Rugby Union: Todd and O'Shea lead Exiles' exhibition

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London Irish 47

Bath 22

THE NUMBER crunchers, almost as important to a professional rugby club as a goalkicker or a bar manager, estimate that qualification for Europe next season is worth pounds 1m. Thus the stakes at Sunbury yesterday were high, and it was London Irish who played with a full flush. They took Bath to the cleaners.

The West Country club, who had won six of their last seven games to dislodge the Irish from third place in the Allied Dunbar Premiership, had never lost to the Exiles in the league but they won't forget this one in a hurry. London Irish ran them into the ground and then some.

With only two league games left, the Irish played as if their careers depended on the outcome, which was partly true. They played some fantastic rugby, scoring seven tries, most of them brilliantly created and finished in style.

From the first minute, when Gareth Cooper threw out a poor pass to Mike Catt, and Nick Burrows cleverly created an opening for Conor O'Shea, it was clear that Bath were in for a torrid afternoon. With O'Shea and Stephen Bachop directing operations in a show that was destined to run and run, the Irish created chances galore and their lead of 25-10 at half-time did them no justice whatsoever.

With their forwards also in an uncompromising mood the Irish were, as they say, up for this. When Bachop moved the ball left in front of the posts he found the odd man out, the prop Rob Hardwick, lurking in the three-quarter line and he used his strength to smash over. After 19 minutes the Irish were 20-3 ahead, the irrepressible Brendan Venter slicing through the Bath midfield to create a try for Simon Berridge. Another break from O'Shea, who was tackled on the line, resulted in a try for Robert Todd.

Todd, a powerful centre who was forced to play on the left wing, went on to score a hat- trick and it was the third, midway through the second half, which was not only the pick of the magnificent seven but also epitomised the Irish approach.

Bath were awarded a penalty on halfway and Catt's kick to touch was miraculously kept in by Peter Richards. He fed O'Shea inside the Irish 22 and the international full-back sprinted 50 yards, chipped over the head of his opposite number, Matt Perry, regained possession and then released Todd who ran round to complete a spectacular try under the posts.

At rare intervals Bath contributed to the extravaganza. After Burrows and Jake Boer had wasted glorious chances towards the end of the first half, Bath scored their first try in the sixth minute of injury time, Mike Tindall finishing a well worked move under the posts.

Trailing by 15 points Bath might have thought they were still in with half a chance but that evaporated when a Catt move went badly wrong on his own 22 and Burrows went over unopposed. Catt partly made amends with a try and, after Todd had scored his third and the Exiles' seventh, Bath at least had the last word with a try from Mark Regan.

The kick off had been delayed for 15 minutes to allow the audience of 6,600 to squeeze into the ground. It did not affect a record 750 corporate guests who were wined and lunched almost al fresco in more tents than you would find at a jamboree.

This will not be the case next season when the Exiles, almost certainly, will ground share with Harlequins at The Stoop. Whether the move will be permanent is subject to the Irish receiving planning permission to develop Sunbury. One of the advantages of The Stoop is that it has the longest bar in the Premiership and the Irish, of course, will have no trouble filling it.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); S Berridge, N Burrows, B Venter, R Todd; S Bachop (J Brown, 75), P Richards (K Campbell, 79); P Rogers (N Hatley, 57), R Kirke, R Hardwick (K Fullman, 62), M Bird (I Feaunati, 70), N Harvey, J Boer, R Strudwick, R Gallacher.

Bath: M Perry (T Adebayo, 79); I Balshaw, K Maggs, M Tindall, A Adebayo; M Catt, G Cooper (A Nicol, 46); D Hilton (K Yates, 46), M Regan, V Ubogu, M Haag (B Sturnham, 46), S Borthwick, R Earnshaw (R Webster, 57), D Lyle (capt), R Bryan.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire)