leeds will make their first Twickenham appearance, next month. When Leeds come to look back over the rubble of their disappointing season, this win and the emergence of Doherty are definable high points. Doherty, 18, Leeds-born, with Irish parents, is a rare talent whose apprenticeship was in rugby league, and he played for Great Britain Under-18s last season on their tour to Australia. Three months ago he was uncertain as to whether his future lay in league or union, before opting to stay with the Tykes.

When Leeds were ahead by only 8-6, and struggling to put the game away as the final quarter was reached, Doherty took Chris Bell's pass then, with blinding pace, turned the Irish full-back, Michael Horak, inside-out to cross for a sumptuous try. When one considers that this was only Doherty's second start for the Tykes, and only his fourth appearance, he has taken to the union game with rare aplomb. We will be hearing much more of young Doherty, that is for sure.

While Doherty will grab the headlines, Leeds grabbed victory against an Irish side who were without clarity of thought or cogency of expression. To say theirs was a lacklustre performance would be the understatement of the season. Though, having lost to Leeds twice this season they could hardly claim they did not know what to expect. It could be said that other high points for Leeds were home and away defeats of Irish: the second being their only win in the last nine Premiership games. It is a fair bet that Leeds would swap a cup semi-final win for Premiership survival, for the Tykes have an unforgiving run-in to the end of the season, which might still end in tears. For the moment they deserve their celebrations as their captain, Iain Balshaw, explained.

"It's a major achievement in a game which wasn't the prettiest," Balshaw said. "But it's a major boost for us and we can now concentrate on the Premiership."

Irish had the first chance to strike. Gordon Ross's high kick was run back at the Tykes by Horak but, with a clear field ahead of him - albeit with 55 metres to go - Scott Staniforth dropped the ball. It was to be one of those afternoons when the ball hit the floor with alarming frequency. For both clubs, slipshod handling, among other frailties, has accounted for their poor Premiership performances.

Once Leeds got their handling heads together, they invariably looked sharper and more threatening then Irish. Richard Parks, who had a fine game, initiated the move, taken on by Doherty, who blazed up the left touchline, for Rayno Gerber to act as the pivot, and Bell to touch down. A terrific finish to a splendid move. Ross missed with the conversion, but added a dropped goal. Mark Mapletoft then kicked a penalty for Irish to leave it at 8-3, and then slotted another after the break. Irish were enjoying their best spell before Doherty's brilliance put an end to it.

Leeds: Tries Bell, Doherty; Conversion Ross; Drop goal; Ross. London Irish: Penalties Mapletoft 2.

Leeds: I Balshaw (capt); D Rees, P Christophers, C Bell, D Doherty; G Ross, M McMillan (A Dickens, 56); M Shelley, M Regan (R Rawlinson, 64), R Gerber, C Murphy (S Hooper, 64), T Palmer, S Morgan, R Parks, C Rigney.

London Irish: M Horak; S Staniforth (N Mordt, 33), R Penney, M Catt, J Bishop; M Mapletoft (B Everitt, 69), D Edwards (P Hodgson, 75); N Hatley, R Russell (A Flavin, 51), R Hardwick, N Kennedy (R Strudwick, 50), B Casey, P Gustard (P Murphy, 64), K Dawson (capt), R Reid.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).

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