Match Report 

31 Oct 2010: London Irish v Sale Sharks

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Match Report: 31 Oct 2010 London Irish v Sale Sharks

London Irish's Badge

London Irish


Sharks's Badge

Sale Sharks


Fixture Type: Aviva Premiership

Match Date: Sun 31 Oct 2010

Kick Off: 15:00

Venue: Madejski Stadium

Referee: Martin Fox

Assistant Referee: Nigel Carrick

Assistant Referee: Paul Burton

Paddy Lennon reports from Madejski Stadium.

It required London Irish's special brand of Hallowe’en wizardry as the team thrice rose to the challenge of holding on to the top position in the Aviva Premiership yesterday.

<2r>Only seven rounds of the Aviva Premiership have been played yet, it is already clear what a competitive league it is going to be this season.

Northampton Saints threw down the gauntlet to London Irish with their bonus point win at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday afternoon, in the process leapfrogging the Exiles to take pole position in the Premiership, albeit temporarily.

At the start of yesterday afternoon’s match at a damp Madejski Stadium, London Irish knew what they had to do to stay in the top two, a victory over Sale Sharks was the minimum required.

By the 50th minute of the second half the Exiles appeared to have risen to the challenge not only from Saints but also from the Sharks. Leading 26 – 6 London Irish appeared to be in control, then as sometimes happens in sport, things changed dramatically.

In the space of 12 uneasy minutes Irish found themselves facing a fresh and basic challenge and that was to lift themselves again if they were to win the game.

What happened in that crucial period? A combination of events is the most likely answer – a sequence of four penalties went against Irish, Nick Macleod’s accurate kicking secured six points from two of them; either side of the two successful penalty kicks, the Sharks scored two well worked tries, the first by Anitelea Tuilagi and the second by Ben Cohen as they capitalised on a change of game plan by their team-mates that created gaps in the hitherto impregnable Irish defence; and finally, a series of substitutions by both teams that disrupted concentration levels.

Cohen’s 67th minute try and Macleod’s conversion not only tied the score at 26 all, it also had the effect of kick-starting Irish into action again and how they responded to the final, fresh challenge. The Exiles went on to score 13 unanswered points, including a last gasp try that secured the bonus point, in a dramatic finale that the crowd cheering.

Any match in which a total of 65 points is scored is likely to be full of incident and this one certainly was. The visitors got off to a good start with a penalty in the second minute that was kicked by Macleod.

A lively opening quarter followed with both teams trying out their tactical kicking skills. Sale tested Tom Homer with a series of ‘Garryowens’ but the young full back, who was making his first Premiership appearance of the season, coped capably, returning some with interest.

Macleod and Ryan Lamb exchanged two penalties each to eave the score at six all after the opening half-hour. During that time the Exiles’ out-half had a steadily growing influence on the match – his kicking for field position repeatedly forcing the Sharks to retreat and play from deep in their half and his passing out of hand consistently had the Exiles’ forwards and backs on the front foot testing the visitors’ defence.

<3>The 31st minute brought a moment of magic that befitted the day that was in it. The action originated with Nick Kennedy and Chris Hala’Ufia combining to stretch the visitors’ defence through left midfield. The ball was recycled quickly by Paul Hodgson to Lamb. The out half raced at the defence, shimmied in the best Gavin Henson Strictly style and spotting the gap raced through to touch down for his first try of the season. He added the extras to give Irish a 13-6 lead.

Another touch of wizardy, this time by emerging talent, Jonathan Joseph, extended the home team’s lead. The England Under 20 player capitalised on a burst through the Sharks’ midfield by another England Saxons talent, Alex Corbisiero. The ball was recycled to the left to Joseph who feigned to go on the outside before cutting inside past two defenders to touchdown in the left corner. Lamb missed the conversion to leave the score 18-6 to Irish at the interval.

Sharks made four changes at half-time, including replacing the entire back row, a sure signal that they were intent on altering the game plan they had adopted in the opening period. And so it proved as the half unfolded.

The Exiles were first to add to their score just three minutes after the restart when Lamb capitalised on another controlled drive by his forwards deep into the visitors’ 22, Hodgson whipping the ball from the base of a ruck for his out-half to strike a well-judged drop goal. The score gave Lamb the distinction of completing a rare “full house” of scores and extended his team’s lead to 15 points.

<1r>Three minutes later Irish struck again, this time most of the credit went to Clarke Dermody and his hard-working forwards. The break started with Nick Kennedy speeding through right midfield, intent on reaching the corner, he was stopped ten metres out. The ball was worked quickly crossfield through hands including those of Hodgson who found George Stowers. The Samoan had the power to force his way over in the right corner for the try.

