Irish see off Scots

London Irish 21 London Scottish 20
Click to follow
WHEN the Scottish clash with the Irish, watch out for sparks. At Sunbury yesterday it was always going to be a fiery contest, and the encounter was given added fuel because both sides felt they were playing for a place in the First Division.

It took an extra quarter of an hour to pack the spectators into the ground, but the delayed kick-off was well worth waiting for. After a classic Celtic game of high excitement, London Irish finally nosed ahead to stake a strong claim to gain promotion with Northampton from the Second Division.

In truth, though, there was little to divide two sides who exchanged the lead seven times in an open, hard-fought but clean game. Where the Irish had the strength in attack founded on the international prop Garry Halpin, the Scottish had the flair and pace in the backs.

But flair and pace were vanquished in the end. The Scottish scored three tries but they were not enough to overhaul the seven penalties, including a last-minute clincher, from the London Irish winger Michael Corcoran.

The whole game was played according to Celtic stereotype: the Irish were keen to counterattack from deep in their own territory. They kicked and chased furiously. The Scottish, on the other hand, were calmer and more measured, creating space and then using it effectively.

The did it brilliantly for their opening try when the full-back Nick Robinson was on hand after the Scottish back row had rampaged to make the space.

Robinson did not have to work much harder for his second try: the Scottish pack tried to burrow over before the scrum-half tossed the ball wide for the full-back to cross. Gavin Thompson got the third Scottish try late in the game only when the Irish were in the lead.

All these well-wrought tries could not make good Corcoran's tally of seven penalty goals. The Irish are now favourites to join the top flight of English rugby. They know that First Division rugby plus professionalism equals change. For exiles' sides, the process is more complicated because of the allegiance to nationality. As far as the Irish are concerned, the definition of club Irishness now seems to be "anyone willing and able to wear the green London Irish jersey" - they already have an Australian scrum-half.

With higher things in mind, though, their committees are now wrestling with ways of changing the club structure so it retains both its unique Irish character and an ability to attract talented, match-winning players.

It may be a harder task than stealing a last-minute win over London Scottish.

London Irish: C O'Shea; M Corcoran, R Henderson (S Burns, 26), P Flood, J Bishop; O Cobbe, T Ewington; J Fitzpatrick, R Kellam, G Halpin (capt), C Hall, D Peters, P Irons, A Dougan, B Walsh.

London Scottish: N Robinson; G Thompson, S Harrold, R Eriksson, T Watson; I Stent, T Withers-Green; B Burnell, L Mair, T Robinson, D Orr-Ewing, A Nisbet, M Duthie, S Holmes (capt), D Jackson.

Referee: G P Hughes (Manchester).