27 August 2022
London Irish is up and running in preparations for their 2022/23 campaign with a narrow 31-29 win over Jersey Reds at the Stade Santander International.
The Exiles took a seven-point advantage into half-time having registered scores through Caolan Englefield, Isaac Curtis-Harris, Matt Cornish and Ollie Hassell-Collins.
An assured opening forty for Declan Kidney’s men wasn’t necessarily demonstrated on the scoreboard, with late scores from Reds’ Ben Wollett and Alex McHenry a sign of things to come as the hosts grew confidently into the matchup.
Hugh O’Sullivan did however go over for Irish’s fifth early on in the second stanza, before a solid closing half from the Championship outfit saw a penalty try being awarded from a scrum and a deciding conversion from a Ryan Hutler try sailing wide with the clock in the red.
After a strong display at the scrum and maul, Irish broke ahead five minutes in after Reds were penalised for a deliberate knock-on.
Rory Jennings’ fine touch finder shifted the Exiles up the park and the ball was worked left to right before Matt Williams’ fine linebreak pulled his side through, scrum-half Caolan Englefield trailing closely in a two-on-one situation to be fed to score under the posts.
His half-back partner Jennings put away the extra duece, but a demonstration of fine running from Jersey saw Will Brown evade numerous tackles to press towards the whitewash only to later be met with eventual strong Irish resilience.
A first loose lineout from the hosts saw Matt Cornish field the ball and Irish were away, the ball then being recycled before Williams’ dangerous poke through went out of play in an inviting field position.
Reds relinquished possession once more from the set-piece, the ball falling to a well-positioned Cornish again as the Exiles worked through the phases for Isaac Curtis-Harris to enter the goal area for Irish’s second.
Jersey registered their first score of the affair after a smart breakaway just as Irish were pushing their opponents back, Ben Woollett the elected player to score in the corner with Pittman’s extras drifting astray.
Harvey Biljon’s side, despite not retaining a foothold from the restart, overturned play and won a scrum as Irish were knocking at the door immediately after resumption with the deficit kept at nine points.
A poor scrum from the Channel Islanders meant Irish then held the power, and after Jennings kicked for the corner, Matt Cornish capped off a brilliant opening forty with a try of his own from an aggressive Irish rolling maul.
Jersey couldn’t see Ollie Hassell-Collins for dust on half hour, the winger showing a clean pair of heels to dot down in the corner having received the ball just outside the Jersey 22 after a fine flowing sequence for those in green- Jennings then unable to convert the score.
The Academy product had the try line calling him again on his more native wide left channel, receiving a typically smart offload from Curtis Rona only for play to be called back for a stray Hassell-Collins boot in touch before he could make serious inroads.
Woollett brought his side up to double figures before the conclusion of the first forty, benefiting from an overload on the left side five metres out to score- and Jersey were not finished yet.
A tricky kick from hand meant a wild bounce of the ball left the heavily involved and inbound Woollett an advantage over Hassell-Collins, plucking the aerial ball to feed Alex McHenry who took it under the posts and bring his side to within seven at the break.
The defensive expectation continued to be focused on Irish with ill-discipline at firstly a scrum, and then a maul close to the try line in the second half but Lovejoy Chawatama’s graft meant Jersey couldn’t release and such pressure was alleviated.
Declan Kidney’s men were back in control after a clever snipe from Hugh O’Sullivan saw the Irishman through a gap, yet not necessarily through a clear passage to another five points, but swift jinking feet from the scrum-half evaded several red men and he touched down.
Compatriot Jackson added two more points to the Exiles’ haul on the day to reinstate the 14-point swing.
A sturdy repelling maul after a tricky scrum for the visitors sent Reds packing for the time being, however, Senior Academy player Michael Dykes’ was a casualty of earlier phases yet his absence afforded recent recruit Tom Hitchcock his first appearance in Irish green.
