For 52 minutes this was a game of rugby with the thrills, spills, hits, crashes, smashes, mis-passes, missed passes and fumbles that make up the game, but then, as Tevita Taumoepeau left the field for the second time, this time for good, Worcester requested uncontested scrums.
This has happened far too often this season - although not usually as early as yesterday - and is threatening the very point of the game.
"It's very hard when scrums go uncontested and each team has three or four flankers out there," said Brian Smith, London Irish's director of rugby. "I thought it was like rugby league for the last 10-15 minutes. The game really has to look at eight on the bench and a full front row. Then there is no excuse and if you can't play a full front row on the bench then maybe you don't deserve the points."
The players do not like it either, although the frustration that sparked a brief mass brawl came from the sprinters. Thinus Delport had scored a try in the 10th minute and visited the sin-bin in the 15th for a deliberate block on Delon Armitage, but his swinging punch on the London Irish full-back merited greater reaction. It got it from Armitage, who waded in with a few blows of his own, and the referee Wayne Barnes, who brandished a red card at the South African.
Riki Flutey also received a yellow for his entrance to the mêlée and the match threatened to descend into a farce. It did not - apart from the lack of scrums of course - as both sides desperately wanted the points. The Heineken Cup is not beyond Irish and Worcester harbour similar hopes, although how and why after this performance? They have lost four of their last five home matches and never really looked capable of breaking the Irish defence. Their one success came from pace of foot and thought early on, fashioning a gap for Delport, but what this match needed was a back with the craft Mike Catt would have provided. A back strain ruled him out before the start. If he had been on the field Irish would have won by a good margin, as the centres, Shane Geraghty and Paul Franze, made many decisions but few of them right.
Franze, a convert from Australian rugby league, was particularly culpable, attempting a bizarre drop goal when more pressure and possession was required and then in the 34th minute ignoring an easy two-man overlap.
Geraghty did at least score a try, his well-timed burst providing a runner for Flutey in the 38th minute, but in a scrappy match both sides needed a thinking footballer to control the game. Both received enough possession but equally they squandered it so in the end it came down to stonewalling defence by Irish, poorly constructed attacks by Worcester and a hard penalty kick in a strong wind by Shane Drahm. He missed it, just, in the 78th minute. It would have been an undeserved victory.
"The supporters saw a lot of incident but very little quality rugby," said John Brain, Worcester's director of rugby. And very few scrums, sadly.
Worcester: T Delport; A Havili, D Rasmussen, T Lombard, M Tucker (G Trueman, 55); S Drahm, M Powell (A Gomarsall, 71); T Windo (Tuamoepeau, 41-52), A van Niekerk (G Hickie, 27), T Tuamoepeau (M Macdonald, 27), P Murphy, C Gillies, S Vaili (R Blaze, 71), K Horstmann, P Sanderson (capt).
London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, P Franze, S Geraghty, J Bishop; R Flutey, P Hodgson (D Edwards, 69); N Hatley (K Dawson, 55), R Russell (D Paice, 48), R Skuse (F Rautenbach, 41), B Casey (capt), K Roche, D Danaher, P Murphy (J Leguizamon, 41; R Strudwick, 62), O Magne.
Referee: W Barnes (Surrey).Reuse content