Rugby Union: Sweet revenge as the Best men win

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The Independent Online
London Irish 20 Harlequins 16

DICK BEST, who might have been a slave driver had he not become a rugby coach, announced that he was giving the London Irish squad Christmas Day off. "I'm weakening," he said.

Best was imbued with the festive spirit following the Exiles' rousing victory over Harlequins at Sunbury. By 7pm, 8,800 pints had been drunk in the club house bars, and that was just Guinness. A win in the Premiership is always welcome, but beating Quins has almost become one of Best's missions in life.

After being dismissed as their coach, Best took the club to an industrial tribunal until Quins settled at the 11th hour. Andy Keast, who was also shown the door at The Stoop, works as Best's assistant at London Irish but in an unofficial capacity. He is being paid by Quins up to June and until that time cannot be employed by any other club. "I don't receive a penny from London Irish," Keast said. Thus, on Saturday, he too supped a delicious cocktail called Revenge.

Last season, Quins hit a new low at Sunbury, conceding 60 points. This time round they arrived having won six Premiership matches in a row but were without their player-coach, Zinzan Brooke.

Leading 16-10 midway through the second half, Quins conceded a penalty try for not retreating 10 yards when the Irish were awarded a series of penalties close to their opponents' line.

Despite a shambolic performance at the line-out, the Irish deserved their success in front of a crowd of 5,460.

They were far more adventurous and their first half try by Stephen Bachop was quite magnificent. Jarrod Cunningham, fielding a kick near his own line, brilliantly turned defence into attack and the move was sustained by Connor O'Shea in the back row.

"I'm very proud," Best said. "We played with some passion and proved we can be a good side if we can win 50 per cent of the line-outs. The team is starting to gel and it may be the start of something. This has helped make Christmas almost tolerable."

London Irish will not get much of a break. On Boxing Day they play Richmond at the Madejski Stadium. Richmond, of course, felt compelled to move from the Athletic Ground after their plans to develop the facilities were stymied by the local council. London Irish are in a similar position at Sunbury.

They have been talking to Chelsea about a possible move to Stamford Bridge but they have not given up hope of staying at Sunbury where they own 19 acres. If they are not allowed to develop the ground, they could sell the land for housing and that might be a more unattractive proposition to the local residents.

London Irish: Try Bachop. Penalty tries Collins, Cunningham (2). Penalties Cunningham (2).

Harlequins: Try Wood. Conversion Schuster. Penalties Schuster (3).

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt), J Bishop, N Burrows (R Todd, 60), B Venter, J Cunningham (N Woods, 80), S Bachop, K Putt, N Hatley, M Howe (R Kirke, 60), K Fullman (R Hardwick, 71), R Strudwick, M O'Kelly, J Boer, R Gallacher (K Spicer, 68), K Dawson.

Harlequins: J Williams, D Luger, D Officer, J Schuster, D O'Leary (J Keyter, 75), T Lacroix (capt), H Harries (C Wright, 36), G Halpin (D Barnes, 68), K Wood, J Leonard, G Morgan, G Llewellyn, R Jenkins, C Sheasby, A Leach.

Referee: E Morrison (RFU).

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