Rugby Union: Bishop gives good service for Irish

London Irish 26 Sale 3
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WATCHING LONDON IRISH used to be harum-scarum, edge-of-the-seat stuff, with the men in green even less likely to know what would happen next than those in the stands. Times have changed.

Irish's move to the Stoop (or the Craic is it's known to yer man and me on the exiles' match-days) has increased the elbow room for both stout and not-so-stout drinkers. And on the field there is a much more pragmatic approach, thanks to the coach Dick Best, who after all is paid to get results, and the southern hemisphere playing influence.

The up-and-at-'em Kiwi centre Robert Todd typifies this shift in emphasis. A real banger in midfield, Todd is effective but lacking in finesse. His crunching tackle on the isolated Matt Moore helped bring about Justin Bishop's second and decisive try midway through the second half.

Todd also dropped the ball several times, but the quality of passing and handling from both sides left a lot to be desired on an admittedly chill and blustery afternoon, and it was something of a relief when the final whistle came.

All that appears to remain of London Scottish and Richmond in this so- called super-club is a dab of blue on Irish's shoulders and a dash of black, red and gold around the midriff. Meanwhile, a couple of miles up the A316, the big fixture board outside the Richmond Athletic Ground was yesterday only able to proclaim "Christmas Trees For Sale".

Trees, maybe, but once again no points for Sale, whose re-branded Sharks arrived with a depleted shoal of only 22 fit players. They beat Harlequins here earlier this season, one of three wins during World Cup time, but now look to be a team in freefall after losing their last seven matches.

Sale could have done without losing their lock Andy Whittle, who fell heavily on his shoulder, and prop Paul Smith before the first half was over. They were forced into a rearguard action almost from the off, and seemed unable to get beyond the halfway line other than by the hopeful punts of Nicky Little, their Fiji outside-half, and Jim Mallinder.

One such kick was the prelude to London Irish's first try after 34 minutes. The position looked unpromising when Conor O'Shea collected Little's skewed clearance, but Ben Whetstone made some ground then Bishop took it on, somehow beat off three Sale tackles, and muscled his way over by the right-hand corner flag. Jarrod Cunningham did the rest with conversions of both Bishop tries and a couple of penalties in each half.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); B Whetstone, J Bishop, R Todd, J Cunningham (K Campbell, 67); S Bachop, S Hatley (K Putt, 57); N Hatley (M Worsley, 75), B Stankovich, S Halford (K Fullman, 71), R Strudwick, N Harvey, J Boer, K Dawson, R. Gallacher (M Gabey, 61).

Sale: J Mallinder; M Moore, J Baxendell (capt), B-J Mather, S Davidson; N Little, C Turvey; P Smith (P Winstanley, 38), J Clark, D Theron, M Tinnock, A Whittle (D Baldwin, 16), A Sanderson, P Anglesea, G Manson-Bishop.

Referee: A Rowden (Berks).