London Irish 27 Saracens 24: Hodgson is right man to get England going, says Smith

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The Independent Online

It is fashionable for coaches to sing the praises of certain players and Brian Smith, London Irish's director of rugby, fell just short of enlisting the support of a celestial choir when the name of Paul Hodgson was mentioned.

Hodgson, who was promoted to the England replacements' bench for the Six Nations match with France, was up against one of the best scrum-halves in the Premiership here in Saracens' captain, Neil de Kock, and emerged a winner, but only just.

"If England want to expand their game then they should choose Paul at some stage," Smith said. "He has a massive engine and he never stops. England has some exciting young talent and Paul is the man to get the white jerseys liberated."

It was easier for Smith to talk about his star scrum-half than an average performance by his side who, in marks out of 10, might have got five. The same goes for Saracens, for whom Chris Jack was a late withdrawal, and for the match itself which for almost an hour was remarkable only for the number of errors it produced. The Irish were trailing 16-12 when Topsy Ojo brilliantly created a try for Sailosi Tagicakibau which was quickly followed by another from Gonzalo Tiesi, who was put away by the useful Australian full-back, Peter Hewat.

Saracens' Glen Jackson, one of the best marksmen in the game, had a chance to level the scores with a penalty with the last kick of the game. It was close, but the reaction of the London Irish players standing behind the posts – they frantically waved their arms about to indicate that the kick had failed – told its own story. This win meant that Irish are still on a roll, with nine wins out of nine, some of which have put them into the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. But they have still not got anywhere near the leaderboard of the Premiership. "If we had drawn that game it would have been a travesty," Toby Booth, their forwards coach, said. "We got a bit excitable and lacked composure. We like to play with tempo, almost at all costs, but there is a fine line between high tempo and suicide." They did not play with the former and managed to avoid the latter.

It has also become fashionable for coaches to sing the praises of visiting clubs. This was Smith on Saracens: "Their squad is full of talent. The half-backs are as good as any in world rugby... they have talented monsters in the pack and there is plenty of gas out wide. On top of that they are well coached and capable of playing terrific rugby."

And this after seeing Saracens, cash rich but oddly lacking in stature, struggle again. Alan Gaffney, the coach who will make way for Eddie Jones – is this the reason for their fibre deficiency? – tried to sound upbeat but looked exasperated. "If we beat Sale next week we'll still be in the mix for the play-offs. You never say it's over."

London Irish: Tries Tagicakibau, Tiesi; Conversion Hewat; Penalties Hewat 5; Saracens: Tries Skirving, Ratuvou; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Jackson 4.

London Irish: P Hewat; T Ojo, D Armitage (G Tiesi, 40), S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau, M Catt, P Hodgson; T Lea'aetoa (R Skuse, 55), D Paice, F Rautenbach (D Murphy, 40), N Kennedy, B Casey (capt), K Roche (D Danaher, 50), S Armitage, R Thorpe.

Saracens: D Scarbrough; R Haughton (K Ratuvou, 55), F Leonelli (B Russell, 58), A Powell, R Penney; G Jackson, N de Kock (capt); N Lloyd, F Ongaro (A Kyriacou, 58), C Visagie (C Johnston, 55), K Chesney, H Vyvyan, P Gustard, D Seymour (T Ryder, 75), B Skirving.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).