Rugby Union: Irish baffled by Mannix magic

Gloucester 40 London Irish 15
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The Independent Online
IT IS not that difficult to see why Gloucester are sitting at the top of the tree. It took them a while to engage full power yesterday but once they started hunting as a pack they gave London Irish a right old seasonal stuffing.

With a visit to bottom-placed Bedford on Wednesday, Gloucester are poised to enter the millennium as the clear leaders of the Allied Dunbar Premiership. They took the points at their Kingsholm fortress with an imposing performance in the second half during which they scored 29 points without reply.

"They are worthy leaders," Dick Best, the Irish coach, said. "They're a good all-round side. They win the ball and they keep it and they put us under immense pressure. The conditions suited their big pack. Our foundation was a bit scrappy and we couldn't win our set-pieces."

On a surface softer than marzipan, the Irish managed to silence the Shed in the first half with two tries that exposed the Gloucester defence. Conor O'Shea sliced through their midfield for a deceptively easy score and Ben Whetstone added another, created by Stephen Bachop's astutely- placed kick.

That put the Irish 15-6 ahead but the Cherry and Whites gave a hint of what was to come when Ed Pearce scored a try from a rolling maul just before half-time to reduce the deficit to four points.

Boxing Day, of course, would not be complete without a significant punch up and it duly arrived after 25 minutes. If anything it helped to light Gloucester's fire. The remnants of a maul refused to disengage despite the fact that play had moved 40 yards on.

A slow-burning minor skirmish became a more full-blooded affair when the rest of the forwards entered into the spirit of the occasion. When the referee, Steve Lander, finally restored law and order he singled out Andy Deacon, the Gloucester prop, and Mark Gabey, the Irish lock, for a spell in the sin bin, although he could have dispatched half the forwards with some justification.

After the interval Gloucester went to town. Simon Mannix jinked over for a try under the posts to put his side in front for the first time and when they brought on the England prop Phil Vickery, the Irish front row began to understand what it felt like to be a turkey. Enjoying a penalty count of 16-6, Gloucester set up camp near their opponents' line.

Monopolising possession, they increased their lead when Steve Ojomoh crashed over. It was not all down to the forwards and Gloucester showed that they are also dangerous at threequarter, Terry Fanolua capitalising on a great pass from Chris Yates before selling a dummy for the pick of the Cherry and Whites' six tries.

The outstanding Kingsley Jones, an inspirational captain, got another from a relentless rolling maul to leave the Irish firmly under the cosh.

That was Gloucester's fourth try in 16 minutes and Chris Catling, released on the right wing, completed the celebrations for the West Country club.

Gloucester: Tries Catling, Fanolua, Mannix, Ojomoh, K Jones, Pearce. Conversions Mannix 2. Penalties Mannix 2. London Irish: Tries O'Shea, Whetstone. Conversions Cunningham. Penalties Cunningham.

Gloucester: B Hayward; C Catling, T Fanolua, C Yates, T Beim (B Johnson, 76); S Mannix (C Ewans, 80), E Moncrieff; T Woodman (E Powles, 76), C Fortey, A Deacon (P Vickery, 48), R Fidler, I Jones (A Eustace, 76), S Ojomoh, E Pearce, K Jones (capt, J Djoudi, 72).

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Cunningham, J Bishop, R Todd, B Whetstone (M Horak, 77); S Bachop, S Hatley (K Campbell, 66); N Hatley, R Kirke (B Stankovich, 48), S Halford (K Fullman, 48), M Gabey, N Harvey, A Mower (R Gallacher, 66), R Strudwick, K Dawson.

Referee: S Lander (RFU).