Rugby Union: Irish slow off mark to take command

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Londond Irish 27

Rotherham 14

The first consignment of overseas beef arrived at Sunbury in time to watch London Irish dispose of the awkward cusses from Rotherham and earn a place in today's Tetley's Bitter Cup quarter-final draw at Twickenham.

The new signings, Nick Harvey from Australia and Isaac Feaunati, a muscular Western Samoan, have been brought in to add power, punch and pace to the pack and will be available for selection at Sale on Saturday. "I was impressed with the way Irish played," said lock Harvey, but he professed to know what they are capable of, having already trained with them.

Feaunati was not quite so fulsome. Despite some divine passages of play, there were also some dire moments, which prompted the back-row specialist to say: "I thought Irish played down to Rotherham's level at times and made some key mistakes at crucial times which cost a few tries probably, but Irish were never really in any danger."

But Feaunati conveniently blanked out the numerous occasions, especially in the first half, that Rotherham found a way past the first tackle, only naivete on their part and the referee's refusal to apply the advantage law saved Irish from slipping a couple of tries down.

As it was, having taken the lead with the first of Niall Woods' five penalties, they surrendered it when conceding a penalty close to their line and allowed the Canadian No 8 Mike Schmid, who had an outstanding match, to barrel his way over from the resultant tap move.

It took the Exiles a quarter of an hour to restore the natural order of things. During this period they began to turn it on and at times mesmerised their Second Division opponents and the sparse crowd with some superior handling skills, the continuity was impressive, the pressure it created was immense, but ultimately all they had to show for it was their captain Conor O'Shea's well taken try. The later tries - which came during an inexplicably long period of second-half injury time, almost 12 minutes - merely distorted the scoreline.

London Irish: Tries O'Shea, McCall; Conversion Woods; Penalties Woods 5. Rotherham: Tries Schmid, Binns; Conversions Binns 2.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, N Burrows, M McCall, N Woods; D Humphreys, N Hogan; J Fitzpatrick, R Kellam, G Halpin, G Fulcher, M O'Kelly, K O'Connell (C Bird, 26), K Dawson, M Morahan (K Spicer, 66).

Rotherham: M Umaga; D Lax, G Austin, J Harper, M Dawson; S Binns, G Easterby(D McIntyre, 79); M Pinder, R Wareham (T Murphy, 63), J Ashley (S Wilson, 55), J Dudley, D Cook, B Wade, M Schmid (capt), C West.

Referee: N Yates (Altrincham).

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