Connacht Eagles 14 London Irish 41

London Irish continued their British and Irish Cup adventure with a bonus-point victory over Connacht Eagles in Athlone to book their place in the quarter-finals.

A 19 minute hat-trick from man-of-the-match Scott Steele was the catalyst for a devastating display which yielded seven Irish tries.

Steele registered the first score of the contest as early as the first minute when he sniped his way to the line from close range following excellent build-up play in the forwards. After a series of drives from the heavies, the ball was switched wide to Tom Parton who went within inches of the line, before Steele dived over.

The plucky half-back bagged his brace for the afternoon with 15 minutes on the clock, taking a neat offload from Todd Gleave to touchdown in the corner. Irish’s dominant mauling set the platform for the visitors to take advantage.

Immediately from the restart, Steele crossed for his hat-trick thanks to an emphatic backline move involving Ross Neal and Theo Brophy Clews. It was the latter, who unleashed the Scottish scum-half to the line.

Steele soon turned provider with a sublime pass to Neal on the charge, the Academy product sliding over to make it 22-0 and ensure a bonus-point would return to London. With half-time looming Neal doubled his tally for the afternoon as he pounced on a loose ball in the Eagles’ in-goal area to score. Brophy Clews’ simple conversion made it 29-0.

Looking comfortable and seemingly going into the interval with a clean-sheet, the hosts gave Irish food for thought when centre Ciaran Gaffney capitalised on some indecision in the Exiles’ defensive line to cross for a try. Luke Carty’s conversion reduced the arrears to 29-7 at the break.

Nick Kennedy’s men came out for the second period in determined mood and underlined their intent from the off through Senitiki Nayalo’s try on 52 minutes. With new recruit Josh McNally and the experience of Jerry Sexton bossing the engine room, the Exiles were gaining metres with consummate ease, leading to Nayalo’s score in the far corner. Brophy Clews’ touchline conversion was shanked wide of goal, but Irish were in the ascendancy at 34-7.

Gleave was next to get in on the act, the hooker burrowing over from close-range to score – replacement Jacob Atkins converted to extend Irish’s lead to 41-7.  

The home side had the last say through a Sean Masterson converted try, but the day belonged to London Irish, who now remain 18 games unbeaten this season. 

Connacht Eagles: 15 Josh Rowland, 14 Matthew Byrne, 13 Ciaran Gaffney, 12 Kieran Joyce, 11 Adam Leavy, 10 Luke Carty, 9 Conor McKeon, 1 Jack Dinneen, 2 Shane O’Hehir, 3 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 4 Cillian Gallagher, 5 Danny Qualter, 6 Rory Moloney, 7 Josh Pim, 8 Marc Kelly

Replacements: 16 Conor Kyne, 17 Saba Meunargia, 18 Cian Romaine, 19 Sean Masterson, 20 Stephen Kerins, 21 Morgan Codyre, 22 Joe Murphy

London Irish: 15 Tom Parton, 14 Matt Williams, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Ross Neal (Johnny Williams, 65), 11 Ben Ransom, 10 Theo Brophy Clews (Jacob Atkins, 60), 9 Scott Steele, 1 Harry Elrington, 2 Todd Gleave, 3 Ollie Hoskins, 4 Jerry Sexton (Will Lloyd, 60), 5 Josh McNally, 6 Joe Trayfoot (Luke Narraway, 65), 7 Conor Gilsenan (c), 8 Senitiki Nayalo

Replacements: 16 Ollie Adams, 17 Austin Hay, 18 Will Lloyd, 19 Luke Narraway, 20 Rory Brand, 21 Johnny Williams, 22 Jacob Atkins  

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