Rugby Union: Adventure safeguarded by Bachop

London Irish 20 Harlequins 16
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LONDON IRISH put 60 points on Harlequins at Sunbury last season and the smile on Dick Best's face was almost a permanent fixture. Since then both teams have changed out of all recognition. This was a different match, but the result was just as satisfying for the Exiles in general and Best in particular.

In the end London Irish owed their victory to a controversial penalty try but they deserved their success if only for their greater sense of adventure and a try that will be a contender for the score of the season.

Since Best was sacked by Harlequins and employed by London Irish, the encounters between these clubs, already garnished by London rivalry, have been given extra spice.

Yesterday the tackle count was phenomenal. When London Irish established a 10-0 lead towards the end of the first half, the Quins of old would almost certainly have capitulated. However, under Zinzan Brooke, the soft touches have shown a hard centre and they have steadily climbed the Allied Dunbar Premiership with six consecutive victories.

In the absence of Brooke, their player-coach, that run ground to a halt yesterday in the face of a hugely competitive and committed performance from the Irish. The great Auckland warrior would have been in his element in this contest but unfortunately he cried off with flu. Had Brooke been hit by a double-decker bus his absence would have been more understandable, but flu?

The start was delayed by almost 10 minutes as revellers continued to pour into the ground - the attendance was 5,460 - but it was worth the wait.

Harlequins inexplicably spurned a kick at goal before Jarrod Cunningham landed a penalty in the 26th minute. A few minutes later the left-wing, fielding a kick near his own line from John Schuster, brilliantly turned defence into attack with a touch of legerdemain; he released Conor O'Shea and excellent distribution and support play from Rob Gallacher and Kieron Dawson ended with Stephen Bachop in the clear 40 yards out and the former All Black stand-off comfortably made the line. An absolute cracker.

Far from folding, Quins responded with the right stuff. Schuster, whose strike rate is approaching 90 per cent, kicked a penalty before Quins got back on level terms with an inspired try from the Irish hooker Keith Wood. On the stroke of half-time Wood, playing his first-ever match at Sunbury, capitalised on fourth phase possession to burrow over near the posts. Schuster's conversion levelled the scores and then the Samoan centre kicked Quins into the lead.

Schuster landed penalties in the 51st and 56th minutes, and at that stage Quins were looking good, but their hard-earned lead evaporated when the Irish were awarded a penalty try. The Exiles had mounted a couple of attacks close to the Quins line and when Malcolm O'Kelly was stopped just short, referee Ed Morrison ran behind the posts. Quins had been living dangerously but they were nevertheless bemused by the decision which was given for what Morrison judged to be persistent offside.

Cunningham's conversion put the Irish back in front at 17-16 and a penalty five minutes from time by Cunningham sealed a notable victory. At the end Best once again had the look of a Cheshire cat.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, N Burrows (R Todd, 60), B Venter, J Cunningham (N Woods, 80); S Bachop, K Putt; N Hatley, M Howe (R Kirke, 60), K Fullman (R Hardwick, 71), R Strudwick, M O'Kelly, J Boer, R Gallacher (K Spicer, 68), K Dawson.

Harlequins: J Williams; D Luger, D Officer, J Schuster, D O'Leary (J Keyter, 75); T Lacroix (capt), H Harries (C Wright, 36); G Halpin (D Barnes, 68), K Wood, J Leonard, G Morgan, G Llewellyn, R Jenkins, C Sheasby, A Leach.

Referee: E Morrison (RFU).