Twenty points ahead with 30 minutes remaining the Exiles appeared in control but that was when the Sharks decided to bite back. First a crisply executed inter-passing move down the right wing that resulted in Tuilagi’s try. Undoubtedly, the score lifted the visitors.

Suddenly, the Sharks were exposing cracks in the home defence. Penalties were conceded and Macleod kicked two in the 62nd and 66th minutes to bring his team within seven points.

A poorly executed re-start resulted in another Sharks counter-attack and another mismatch on the left wing. This time it was former England international Ben Cohen that punished Irish with a touchdown just left of the posts. Macleod added the extras to tie the score.

With 12 minutes remaining, the Exiles had to lift themselves for a fresh challenge. Steffon Armitage replaced the excellent Stowers to add his special skills to the task.

With Bob Casey in charge Irish hit back at their visitors, patiently working the ball through phases as they established field position in the Sharks’ half. Inevitably, a penalty was conceded for offside and Lamb, showing great composure in the circumstances, struck the ball cleanly between the uprights.

The score had a telling impact on the Exiles, confidence returned and the forwards forced a crucial scrum offence from their opposite numbers in the 74th minute. Lamb struck a magnificent penalty from just inside the half-way line to stretch the lead to six points with six minutes remaining.

The dynamic of the game had shifted back to the home team. Irish launched wave after wave of attack at a tiring Sharks. A characteristic flash of magic through right midfield by Steffon Armitage had the crowd on its feet before he was tackled.

With the seconds racing away Sharks knew that a converted try would steal the victory and so they chased the score, exposing themselves to the counter-attack. With only seconds remaining they conceded a penalty for foul play in their left corner, Irish kicked to touch and secured the lineout but lost control of the ball. The Sharks attempted to run the ball from inside their 22 but an ambitious pass by Chris Jones was intercepted by Joseph who had a clear run in to touch down for his second and Irish’s bonus-point try. Lamb kicked the conversion to bring his points total for the game to an outstanding 24.

Post-script: students of the game of rugby that attended yesterday’s match or who may see the highlights on television will rarely see such a remarkable demonstration of the half-backs role in modern rugby as that provided by Paul Hodgson and Ryan Lamb. Hodgson was courageous, dynamic and decisive and at his snapping terrier-like best at the base of ruck and scrum and made light of Sale’s attempts to slow the ball. Lamb thrived on the reliable service from his scrum half partner and showed how he is beginning to realise his exceptional talent under the guidance of Mike Catt.

Yes, their work was based on a courageous team performance, in particular the solid platform provided by the line-out, that responded to all the challenges they encountered, one that deservedly gives the Exiles vital momentum in the top four as the Premiership takes a break for a couple of weeks for the LV= Cup.

Scorers: London Irish: Tries: Lamb (31), Joseph 2 (38, 80), Stowers (46); Conversions: Lamb 2. Drop goal: Lamb (43). Penalty goals: Lamb 4 (11, 28, 71, 74). Sale Sharks: Tries: Tuilagi (56), Cohen (67), Conversions: Macleod 2. Penalty goals: MacLeod 4 (2, 14, 62, 66).

Scoring sequence (London Irish first): 0-3, 3-3, 3-6, 6-6, 13-6, 18-6 (half-time) 21-6, 26-6, 26-13, 26-16, 26-19, 26-26, 29-26, 32-26, 39-26.

London Irish: 15. T Homer (rep: C Malone, 26), 14. T Ojo, 13. S Mapusua (rep: E Seveali’i, 52), 12. D Bowden, 11. J Joseph, 10. R Lamb, 9. P Hodgson, 1. C Dermody (captain)(rep: F Rautenbach, 50), 2. D Paice (rep: J Buckland, 57), 3. A Corbisiero (rep: D Murphy, 57) , 4. N Kennedy, 5. B Casey, 6. K Roche (rep: M Garvey, 57), 7. C Hala’Ufia, 8. G Stowers (rep: S Armitage, 65).

Sale Sharks: 15. P Williams, 14. T Brady, 13. C Bell, 12. A Tuilagi (rep: R Miller, 57) , 11. B Cohen, 10. N Macleod , 9. W Cliff, 1. A Croall (rep: L Imiolek, h-t), 2. N Briggs (captain), 3. K Wihongi (rep: H Thomas, 68), 4. W Lewaravu (rep: C Jones, 57), 5. N Rouse, 6. C Fearns (rep: C Brightwell, h-t), 7. D Seymour (rep: M Jones, h-t), 8. K Ormsby (rep: S Koyamibole, h-t).

Referee: Mr M Fox (RFU)

Attendance: 7,741