Stevens' knee injury puts Lions tour place in doubt

London Irish 19 - Bath 21
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The Independent Online

Bath's England prop Matt Stevens could be out of the Lions tour after suffering a potentially serious knee injury in the first half against London Irish at the Madejski Stadium yesterday.

Bath's England prop Matt Stevens could be out of the Lions tour after suffering a potentially serious knee injury in the first half against London Irish at the Madejski Stadium yesterday.

Bath's head coach John Connolly has virtually written off Stevens' chances of playing in the critical match against Leeds next week, and explained: "He has injured the posterior cruciate ligament of his right knee. This injury can take a little time to heal."

Surgery is usually carried out as a last resort on this type of injury, which as a general rule will keep a player on the sidelines for between four to six weeks.

With the British and Irish party due to fly out to New Zealand on 25 May that does not leave Stevens much recovery time. Chris Mallac, Bath's head of sports medicine, said that there was "concern over the posterior cruciate ligament", and that Stevens, 22, who has five England caps, would be seeing a London orthopaedic specialist this week.

It marred a gutsy performance by the West Country team, who are now back in the top three of the Premiership, with a place in Europe beckoning if they make the play-off stages. But they had to work hard for the four points.

The game went into the 91st minute before referee Ashley Rowden brought an end to proceedings. It was as much an act of mercy as anything else. Twice in that additional time Irish committed errors that cost them.

The club has adopted "The Fields of Athenry" as its anthem, but after what happened to the full-back Michael Horak and the fly-half Barry Everitt, "Careless Hands" would be more apposite.

It was Horak's fumble of an appalling pass by Delon Armitage which set up the series of scrums from which, eventually, Chris Malone kicked his second and match-winning drop goal.

In the 91st minute Everitt was put into a similar position to counter with a winning drop goal of his own, but he too fumbled the ball. That was enough for Rowden, who blew the final whistle.

The remarkable thing about this result for Irish was that even in defeat they actually moved up a place in the Premiership table, courtesy of the bonus point they earned for finishing so close to Bath.

But with so little to choose between the five clubs struggling to avoid relegation that is of little consolation to the Exiles, who have to travel to Newcastle for their final match next week.

Neither side covered themselves with glory, as the tension was too great to permit a carefree approach to the game, although Bath did manage to score two tries to the home side's one. But the overriding concern in the Bath camp, and doubtless among the Lions management, last night was the state of Stevens' knee.

London Irish: Try Horak; Conversion Everitt; Penalties Everitt 4. Bath: Tries Welsh, Fea'unati; Conversion Barkley; Penalty Barkley; Drop goals Malone 2.

London Irish: M Horak; S Staniforth, G Appleford, N Mordt, D Armitage; B Everitt, P Hodgson; N Hatley, A Flavin, R Hardwick (D Wheatley, 78-80), R Strudwick (capt; N Kennedy, 75), R Casey, P Gustard (D Danaher, 67), K Dawson, R Reid (P Murphy, 75).

Bath: M Perry (R Davis, 73); A Williams, T Cheeseman, O Barkley, F Welsh; C Malone, M Wood; M Stevens (D Barnes, 17), L Mears (J Humphreys, 74), D Bell, J Hudson, D Grewcock, G Lewis, J Scaysbrook, I Fea'unati (G Delve, 66).

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).

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