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The Exiles were outstanding throughout in both attack and defence to put away a Northampton side that had so far this season played the best rugby.
Brian Smith’s side had to soak up some early pressure as the visitors got their big forwards working hard around the fringes early on. With 20 minutes gone and still no score there were murmurs amongst the press that this may not be a classic. How wrong they were. The final 60 minutes saw classic expansive rugby at its best.
England International, Jonathan Joseph, opened the scoring on 24 minutes with a try seemingly out of nothing. The centre found the ball in his hands on his own 10 metre line and put a nicely weighted grubber kick into the Saints half. Marland Yarde chased well, getting to the ball first, hacked it on and Joseph placed the ball down after Northampton full back, Vasily Artemyev, misjudged the bounce of the ball.
The Exiles kept the pressure on the visitors and went further clear with Steve Shingler’s first penalty goal of the afternoon. The Irish front five knew they had to front up against a Northampton pack that is one of the best in the league. They were all outstanding at both the set piece and around the fringes. David Paice rewarded his teammates with a powerful try from five metres out. Shingler’s conversion made the score 15-0 with only a few minutes left before half time.
Irish had the crowd and momentum with them and were able to inflict one more blow before the break. Ian Humphreys saw nothing on and stepped back into the pocket and struck the sweetest drop gaol from 40 metres out to make it 18-0 to the Exiles at half time.
The second half saw much of the same intensity and passion from Brian Smith’s side in the second half. Steve Myler put the visitors on the board with a penalty goal, Irish however replied in superb style with their third try of the afternoon scored by the try machine, Topsy Ojo.
Joseph was again magnificent in the lead up, breaking challenges and drawing defenders before passing to Ojo who finished well. Shingler’s conversion made it 23-3.
Shingler kicked another penalty goal to make sure of the victory but the Exiles were still after the crucial bonus point score and it came courtesy of Jamie Gibson with 20 minutes remaining. The outside backs made the break and Gibson was on hand to run in from 30 metres to rapturous applause from the Irish supporters.
Shingler kicked two further penalty goals and Ken Pisi and Phil Dowson crossed for consolation tries for the visitors in the final 15 minutes to make it 39 17 to London Irish at the end.
The Exiles travel to the South of France next weekend to take on Bordeaux in the first round of the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Score sequence (London Irish first): 5-0, 8-0, 15-0, 18-0, 18-3, 23-3, 26-3, 33-3, 33-10, 36-10, 36-17, 39-17
Scorers: London Irish: Tries: Joseph (24), Paice (35), Ojo (50), Gibson (61); Penalties: Shingler (32, 53, 69, 78) Drop Goal: Humphreys (38); Conversions: Shingler (2): Northampton Saints: Penalties: Myler (47); Tries: Pisi (67), Dowson (76); Conversions: Myler (2)
London Irish team
15. Steven Shingler; 14. Topsy Ojo; 13. Jonathan Joseph; 12. Sailosi Tagicakibau (rep: Guy Armitage, 67); 11. Marland Yarde; 10. Ian Humphreys (rep: Shane Geraghty, 67); 9. Tomás O’Leary (rep: Jack Moates, 61); 1. Max Lahiff (rep: Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 61); 2. David Paice (rep: Shaun Malton, 76); 3. Halani Aulika (rep: Alan Cotter, 59); 4. George Skivington (rep: Kieran Low, 77); 5. Bryn Evans (Captain); 6. Matt Garvey; 7. Jamie Gibson; 8. Ofisa Treviranus (rep: Chris Hala’ufia, 60)
Replacements: 16. Shaun Malton; 17. Jerry Yanuyanutawa; 18. Alan Cotter; 19. Kieran Low; 20. Chris Hala’ufia; 21. Guy Armitage; 22. Shane Geraghty; 23. Jack Moates
Northampton Saints team
15. Vasily Artemyev (rep: Ryan Lamb, 51); 14. Ken Pisi; 13. Dom Waldouck; 12. Luther Burrell (rep: Tom May, 61); 11. Noah Cato; 10. Stephen Myler; 9. Lee Dickson (rep: Martin Roberts, 63); 1. Soane Tonga'uiha (rep: Alex Waller,62) ; 2. Mike Haywood (rep: Ross McMillan, 62); 3. Brian Mujati (rep: Paul Doran-Jones, 60); 4. Samu Manoa (rep: Teimana Harrison, 61); 5. Mark Sorenson; 6. Courtney Lawes; 7. Tom Wood (rep: Rhys Oakley, 68); 8. Phil Dowson (captain)
Replacements: 16. Ross McMillan; 17. Alex Waller; 18. Paul Doran Jones; 19. Teimana Harrison; 20. Rhys Oakley; 21. Martin Roberts; 22. Ryan Lamb; 23. Tom May
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
Attendance: 7, 918