Rugby Union: Irish turn on power

Richmond 13 London Irish 25
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The Independent Online
WHEN these clubs met in the Premiership, Richmond scored a try in injury time for a spectacular victory at Sunbury. Yesterday London Irish left nothing to chance, establishing a stranglehold and emerging as a powerful force in wicked conditions.

Nothing went right for Richmond, beginning with the loss through injury of half their pack before the game and what is clear is that they are dangerously short of strength and depth. Without their Welsh internationals they were vulnerable at forward and long before the end could not guarantee winning their own scrum.

The only consolation for Richmond is that, despite the appalling weather, a Boxing Day crowd of 9,600 were at the Madejski Stadium, their biggest audience thus far.

Richmond might have suspected it wasn't their day when Matt Pini saw a long-range drop-goal attempt hit an upright and Earl Va'a missed a relatively easy penalty. No such problems for Jarrod Cunningham. He couldn't miss.

The New Zealand wing kicked four out of four penalties in the first half to give the Exiles a 12-5 lead at half-time.

The sequence was broken by a typical dash from Agustin Pichot. Reacting to the responsibility of the captaincy, the little Argentine scrum-half showed a clean pair of heels to the London Irish defence when the ball squirted out of a scrum 20 yards from the Irish line. Nobody could lay a hand on him.

After Va'a finally kicked a penalty early in the second half, normal service was resumed with Cunningham adding two more penalties to put the Irish 18-8 ahead. However, it was not until the 66th minute that the Irish broke the resistance of a courageous Richmond defence, Rob Gallacher being driven over. Cunningham converted, making it seven kicks out of seven.

Things went from bad to worse for Richmond. They lost their prop Dan McFarland to the sin bin for fighting and their Welsh international centre Allan Bateman with a neck injury. Despite their misfortune, Richmond had the last word when Va'a hoisted a kick and Pini leapt brilliantly and acrobatically to catch and score.

Although they were being starved of possession for long periods, Richmond managed to score two tries to one. They were frequently penalised by the referee, Graham Hughes, and the penalty count was heavily in favour of the visitors. On the other hand Hughes disallowed what appeared to be a good try from the Irish right- wing Justin Bishop. The referee harshly adjudged Stephen Bachop's pass to be forward.

Richmond are going nowhere if they cannot beat clubs like London Irish on their home patch. But for the Exiles it has been successive victories over Harlequins and Richmond.

Richmond: M Pini; N Walne, A Bateman (M Dixon, 77), J Wright, S Brown; E Va'a, A Pichot (capt); D McFarland, A Cuthbert, J Davies, B Cusack (A Codling, 57), C Gillies, M Swift (J Barfoot, 60), L Cabannes (G Powell, 76), R Hutton.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt), J Bishop, N Burrows, B Venter, J Cunningham; S Bachop, K Putt (K Campbell, 64); N Hatley, M Howe (R Kirke, 51), K Fullman, K Spicer, M O'Kelly, J Boer, R Gallacher (I Feaunati, 69), K Dawson.

Referee: G Hughes (Manchester).