Rugby Union: Bishop leads the united nations

London Irish 16 Newcastle 14
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The Independent Online
THE IMPROVEMENT in London Irish's fortunes since the injection of fresh, or at least different, blood from the southern hemisphere, has been noticeable - five wins in seven matches since the beginning of November.

But it was as much home- grown flair as overseas nous which saw the Exiles pull off the first Allied Dunbar Premiership double over defending champions Newcastle.

While the cultured boot of Jarrod Cunningham (a New Zealander) had restored them to the lead it took a superlative break by Kieron Dawson (Bangor, Co Down) to set up the position from which Steve Bachop (New Zealand) was able to sling out a miss pass to the nippy Justin Bishop, a Londoner, in the 69th minute.

Bishop jinked inside once, then again, before racing the remaining 55 yards to the try line. Although Newcastle hit back, driving from a line- out before Gary Armstrong squeezed over, there was enough spirit left in the home guard and not enough time for the Falcons to edge ahead.

From an entertainment point of view there was more niggle than giggle in the first half. When they did break, the Irish looked good, Kevin Putt eschewing for the most part the box kick, preferring instead to launch his backs with speedy passes and cute reverse flicks. Robert Todd, out in the centre, showed he is definitely beefy enough for the job.

There was also the occasional rush through the middle by the Exiles' captain Conor O'Shea, but the nearest thing to a touchdown in the opening period was when Armstrong, clearly untroubled by his cracked thumb, dummied a knot of forwards and streamed away to the line, before before opting for an ineffectual grub kick.

Other than that neither side helped themselves with a series of crass errors and stupid over-reactions which led, in Newcastle's case, to twice conceding penalties when they had worked themselves up into good field positions. It was disappointing for a sizeable crowd, whose shrieks were only heard towards the interval as Irish suddenly upped the tempo.

It took a sweet inside pass from Armstrong and the imposing and unstoppable bulk of Va'aiga Tuigamala to inch the Falcons in front, the former All Black crashing over with the weight of all Ireland on his back, or so it appeared.

But the indomitable spirit of London Irish saw them counter in typically ferocious and adventurous style, running the ball from deep trouble back into their opponents' faces, but Newcastle were beginning to click and the Exiles, in their over-eagerness began to give away penalties themselves.

Thankfully they defended stoutly, but even so it was a close run thing, as that second Newcastle try proved.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, R Todd, B Venter, J Cunningham (N Woods, 76 min); S Bachop, K Putt; N Hatley, M Howe (R Kirke, 48 min), K Fullman, K Spicer, M O'Kelly, J Boer, R Gallacher (I Feaunati, 56 min), K Dawson.

Newcastle: S Legg; J Naylor, M Shaw, R Andrew (capt), V Tuigamala; J Wilkinson, G Armstrong; G Graham, R Nesdale, M Hurter, D Weir, G Archer, P Walton, R Beattie, R Arnold.

Referee: R Goodliffe (Sheffield).