Rugby Union: Kirke's enterprise stumps West

London Irish 43 West Hartlepool 21
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The Independent Online
THE car park was under water, on the pitch there was a sand pit where the centre spot should have been and the spectators on the muddy bank at one end were exposed to a biting wind. Little wonder, perhaps, that London Irish are thinking of moving to another home, but there was nothing wrong with the rugby.

The question was whether the Exiles' hot-rod, scorching into the match on a run of five straight wins, would get bogged down. Five turbo-charged tries in the first 23 minutes gave an emphatic answer.

The third, fourth and fifth of that sequence all went to the Exile hooker Richard Kirke, treble the total managed by the New Zealander in a whole season with Bedford last year. Two of Kirke's hat-trick came from the now familiar routine of penalty kick to touch, line-out catch and punishing drive. West, whose recent results suggested they too know how to use this tactic, did not, however, know how to prevent it. Kirke, not unnaturally for a qualified corrosion consultant, was quick to identify their weak spot.

The pitch-side betting booth was forced to cut the odds on the Irish flanker Jake Boer as first try scorer from 28-1 to 20-1 shortly before kick-off. When Boer charged over in the fifth minute the antics of one gentleman in the main stand suggested he was largely responsible for the eight-point cut.

West had been offered an 18-point handicap but after Irish's prolonged initial burst of scoring, which also featured a 60-metre interception try by Nick Burrows, that looked more than a trifle mean.

The visitors badly needed a lift to begin the second half and they got it from tries by the scrum-half Tu Nu'uali'itia and the hooker Shane McDonald. The latter was a case of the biter bit as McDonald burrowed over from a line-out.

An unnecessary anxiety attack on Irish's part was soon averted when Burrows went over after a bullocking run from the replacement Niall Woods. With 10 tries and 201 points to his name this season, Woods is a useful customer to bring off the bench. But even he was in the shadow of the outside- half Steve Bachop, whose control was exemplary throughout. Bachop also finished off the try of the match just before the hour.

On came the prop Peter Rogers for his first appearance for Irish since early October - good news for the Wales coach, Graham Henry, who was setting store by the Maidstone-born former Transvaal player.

Henry's Ireland counterpart, Warren Gatland, who was here, was not so encouraged to see winger Justin Bishop helped off with a leg injury and second row Malcolm O'Kelly fail to start with a shoulder problem. But both expect to be fit for Ireland training in Galway on Monday.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt; N Woods, 16-19); J Bishop (N Woods, 29), N Burrows, B Venter, J Cunningham; S Bachop, P Richards; N Hatley (R Hardwick, 61), R Kirke (M Howe, 66), K Fullman (P Rogers, 61), N Harvey, R Strudwick, J Boer, K Dawson (M Bird, 27), R Gallacher.

West Hartlepool: E Farrell; J Benson, J Connolly, P Tanginoa, S John; S Vile, T Nu'uali'itia (T Handley, 36-37); S Sparks, S McDonald, K Fourie (P Beal, 60), P Farner (capt), T Collier, J Ponton, D Monkley, M Brewer.

Referee: D Gillet (France).