Rugby Union: Brown's blow to Irish

London Irish 29 Richmond 33
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HOW quickly can ecstasy turn to agony, joy to despair? The answer was to be found at Sunbury yesterday and it is the time it took between Robert Todd touching down for what seemed certain to be the winning try three minutes into injury-time, and Spencer Brown touching down for what certainly was the winning try a minute later.

It was a breathtaking climax to a game which, though short of high-quality skills, was nevertheless a thoroughly compelling contest from start to finish.

From the closeness of the club sponsor's product to Irish hearts and throats to the genuine warmth of the welcome at this delightful ground, London Irish have successfully bridged the gap between the cosiness of amateurism and the hard commercial imperatives of the professional era.

Unfortunately their overwhelming hospitality too often extended to their opponents yesterday and Richmond gleefully accepted every gift offered to them by a supine defence.

This was in marked contrast to Richmond's parsimony and on those occasions, particularly early on, when the Irish moved their attack into top gear they were knocked to the ground with clattering efficiency. Before they had picked themselves up and dusted themselves down, Richmond, through their wing-heeled halfbacks, Earl Va'a and Agustin Pichot, had turned solid defence into bewildering counter attack.

Va'a had come on as early as the 12th minute as an enforced substitute for Adrian Davies and injected life and direction into his back division. Pichot was another running sore in the Irish side. Twice in the first half his quickly taken tap penalties tore a great hole in the Irish defence, the second of them leading to Brown's first try.

The Irish should have learned from the directness of Richmond's approach but instead their insistence on over-complicating straightforward moves restricted their flow. When straight running and simple passing would have created space, the Irish indulged in a complex series of manoeuvres and too much lateral running.

In Niall Woods they appeared, however, to have the hero of the day. He kicked 19 of his side's points from five penalties and two conversions. Clearly, though, he considers himself to be a kicker first and a winger second. Standing 40 yards from the Richmond goal and finding himself with the ball and plenty of space in which to run, he went for the drop goal.

It would have shamed wingers the world over, but he is obviously worth his weight in Guinness to the Irish and his conversion of Todd's try following good work by Brendan Venter and Conor O'Shea in those final pulsating seconds appeared to have done the trick.

The Irish were at their best in the closely supported handling drives of their forwards but far too often they lost possession with slapdash handling and passing. In Nick Harvey they had a lock forward with a surprising turn of pace and twice in the first half he made a strong run deep into Richmond's 22.

It was at that stage, however, that the Irish, who were enjoying an increasing abundance of good possession, lost the plot through their over-elaboration. It was Woods' penalties which kept them in touch at the end of the first half when Scott Quinnell was ordered to the sin-bin.

Irish quickly signalled their intentions and a revised strategy within a couple of minutes of the restart through a slick handling move involving Kevin Spicer, O'Shea and Malcolm O'Kelly, who scored the try. Irish had therefore got their retaliation in before Quinnell's reappearance, but immediately he returned they were back on their heels.

A well-set scrummage close to the Irish line yielded a pushover try for Quinnell and it was from yet another unforced Irish error that Va'a saw his chance to accelerate through a picket of defenders to score the try which, with 10 minutes left, appeared to be the decisive blow. Little did we know, however, what excitement and entertainment lay in store.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); S Berridge (N Burrows, 70), R Todd, B Venter, N Woods; J Brown, K Campbell; P Rogers (M Worsley, 13), R Kirke (M Howe, 59), R Hardwick (K Fullman, 59), N Harvey, M O'Kelly, K Spicer, R Gallacher, K Dawson.

Richmond: M Pini (M Deane, 22); N Walne, A Bateman, M Dixon, S Brown; A Davies (capt, E. Va'a, 12), A Pichot; D Crompton, B Williams, D McFarland, C Quinnell, C Gillies, R Hutton, S Quinnell, A Vander.

Referee: R Goodliffe (RFU)