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Having gone down to a Shane Drahm try and conversion in the third minute, London Irish recovered in the most dramatic fashion at sun-drenched Franklins Gardens this afternoon.
Irish ran in three unanswered tries in a fourteen minute spell that had the Saints rocking. The Exiles first try was scored by Paul Sackey who once again showed what an exceptional talent he is by taking a pass from Mark Mapletoft forty metres out, he handed off the first attempted tackle, then just as full back Nick Beal appeared to have him covered he chipped the ball over his head and beat him to the touch down just right of the posts. Mark Mapletoft converted.
The Exiles second try four minutes later originated when the outstanding Kieron Dawson stole a Northampton lineout. He flicked the ball to Mapletoft who sent it on its way courtesy of Geoff Appleford and Nils Mordt to Justin Bishop who raced in to score in the left corner. Once again Mapletoft converted to give Irish a ten point lead.
Irish were dominating play at this stage pressuring the home side deep in their half and forcing them to concede a penalty 25 metres out just left of the posts. The Northampton defenders assumed that Mark Mapletoft was going to kick for the three points instead of which he tapped the penalty to himself and raced for the line and touched down just before the home defence could tackle him. He went on to convert his try and give Irish a 17 point lead.
Northampton fought back through scrum half Mark Robinson who scored a brilliant individual try in the 25th minute, and two penalties by Shane Drahm for a half time score of 18-24.
Inevitably with any team coached by Wayne Smith they will come back fighting. And so it was in the second half which the home side dominated through a consummate display of broken field play by the forwards. The Saints’ pack gave a masterful lesson in the use of the driving maul to create a platform for attack. However they found a resolute Irish defence that only conceded two penalties in the forty minutes. Both scores were negated by critical penalties by Mapletoft in the 51st minute and by Barry Everitt in the 73rd minute.
The Exiles defence was under pressure until the final whistle. To their credit they caused growing frustration in the home attack as they prevented all attempts to create that match- winning try. Credit for the determined defence goes to all 15 players on the pitch at any point in the game. Captain Ryan Strudwick who once again performed outstandingly in the second row, led by example in demanding the highest standards of his colleagues until his retirement in the 66th minute with a muscle strain.
Speaking after the match Head Coach, Gary Gold said that he was very pleased with the result under the circumstances. “Northampton are the best team in the Premiership on paper with or without their World Cup players. We were up against it when we went down to the early try.
“We showed composure and confidence and played ourselves back into the game with three good tries. Northampton used the driven maul repeatedly in the second half, however we pride ourselves on our defence and it was resolute in keeping the Saints at bay.”
Scorers: Northampton: Tries: Drahm 3min, Robinson 25. Conversion: Drahm. Penalty goals: Drahm 4 (27, 40+2, 54, 64min). London Irish: Tries: Sackey 8, Bishop 12, Mapletoft 22; Conversions: Mapletoft 3; Penalty goals: Mapletoft 2 (6, 51), Everitt (73).
Scoring sequence (Northampron): 7-0, 7-3, 7-10, 7-17, 7-24, 12-24, 15-24, 15-24, 18-24 (half-time) 18-27, 21-27, 24-27, 24-30.