Humphreys in command

London Irish 34 Northampton 21
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The Independent Online
Somewhere in Cork will have been two angry men last night. The flight due to take the Ireland coach Murray Kidd and selector Donal Lenihan to Sunbury was delayed, with the consequence that the pair missed a thoroughly polished performance from five of their side.

A week ago this was a match London Irish would have lost simply because the kicker David Humphreys could not hit his hat. Yesterday, his personal contribution was such that he will have been crushed to see those two unoccupied seats in the grandstand. Humphreys landed seven goal kicks out of eight where against Bristol seven days ago he had fluffed six out of nine. A shaky start quickly resolved itself as he displayed an authority in attack, and unexpected steel in defence, which set him apart.

We had come to see his opposite number, the much vaunted Gregor Townsend. North- ampton had shelved England fly-half Paul Grayson in order to give the Scot a game in his international position. Although he shone early on, helping the Saints into a 14-3 lead, he faded thereafter along with all but the back row in his side.

Northampton are not accustomed to losing in the league. You have to go back two seasons to find their last defeat in the Courage Championship. And midway through the opening period it seemed likely that they would have another notch to add to their belts.

Perhaps they grew complacent. More likely it was the Irish forwards stoking up the passion. The exiles have recruited wisely over the summer, adding steel to their pack. So when Gary Halpin, their captain, asked the Irish to up the work rate it was well within their compass.

The Saints, despite falling behind to an early Humphreys penalty, worked industriously, none more so than back row trio Tim Rodber, Don McKinnon and Budge Pountney. They played a lead role as the visitors scored two tries in as many minutes midway through the half.

But Northampton discovered the hard way that their quickfire style, honed against inferior defences in League Two, will get them only so far in the big league. Neat interchanges of passes in the middle are no good if the finish is not there.

Malcolm O'Kelly's try reduced Northampton's lead to one point at half- time and, although the away side were awarded a penalty try in the second period, the half belonged to the capable Irish forwards.

Victor Costello scored in similar fashion to O'Kelly, as the Irish pack stacked up on the Northampton line, and Humphreys, blooming by the moment, did the rest. His dropped goal, putting the home side two scores clear, was celebrated extravagantly by coach Clive Woodward.

London Irish: C O'Shea; J Bishop, R Henderson, P Flood, N Woods; D Humphreys, T Ewington; L Mooney, R Kellam, G Halpin, G Fulcher, M O'Kelly, J Davidson, N Richardson, V Costello.

Northampton: N Beal; I Hunter, J Bell, M Allen, M Dods; G Townsend, M Dawson; M Volland, A Clarke, M Lewis, S Foale, D Merlin, D McKinnon, B Pountney, T Rodber.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

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