London Irish battled to a bonus-point victory over a valiant Richmond outfit to extend their lead at the top of the Greene King IPA Championship.
The scrappy start to the match was backed up with constant changes in possession as both sides looked to get the first points on the board. However, Dave Porecki opened the scoring on 15 minutes, the in-form hooker bundling over from the back of a well-constructed rolling maul. Fly-half Stephen Myler was unable to add the extras from out wide.
Irish looked good value for their lead but were pinned back virtue of a Jono Woodward try on 22 minutes. The winger exploiting a gap in the scrambling home-side defence to level the score at 5-5. The conversion was missed, leaving the match poised in the balance.
A frantic period followed, with Richmond number 8 Ed Milne being shown a yellow card for pulling down an advancing rolling maul.
Richmond defended bravely but with 31 minutes on the clock, scrum-half Ben Meehan dived over the whitewash from close range. Myler added the extras from in front of the posts to extend the Exiles’ lead to 12-5.
On the 36 minute mark, Tom Stephenson sliced through the Richmond defence, beating numerous defenders in the process. However, the centre’s offload didn’t stick in the hands of the supporting runner and the ball was knocked on.
Just one minute later, Myler replicated the run of Stephenson and looked to put the supporting Pat Cilliers through. But, just as the previous break, the offload didn’t quite come off and Richmond regained possession.
A half-time team talk from director of rugby Declan Kidney seemed to do the job as the Exiles exploded out of the blocks at the start of the second half.
Brendan Macken’s direct running proved vital as the centre broke clear of the Richmond tacklers. Macken calmly passed inside to Meehan to sprint under the posts for his second try of the match. Myler converted the simple conversion to make the score 19-5 in favour of London Irish.
Going in search of a bonus-point try, the Exiles kicked deep into the Richmond 22. This proved to be the right decision as Porecki was again on the end of a destructive rolling maul to dot down over the try line. Myler was on hand to convert from out wide to further extend the lead to 26-5.
Richmond were down but certainly not out and, on the 55 minute mark, were handed an opportunity as Samoan international Teofilo Paulo was shown a yellow card for a swinging arm.
However, it was Irish who grabbed the next score on the 61 minute mark. Thanks to another well worked rolling maul, Australian international Saia Fainga’a was able to manoeuvre his way over the line. Myler was again on hand to convert and the Exiles lead was moved to 33-5.
Replacement number 8 Ofisa Treviranus was also shown a yellow card as the clock hit 66 minutes, the back row accused of slowing down the play illegally and given ten minutes on the touchline as a result.
The visitors showed their tenacity and grabbed themselves a score through scrum-half Luc Jones just before the 70 minute mark. Jones showed great speed around a breakdown to scramble over from close range. Rory Damant added the extras to reduce the deficit to 33-12.
Saia Fainga’a and Harry Elrington summed up the physicality of this fixture with a crunching tackle and turnover, much to the delight of the Exiles support, as Irish looked to shut the game out.
On 73 minutes, captain Josh McNally calmed the nerves with a forceful run to place the ball on the base of the uprights with two defenders on his back. Myler popped over the easy conversion to move the lead to 40-12.
Debutant Albert Tuisue was quick to make an impression after coming onto the field as a replacement in the second half. The Fijian international delivered a substantial tackle, followed by a clever turnover to give the supporters a taste of things to come.
Irish pushed for one last try and thought they had got it through centre Terrence Hepetema. A sharp line and some strong ball carrying looked to have put Hepetema over the line but referee Neil Chivers called back the play for a forward pass.
However, the Exiles didn’t have to wait long for the final try. On 79 minutes, Fainga’a profited from another destructive rolling maul to extend the lead to 45-12. With the final kick of the match, Myler added two points with a well-struck conversion to bring the full-time score to 47-12.
Tries: Porecki (15) (53), Meehan (31) (41), Fainga’a (61) (79), McNally (73)
Cons: Myler (32) (42) (54) (62) (74) (80)
Yellow card(s): Paulo (55) Treviranus (66)
Tries: Woodward (22), Jones (68)
Cons: Damant (69)
Yellow card(s): Milne (28)
London Irish: Veitokani, Loader (Hepetema, 58), Macken (McKibbin, 67), Stephenson, McLean, Myler, Meehan, Hobbs-Awoyemi (Hoskins 56), Porecki (Fainga’a 56), Cilliers (Elrington, 64), van der Merwe, Paulo, McNally (c), Gilsenan (Tuisue, 65), Schatz (Treviranus, 65).
Richmond: Kirby, Woodward, Cheeseman, McLean, Webster, Damant, Jones, Goodrick-Clarke, Grimstone, Trenier, Warden, Davies, Parker, Liston (c), Milne.
Referee: Neil Chivers