London Irish hosted Bristol Rugby on Saturday in their first ever game in the Premiership Academies U18 league.
Fielding a side combining some of the best players from the AASE and EPDG programmes for the first time gave the coaches, and all who came to support, a glimpse of some of the London Irish first team players of the future.
The team came together with limited preparation time with players from a range of Schools including Wellington College, Hampton School, St Benedicts School, Whitgift School and Lord Wandsworth College having to gel and learn a new playing structure in a matter of hours as opposed to weeks!
Bristol arrived at Sunbury with a strong side featuring several England age grade Internationals as was to be expected, but it was London Irish who impressed straight from the kick-off.
Great work from the forwards saw Irish drive into the Bristol half on several occasions that resulted in a kickable penalty which unfortunately fly half Ollie Williams pulled wide.
Bristol responded well and crossed the line on 22 minutes to open the scoring with stand-out centre Lucas Slowik showing his pace and power to break the deadlock.
Irish responded in ferocious fashion with the pack again setting the platform, the backrow of Lorcan Dow, Tom McDonald and Max Berry led the way with strong ball carrying through the heart of the Bristol pack.
Captain McDonald turned down a kickable goal on the Bristol line and opted for a scrum. Following a couple of phases Loose Head prop George Sewell crashed over to even the scores.
Irish went in at half time 11 – 5 up after winger Jordan Gott added two well taken penalties.
In the second half the game sprang into life with both sides scoring a further 5 tries each.
Bristol came out of the blocks and scored a converted try on 45 minutes which was quickly countered by London Irish’s Scrum Half Connor Murphy who darted in under the posts. Gott again converted.
At this point Irish really took control and introduced a number of players from the bench. Replacement fly half Charlie Wicks combined with Brett Heron to score out wide and then replacement backrow Buchan Richardson showed his pace and skill to catch a high cross field kick and out sprint the Bristol back three to add a second in as many minutes.
Irish were up 28 – 12 with 15 minutes remaining and were expecting to close the game out, however Bristol had other plans.
Bristol came fighting back, running the ball from anywhere and everywhere on the field. They caught a tired Irish defence napping on a number of occasions and scored two converted tries in quick succession through Lucas Slowik and Alex Colborne to bring the score to 28 – 26.
The game remained in the balance until the final whistle with both teams showing huge commitment and throwing everything they had at the opposition.
Irish again opened up a good lead scoring two well worked converted tries through lock Theo Vukasinovic and centre Heron.
As had been the case all game though Bristol were not going to give up and came storming back with two well taken tries of their own to make the final score 42 – 38 to Irish.
So a good first outing for the Academy side, but plenty to work on ahead of Wasps at Sunbury today (Saturday 22nd December).
Show your "Exile-Style" and wear it with pride!