Jersey benefitted from much of the territorial advantage in the third quarter, with a rare Irish breakaway formulated in the hands of Benhard van Rensburg and Paddy Jackson only to be halted for the attacking side being off their feet.
Brendan Cope combined well with James Elliott for Jersey after a dangerous blindside attack, but Ben Loader done well to collect what would have been the decisive pass for an opposing try and touched down in his own goal area.
Persistent coercion at the resulting put-ins eventually worked as Irish were made to pay for consistent infringements, referee Anthony Woodthorpe awarding a penalty try in favour of Biljon’s team.
It was Championship side’s first points of the second period and they were then back to within a converted score of Irish, and following a breakdown penalty conceded, Reds revisited the Irish 22 after an impressive shunt from hand.
Several stoppages, including for a head injury replacement for Ben Loader, eventually subsided for quick play from Jersey but the ball was sent into touch.
With Jersey benefiting from an advantage, they opted for a scrum in hopes of replicating the same form earlier on in the half and Irish was dealt with a further blow after Ben Atkins’ offside transgression meant he was sent to the sidelines for the game’s remainder.
Another scrum, and another pair of resets were enforced by the official Woodthorpe as another penalty meant Chawatama partnered fellow forward Atkins in the sin bin.
The ball was worked wide by the Stade Santander side after frustration in getting the ball over close to the uprights, Russell Bennett assisting Ryan Hutler to set up a game-tying conversion for the former- which vitally drifted left for Irish to take honours in their maiden pre-season opener.
Score sequence (London Irish second): 0-5, 0-7, 0-12, 0-14, 5-14, 5-19, 5-24, 10-24, 15-24, 17-24, 17-29, 17-31, 24-31, 29-31
Jersey Reds: Tries: Woollett (20) (39), McHenry (40), Penatly Try (73), Hutler (80); Conversions: Pittman (40).
London Irish: Tries: Englefield (4) Curtis-Harris (12) Cornish (26), Hassell-Collins (29) O’Sullivan (47); Conversions: Jennings (5) (12), Jackson (48).
15 Brendan Owen, 14 Ben Woollett, 13 Alex McHenry, 12 Dan Barnes (Holgate 39), 11 Will Brown (Hutler HIA), 10 Tom Pittman, 9 James Mitchell; 1 Sam Grahamslaw, 2 James Hadfield (Clarke 32), 3 Greg McGrath, 4 James Scott, 5 Macauley Cook (c), 6 Max Argyle, 7 Josh Gray, 8 Alun Lawrence.
16 Eoghan Clarke, Antonio ‘TJ’ Harris, 17 Huw Owen , 18 Steve Longwell, 3 Monty Weatherby, 19 James Dun, 20 Lewis Wynne.
21 James Elliott, 9 Jonny Law, 10 Brendan Cope, 22 Russell Bennett, 23 Ryan Hutler, 12 Jordan Holgate, 13 Charlie Powell, 14 Tomi Lewis, 15 Scott Van Breda.
London Irish first-half team:
15 James Stokes, 14 Michael Dykes, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Matt Williams, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Rory Jennings, 9 Caolan Englefield; 1 Facundo Gigena, 2 Matt Cornish, 3 Oliver Hoskins, 4 Ed Scragg, 5 Adam Coleman (c), 6 Ben Donnell, 7 Isaac Curtis-Harris, 8 Josh Basham.
London Irish second-half team:
15 Jacob Akins, 14 Ben Loader (Hassell-Collins 79), 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Benhard van Rensburg, 11 Michael Dykes (Hitchcock 55), 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Hugh O’Sullivan; 1 Tarek Haffar, 2 Isaac Miller, 3 Lovejoy Chawatama, 4 Josh Caulfield, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 6 Tom Pearson, 7 Josh Smart, 8 Ben Atkins.
16 Joe Vajner, 22 Tom Hitchcock
Referee: Mr Anthony Woodthorpe