Rugby Union: Connolly takes bow

Harlequins 66 London Irish 7
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Gary Connolly had a fair bit to live up to at the Stoop yesterday, thanks to the theatrical talents of two of his Wigan clubmates. Henry Paul and Jason Robinson brought the house down so comprehensively at Bath in midweek that the latest debutant from Central Park must have felt almost crippled by the burden of expectation.

Certainly, his subdued first-half performance suggested as much. There were one or two craftily angled passes and a couple of macho tackles, delivered straight from the hip in time-honoured rugby league style. His most noteworthy contributions were a meticulously-planned obstruction on Irish outside-half David Humphreys and an all-too-conspicuous dropped catch that allowed Paul Flood the softest of tries on 26 minutes.

Fortunately for him, Harlequins were already out of sight. Three tries in the opening 13 minutes, all from Irishmen ironically enough, put the tin lid on a game that stumbled along in unsatisfying fashion until the Irish defensive effort fell apart in the final half-hour.

The reprieved Connolly found his feet after the break. Freed from his shackles by a finely judged long pass from Paul Challinor five minutes into the second half, he slipped into overdrive to create a runaway score for Rory Jenkins - another with Irish blood in his veins. Eleven minutes later Connolly sent Jim Staples in unchallenged, and when he was finally given his own glimpse of the line from a set scrum 10 minutes from time, he drew the biggest cheer of the afternoon by gliding over to the right of the posts.

It was embarrassingly easy by the end. Under their imaginative coach, Clive Woodward, the Irish have worked hard to develop a style based more on width and support play than the traditional organised chaos theory handed down by generations of Exiles. Sadly, their tackling appears to have gone the way of their erstwhile tactics - that is to say, it has all but disappeared.

The visitors started brightly enough, stringing together a bewildering opening attack in which the ball was recycled close on 30 times - more than some Irish sides used to manage in a season. Yet Quins were still able to stop them short of the 22, and from that point on the home side dominated both possession and territory.

Mike Corcoran, a London Irish stalwart until his move across London in the summer, got the scoreboard moving on seven minutes after forthright work from Gareth Llewellyn and Bill Davison.

Keith Wood, eye-catching at hooker, gave his countrymen more problems by side-stepping over from 20 metres three minutes later and when, in the next attack, he muscled across the line from far shorter range, the foundations were laid for an 11-try performance that keeps London's cosmopolitan brigade on top of the Courage League table.

Harlequins: J Staples; D O'Leary, G Connolly, W Carling, M Corcoran; P Challinor (P Mensah, 60), H Harries; J Leonard (capt), K Wood (H Brown, 76), L Benezech, Glyn Llewellyn, Gareth Llewellyn, R Jenkins, B Davison, L Cabannes.

London Irish: C O'Shea; J Bishop, R Henderson, P Flood, N Woods; D Humphreys (S Burns, 57) , T Ewington; L Mooney, R Kellam, G Halpin (capt), G Fulcher, M O'Kelly, J Davidson, V Costello (B Walsh, 40), N Richardson.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).