Rugby Union: Exiles fear missing out on main street

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The Independent Online
London Irish. . .13

Northampton. . . 16

THIS narrow defeat due to a penalty five minutes from the end of an entertaining, evenly matched encounter threatens Irish with relegation from the Courage First Division. More disturbing, this would lead to an estimated annual revenue loss of between pounds 250,000 and 300,000.

Sponsorship, gate, hospitality packages depend on which division the club plays in and at present the Exiles have a gross income approaching pounds 1m. There is also the possibility of leading players departing. Simon Geoghegan, the international wing, has already negotiated possible links with Northampton and Wasps.

Hika Reid, the former All Blacks hooker and Irish coach, has transformed the club's forward play into the style of his own country. He said: 'We have eight more league matches left and every one is now a battle for points.'

On the evidence of the stirring performance at Sunbury the cause is not yet lost. If Michael Corcoran had been more accurate with his kicking - he missed four out of five attempts - Northampton might be contemplating their own loss of status.

In contrast, Paul Grayson landed three penalties and a conversion, which ensured his team were never behind. He also used the strong wind superbly to drive back opponents who repeatedly exerted fierce pressure late in the game.

One reason for Irish second-half ascendancy was the absence of Northampton's new captain, the No 8 Tim Rodber, a commanding figure before departing at half-time with a strained hamstring.

During his presence, the Saints were able to win unlimited possession, which was spread wide in search of an elusive try. Their reward came from broken play when Martin Bayfield emerged on the left wing to feed Harvey Thorneycroft.

Rory Jenkins was the outstanding Irish player with his crushing tackles and driving runs. He also changed the direction of an attack to provide Henderson with a try just before half-time. After this, the home forwards took command and a maul which travelled 15 yards ended with Jenkins scoring himself.

London Irish: Tries Henderson, Jenkins; Penalty Corcoran. Northampton: Try Thorneycroft; Conversion Grayson; Penalties Grayson 3.

London Irish: J Staples; S Geoghegan, R Henderson, M Nolan, M Corcoran; P Burke, R Saunders; N Donovan, R Kellam, G Halpin, C Hall, S Domini, P Collins (capt), R Jenkins, A Verling.

Northampton: I Hunter; K Morgan (M Dawson, 23), N Beal, J Fletcher, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, B Taylor; M Vollands, A Clarke, G Pearce, N Edwards, M Bayfield, S Foale, C Millhouse, T Rodber (capt) (M Steffert, 40).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Bristol).