Rugby Union: Wright stuff thwarts Exiles

Richmond 32 London Irish 12
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The Independent Online
Jason Wright powered his way into the English rugby conscience with a stunning performance for Richmond. Wright got the new boys' Allied Dunbar Premiership challenge off to a flying start with two tries against a plucky but outplayed London Irish in their Division One match at The Athletic Ground.

Richmond's side may have been assembled at a cost, but each component looks as if he is going to repay the outlay in spades. Not least Wright, who was on the team sheet as a right-wing, but right, left and centre would have been a more accurate description. If there was even a suspicion of a gap in the London Irish lines, Wright was on to it and invariably through it. With superlative support play from the back row there was a steady stream of possession for him and the rest of the Richmond backs.

But Richmond had needed a kick-start from the Exiles before they finally got their expensive act into gear. And all the while they trailed London Irish there were cries of: "Go on Irish, beat the cheque-books." Popular side, Richmond.

Irish were three penalties in front by the time Richmond woke up. In 12 frenetic minutes the Exiles' international wing, Niall Woods, had punished the home side for carelessness within kicking range.

It took a Ben Clarke drive, no Saturday-afternoon dawdle, to disrupt the Irish defence and set up the first try for Scott Quinnell, the Welsh international free to pick his untroubled way through what remained of the cover.

Adrian Davies failed with that conversion, but he had no such trouble with the next two scored by Wright. The New Zealander, who captained Otago in a match against Richmond at the Athletic Ground last season (and Richmond liked him so much they signed him up there and then), is a staggeringly good finisher. It was no surprise to learn that he was Otago's top try scorer in the 1996 season.

He moves with bewildering speed off his wing, crossing into space, any space on the other side or in the middle. His first try came courtesy of another Southern Hemisphere player, the Richmond full-back Matt Pini, his second after the Lions hooker, Barry Williams, had made a lot of ground over on the right. On each occasion there was no way of stopping him. He has the build of a rhino, the speed of a runaway lorry and he casts a wide shadow.

With that sort of platform duly laid, the second half, after the traditional Irish siege for the first quarter of an hour, grew easier. Adrian Davies landed a penalty and Scott Quinnell's replacement Adam Vander was shoved over from close range to open up too much of a lead for the Exiles to get back into the game.

Vander's second try was an altogether better affair. A series of phases, five in all, interspersed with some brilliant handling, saw Vander going over with three minutes remaining.

Richmond: M Pini; J Wright, A Bateman, M Hutton, D Chapman (B Harvey, 40); A Davies, A Moore; D McFarland, B Williams, D Crompton (J Davies, 52), C Quinnell, R West, R Martin, S Quinnell (A Vander, 57), B Clarke (capt).

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, N Burrows, M McCall, N Woods; S Burns, N Hogan; J Fitzpatrick, R Kellam, G Halpin, M O'Kelly, J Davidson, K O'Connell, R Yeabsley, C Bird.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol)

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