Rugby Union: Exiles preserve their status

London Irish 28 Coventry 7 London Irish win 42-23 on agg
Click to follow
The Independent Online
No sooner had they preserved their First Division status than London Irish were talking about having to recruit top quality players, and not necessarily from Ireland, in order to stay up.

Their captain, Garry Halpin, admitted after 80-odd minutes of a passionate play-off in which they saw off the League Two upstarts, Coventry: "We need at least five players in key positions to survive. They will have to be world class, non-Irish players."

He also admitted the squad had been under tremendous pressure over the last week, but that pressure must have been nothing to what Coventry, with their slender, two-point advantage from the first leg, must have been under as they stepped out into a cauldron of sound and fight at Sunbury yesterday. After all, it was not just status that was at stake. It would have been more difficult to persuade sponsors present and future to stick by the club.

But after their 16-14 first-leg defeat, the Irish were a different side. Having won the toss they elected, crucially as it turned out, to play with the wind at their backs. That seemed to fan the flames of their passion play and Coventry just could not find a way through the resulting wall of fire.

They showed more flair and invention out wide, while the pack was magnificent, dominating the line-out, holding their own in the scrum and outthinking their opponents in the loose. They applied pressure through rolling mauls and surging drives. The backs did their bit and, at stand-off, David Humphreys was in commanding form, his fine all-round display earning him 18 points.

He had landed two penalties - each one revealing a mastery of the gusty conditions - before Halpin rounded off a series of drives to the line. Full-back Conor O'Shea, who was a torment to the Midlanders throughout, almost powered his way over; when his attempt was foiled he popped the ball to Halpin who crashed through and, although initially held up, showed remarkable agility as he twisted his body and thumped the ball emphatically on to the turf. It set the seal on the game. Naturally, Humphreys did the honours with the conversion.

O'Shea's brilliance, whether in hoisting long kicks into the distance or his stunning running, came to the fore shortly before the interval. He broke from a scrum and made great inroads before shipping the ball to the even speedier Niall Woods, and the international wing touched down under the posts. Humphreys wrapped it up with a try he converted just after the restart and Coventry's late try through Richie Robinson was probably not even consolatory.

London Irish: Tries Halpin, Woods, Humphreys; Conversions Humphreys 2; Penalties Humphreys 3. Coventry: Try Robinson; Conversion Harris.

London Irish: C O'Shea; N Woods, N Burrows, S Burns, J Bishop (R Hennessy, 56-64); D Humphreys, N Hogan; J Fitzpatrick, T Redmond, G Halpin (capt; I McLaughlin, 77), G Fulcher, J Davidson, K O'Connell, C Bird, K Spicer.

Coventry: M Gallagher; A McAdam, J Minshull, R Robinson, A Smallwood; J Harris, A Dawson; A Sharp (M Crane, 31), D Addleton, R Hardwick (capt), D Grewcock, A Blackmore, J Horrobin, D Eves, I Patten.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).