Stunning Exiles rout Gloucester
December 20, 2008
London Irish fullback Delon Armitage crossed for a brilliant solo score at the Madejski
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Fullback Delon Armitage and fly-half Peter Hewat shone for London Irish this afternoon as they went two points clear at the top of the Guinness Premiership with victory over second-placed Gloucester at the Madejski Stadium.
Irish have been in buoyant mood for weeks, given they stand at the summit of the league for the first time in nine years. And the Exiles have now won 10 consecutive matches in all competitions since an October 5 defeat at Worcester Warriors in the league.
Coach Toby Booth described today's match as "the acid test" against a Gloucester team who were level on points with his team and have finished top of the table in the last two years. The Exiles duly passed that examination with flying colours at their Reading home.
The winds were blowing in Irish's favour before the start as Gloucester lost England centre Olly Barkley a few hours before kick-off due to illness. Irish came out firing in the opening half to build up a big lead and left the visitors, who themselves were unbeaten in seven consecutive matches, reeling.
They led 6-0 after 15 minutes through two penalties from fly-half Hewat and should have had a couple of tries as well. But their continual pressure told when full-back Armitage scored a brilliant solo try from 60 metres, dashing through a hole in midfield and rounding fly-half Ryan Lamb thanks to some electric pace along the touchline to cross in the left corner.
Gloucester were in disarray and it was all they could do to stay within sight of the opposition as kicks went astray and the Irish ran everything back at them. Two penalties from Lamb put Gloucester on the scoreboard, but another glorious Irish try came in the middle of those scores, with Armitage again in the thick of it before scrum-half Paul Hodgson dived under the posts from short range to make the Hewat conversion a certainty.
A penalty from replacement full-back Willie Walker from 50 metres, bouncing off the crossbar, put the Cherry and Whites within nine points and they continued to press in the home half for the next 10 minutes. Irish, though, struck back when Hewat landed his fourth penalty.
Gloucester's frustrations got to them as the clinical Hewat made them pay with another two penalties which put them 30-12 ahead and effectively out of sight. Irish then went searching for their try bonus point in the final minutes after wing Sailosi Tagicakibau went through four tackles and dragged himself over the line.
That bonus came in the last move when replacement Declan Danaher ran 50 metres for a converted try.
"You have to be very good to get a four-try bonus point against quality opposition and the Premiership is stacked with quality opposition, no more so than Gloucester," said overjoyed Exiles coach Tony Booth. "This is where they end up year in and year out and, as I've said, being top of the league in December counts for absolutely nothing. But, in relation to the performance, I'm pleased with that and delighted with the outcome.
"If you are a competitive side you have to get something out of a game if it's one point, four points or five. Where London Irish have probably wavered is trying to fight on too many fronts at one time. It seems we may be quite good in the Premiership or the Heineken Cup, where we were last year."
Booth also praised the influence of former England centre Mike Catt, now attack coach at his former club. "Catty has taken over, if you like, the Brian Smith mentor, for want of a better phrase, and you are feeding ambition - ambition to play - and, to be honest, we don't know any other way."
Gloucester boss Dean Ryan was disappointed with a lacklustre display from his side, who have now slipped behind Bath in the league table. "We were significantly second best in most parts of the game. I thought we were poor and lacked energy," Ryan said. "We got beaten in the kicking contest in the first 40 minutes which, basically, structured the game. We maybe had one or two set-pieces in their half as a result of losing that kicking contest and, at the same time, Delon Armitage jumped up and scored to keep us under massive pressure.
"When you have got to chase from points down, it is difficult. Every contest we entered, we lost. We were so far behind that we had to play a game which was not conducive to getting a result.
"The challenge (for Irish) is that it (the Premiership) is not won on a day in December. I think there are key attributes to their game. Hewat gives them massive composure and there are four or five guys who are great individuals. Whether that can cut across nine months and be sustained remains to be seen."
Gloucester: Morgan; Foster, Watkins, Tindall (capt), Vainikolo; Lamb, Cooper; Wood, S Lawson, Somerville, Bortolami, Brown, Buxton, Strokosch, Narraway.
Replacements: Azam, Dickinson, James, Satala, R Lawson, Walker, Adams.
London Irish: D Armitage; Ojo, Seveali'i, Mapusua, Tagicakibau; Hewat, Hodgson; Dermody, Paice, Lea'aetoa, Hudson, Casey (capt), Roche, S Armitage; 8. Hala'Ufia.
Replacements: Corbisiero, Buckland, Murphy, Thorpe, Danaher, Lalanne, Geraghty.