The future is certainly bright for London Irish judging by this display as the Exiles dismantled Gloucester Rugby to be crowned Premiership Rugby Under-18s champions.
Securing a place in the final by virtue of an impressive six wins out of six in the Southern Conference, the Exiles underlined their burgeoning talent with a confident performance, running out 35-11 victors at Allianz Park.
Passion, desire, unity, the Exiles were relentless in their quest throughout the campaign to lift the title in front of first team head coach Tom Coventry, who was watching from the stand. Whilst the Exiles attacking credentials were clear for all to see, it was their defensive resilience which will have pleased the Academy backroom staff the most.
The Exiles’ rearguard was put to the test on five minutes with a period of sustained pressure from the Cherry and Whites following a break from Carwyn Penny. The Gloucester fly-half sliced through Irish’s defensive line only to be hauled down just short of the line. The Exiles stood firm despite heavy pressure to force the knock on and clear their lines.
The Kingsholm outfit turned their early pressure into points with Daniel Openshaw slotting home a penalty following an infringement at the ruck. However, Irish responded in emphatic fashion through hooker Matt Kouris, who crashed over from 10-metres out. The powerful No.2 hit the line at speed from a neat angle to cross the whitewash. Tom Parton added the extras for a 7-3 lead.
But back came Gloucester, and on 15 minutes Openshaw narrowed the gap to 7-6 with the boot – getting their reward for breaching the Exiles’ line.
Not deterred by the narrow margin, Irish were soon back in full throttle, with Matt Williams racing cjlear to touch down under the posts thanks to Parton’s ecsquisite offload. Parton’s conversion increased the lead to 14-6.
The Londoners’ attacking prowess was evident throughout the first-half, winger Joe Cokanasiga looking potent with ball in hand. And with the half hour mark looming the stocky flyer burst down the line before being thwarted by a scrambling Gloucester defence. Parton had the chance to increase the Exiles’ advantage with a penalty 10 minutes from the interval, but he failed to get enough purchase on the kick. Irish continued to penetrate Gloucester’s line with a series of menacing attacks. To their credit, Gloucester stood firm and Irish went into the break 14-6 ahead.
Irish began the second half brightly, and were awarded a penalty try after outside centre Williams was tugged back off the ball with the try line beckoning. Parton made no mistake from bang in front to make it 21-6 to the delight of the large Exiles contingent in the stand. The Exiles’ dominance continued with Rory Brand pulling the strings at half back with his game management and intelligent kicking game. Working through their sets at pace, the Exiles were rewarded for their work at the breakdown with a penalty midway through the second period. However, Parton could only skew his kick wide.
Irish closed the game and capped off a magnificent performance with a quick fire double. First Harry Norton crashed over from close range following neat build-up play in the forwards, before Ollie Hassell-Collins dotted down under the posts for a converted try to put Irish well and truly in the box seat at 35-6.
Gloucester grabbed a consolation try in the closing stages through Mason Tonks, who scythed in at the corner, but the result was never in doubt as Irish dominated the affair from start to finish with the final whistle greeted by scenes of jubilation. Skipper Kouris, who was outstanding throughout, proudly lifted the trophy in front of a passionate Irish fan-base.
Gloucester Rugby: 15 Daniel Openshaw, 14 Rhys Tudor, 13 Mason Tonks, 12 Tom Seabrook, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Carwyn Penny, 9 Harry Randall, 1 Mason Emery, 2 Henry Walker, 3 Alex Seville, 4 Callum Allen, 5 Alex Craig, 6 Ceri Silvester, 7 Joe Mullis ©, 8 Morgan Morris
Replacements: 16 Harry Bowen, 17 Will Haly, 18 Harrison Fowke, 19 Ed Bennion, 20 Aaron Hinkley, 21 Seb Mummery, 22 Charlie Chapman, 23 Robbie Forbes
London Irish: 15 Will Attfield, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Matt Williams, 12 Lewis Sampson, 11 Ollie Hasslle-Collins, 10 Tom Parton, 9 Rory Brand, 1 Jarod Leat, 2 Matt Kouris, 3 Austin Hay, 4 Harry Butler, 5 Josh Basham, 6 Jack Cooke, 7 Jack Ingall, 8 Isaac Curti-Harris
Replacements: 16 Freddie Boyce, 17 Callum Torpey, 18 Daniel Winning, 19 Angus Southon, 20 Harry Norton, 21 Dan Grant-Adamson, 22 Sam Evans, 23 Roman Malin-Hiscock