Armitage feels love at end of Brive encounter

London Irish 34 Brive 13: Coach and crowd delighted as England full-back caps his comeback with a try
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Given what happened in last Saturday's ill-tempered match in France, this was being billed as an exercise in keeping discipline more than a genuine test of London Irish's Heineken Cup credentials.

The Exiles passed both examinations with little discomfort. There was no sign of the abrasive edge that marred the first game and resulted in two Brive players being given lengthy bans for foul play. The visitors did have four players sent to the sin-bin, including Jamie Noon, the England centre, but all of them went for technical offences.

The England full-back Delon Armitage, returning after three months out with a shoulder injury, came off the Irish bench to score a superb last-minute try and clinch an important bonus point.

"It was fate," Toby Booth, London Irish's head coach, said of the try. "It was always going to be like that. I think we saw Delon Armitage's true class there. You give him the ball and you see what happens."

Armitage had been thrown on with 14 minutes left and with Irish scrambling around like men possessed for the vital fourth try. They should not have been in that position. Brive, having lost their first three matches in Pool Six, were playing for little more than pride and had their minds on survival in the Top 14, as many French sides do.

It made it a fairly routine exercise for Irish, who are being billed as one of the tournament favourites, but they made hard work of securing the five points that kept them top of the pool, above Leinster. Having taken a 20-6 lead into half-time, thanks to tries by Tom Homer and Seilala Mapusua and some flawless kicking by Chris Malone, they allowed their game to become a little scrappy. Thank goodness, then, for Armitage's try. It came when, from a standing start, he darted in from left and breezed through some flimsy tackling to touch down under the posts. Elvis Seveali'i had earlier scored Irish's third.

"I was a bit disappointed but I wasn't all that anxious," Booth said. "We created opportunity after opportunity but we got a little greedy in the second half."

Irish, whose hopes of a Guinness Premiership and Heineken Cup double remain intact, had been anxious to avoid repeating the slip-up they made at the start of this Heineken Cup campaign. After opening with a momentous away victory against Leinster, the champions, Booth's men came back down to earth with a home defeat by the Scarlets.

There was never a danger of another upset yesterday, from the moment Homer sped down the right touchline, at the end of a passing move along the backs, before cutting past a powder-puff tackle from the Brive full-back, Nicolas Jeanjean. Malone converted but sloppy play by Irish then gifted Brive two penalties, both of which were landed from in front of the posts by Luciano Orquera, the sometime Italy fly-half.

The lock Retief Uys was the first of Brive's players to be sent to the sin-bin – for infringing at a 34th-minute ruck – and less than a minute later Mapusua wriggled through a gap in the French defence to scamper home from 20 yards. Malone, who had knocked over another penalty in the 30th minute, did the same with his second conversion to put Irish two scores ahead.

The second half was basically a matter of securing the bonus point, a quest which at least roused the small crowd who had braved the cold weather but contributed little to an atmosphere that remained strangely flat until Armitage's late appearance.

The Brive replacement prop Pat Barnard and Noon, who both left English rugby last summer for a new life in the Corrèze, were given yellow cards within minutes of each other at the start of the second half. While they were off, Seveali'i produced a rare moment of magic as he drifted on to Malone's pass and cruised over from 30 yards.

Guillaume Namy scored a breakaway try for Brive, who had Scott Spedding sent to the sin-bin with two minutes left. Armitage had the last laugh.

London Irish P Hewat; T Homer, E Seveali'i (J Lennard, 70), S Mapusua, J Rudd (D Armitage, 66); C Malone (R Lamb, 63), A Lalanne; C Dermody (F Rautenbach, 69), D Paice (D Coetzee, 60), P Ion (D Murphy, 52), N Kennedy, B Casey (capt), R Thorpe, C Hala'Ufia (G Stowers, 52), S Armitage (K Roche, 63).

Brive N Jeanjean (S Spedding, 55); R Cooke, J Noon (H Agulla, 64), L Mackey, G Namy; L Orquera, J-B Pejoine (S Perry, 41); D Khinchagishvili (P Henn, 40), S Thompson, S Zimmermann (P Barnard, 13), R Uys, D Browne (T Dubarry, 64), V Forgues, F Domingo, S Azoulai (capt).

Referee: J Jones (Wales)

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