Ross gives Leeds welcome breathing space at deep end

Leeds 16 London Irish 5
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The Independent Online

Much as Leeds were delighted to take themselves a step away from a Twickenham final after their Powergen Cup win at Northampton a week ago, they will be even more pleased that this victory, their first in the Premiership since early November, is a further stride to ensuring their top-flight survival.

Much as Leeds were delighted to take themselves a step away from a Twickenham final after their Powergen Cup win at Northampton a week ago, they will be even more pleased that this victory, their first in the Premiership since early November, is a further stride to ensuring their top-flight survival.

The Tykes move above Northampton in the table, while for Irish this was their fourth successive league defeat, which will give rise to fears that they may be about to join the strugglers at the foot of the table.

The bedrock of Irish's game is a parsimonious defence, though they and Leeds are the only teams in the Premiership yet to gain a bonus point for scoring four or more tries in a match this season.

So anyone anticipating a try-fest at Headingley last night is either a super optimist or out of touch with rugby reality. Irish don't do tries except when it is absolutely necessary. Not that Leeds are far ahead them in the creativity and imagination stakes.

To be fair to both teams, the conditions were hardly a help. These days the fashion is to crop pitches so close that when it rains no one can gain a foothold. So it was here, as mistakes abounded and any number of promising moves broke down because of the slippery ball and even greasier surface.

The only hint of a try came towards the end of a grim first half when the Irish outside-half, Mark Mapletoft, slid a rolling grubber into the path of Justin Bishop. Given what had gone before it was little surprise that the winger failed to gather the ball.

In a contest which required much more graft than craft, Irish never gained the upper hand in the forward exchanges, while Gordon Ross not only kicked for position with greater certainty than Mapletoft, but banged over three priceless penalties before the break, to leave Leeds in an uncertain command.

But it was Irish who ended the try drought when Mapletoft made the space for Scott Staniforth to slide into the left corner to give Irish a glimmer of hope after 55 minutes.

Leeds were battling hard, however, and thanks to a solid forwards platform - built chiefly by the commanding performances of Chris Murphy and Tom Palmer - they fought back. Their immediate riposte saw Colm Rigney drive down the narrow side to put Andre Snyman across.

Ross, importantly, nailed the conversion, to make it 16-5. There was no way back for Irish from there.

Leeds: Try Snyman; Conversion Ross Penalties Ross 3. London Irish: Try Staniforth.

Leeds: Balshaw (Stimpson 69); Snyman, Christophers, Bell, Rees; Ross, Dickens; Shelley, Regan (Rawlinson 73), Kerr (Gerber 68), Murphy (Dunbar 68), Palmer (capt), Morgan, Parks, Rigney.

London Irish: Armitage; Staniforth, Appleford, Catt, Bishop; Mapletoft, Edwards (Hodgson 64); Hatley, Russell, Hardwick (Durant 75), Strudwick (Kennedy 53), Casey, Danaher (Reid 68), Dawson, Murphy (Roche 58).

Referee: Lander (Cheshire).

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