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London Irish had to work hard at a bright if chilly Madejski Stadium this afternoon to achieve a victory over Premiership strugglers’ Rotherham Titans. The 21 point margin of victory is deceptive in that it was only in the final half hour of the game that Irish supremacy told both in terms of territory and possession and more importantly, in points on the score board.
Irish had started in sparkling fashion with a Justin Bishop try in the second minute. Mark Mapletoft converted and added a penalty three minutes later for a 10-0 lead. Rotherham stuck back in the seventh minute with a well worked try that stretched the Irish cover and allowed full back, Jon Benson to touch down. Jason Strange kicked the conversion and the home side knew that they were not going to have things their own way.
From the re-start Irish drove deep into the visitors’ half, from a ruck the bal was recycled to Darren Edwards who found paul Sackey on the right, the winger side-stepped Joe Ewens and raced in to score. Mapletoft added the conversion. Rotherham came back at Irish who were penalised in the 15th minute on their 22 leaving Strange with an easy penalty.
Once again from the re-start Irish drove into the Titans’ half forcing them to concede a penalty five metres from their goal line. Mike Horak seeing the temporary disarray in the visitors’ defence, took a quick tap penalty and his momentum carried him over for the try. Mark Mapletoft added the conversion.
Then came eight minutes of madness by the Exiles. First Kieran Roche found himself in the sin-bin for a tackle on Jon Benson that the touch judge decided was late. Strange kicked the resulting penalty. Then in the 29th minute Mark Mapletoft in attempting to defend carried the ball over his goal line but missed the touch down, leaving Anthony Elliot with the easiest try of his career. Strange converted for a score of 24-23.
In a frantic if scrappy final ten minutes of the half Rotherham pressured Irish but failed to add to their score.
Rotherham were to open the scoring in the second half with another penalty by Strange. The score put them in the lead which they held on to for six minutes. Mapletoft’s first penalty of the afternoon triggered a change in Irish. The Exiles adopted a more direct approach which started to pay dividends. Mapletoft added another penalty in the 52nd minute before leaving the field with a painful ankle injury four minutes later.
Barry Everitt’s arrival injected a further change of pace as Irish took the game deeper into the visitors’ half. Everitt’s first penalty came in the 66th minute. Just three minutes later his attempted drop goal was blocked, he retrieved the ball and darted through a forest of players to emerge and race twenty metres for a great individual try just left of the posts. He converted to give his side the comfort of a 40-26 lead.
The final fifteen minutes was dominated by Irish as greater fitness and technique told. Irish introduced a series of young replacements including Declan Danaher, Adrian Flavin, Kevin Barrett, Rob Hoadley and Nick Kennedy. It was an inspirational pass by Flavin that created the Exiles’ fifth try when he sent the ball all of thirty metres from the left touch line to Ryan Strudwick in mid-field. The captain passed to Geoff Appleford who flicked the ball onto Michael Horak for his second try of the afternoon.
Gary Gold, London Irish’s head coach said he was unhappy with the first half performance in particular with the defence which did not perform to its usual standard. He praised Rotherham for their first half effort but felt they were unable to cope with his team when they lifted the pace of the game in the second period.
Scoring sequence (London Irish first): 7-0, 10-0, 17-7, 17-10, 24-10, 24-13, 24-16, 24-23 (half-time) 24-26, 27-26, 30-26, 33-26, 40-26, 47-26.
Referee: R Goodliffe (RFU)