Barkley makes unlucky Irish pay the penalty

London Irish 24 Bath 25
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The Independent Online

Surprise has been writ large on the new year already. Upsets in the Midlands and the North while, in Reading yesterday, Bath discovered the away win that had eluded them since the first day of the Aviva Premiership last September.

Not until the final seconds did Olly Barkley, with his sixth penalty goal, nail the result which left London Irish flabbergasted and winless in nine successive games. The collapse of Irish fortunes has been remarkable: they won eight of their first nine games in all competitions.

Yesterday they dominated the first half hour, should have been further ahead than 10-0 and Bath had to wait 28 minutes for their first penalty. But the Irish could draw no inspiration from their advantage on the scoreboard and were drawn into Bath's pick-and-go game.

You would not have thought Bath started with five international backs, so little did they use them. Brian Smith, the England attack coach, saw nothing he did not already know from Shontayne Hape or Matt Banahan, more perhaps to confirm Delon Armitage's place in the squad for the Six Nations.

"Belief and confidence grow after getting the monkey off your back and maybe on another day we can play a bit more stylish rugby," the Bath coach, Steve Meehan, said. "But if we have to win every game like that, wewill do it."

Toby Booth, his opposite number, had to bite his lip as fortune swung away from his team during the period that Richard Thorpe, the Irish flanker, was in the sin bin. "I wish I was Brendan Venter right now," he said, a nod to the outspoken Saracens director of rugby who has been in hot water for criticising match officials.

His players scored three tries to one: the first, after less than two minutes, was finished powerfully by Sailosi Tagicakibau after Bath coughed up possession. The second was a delight, Elvis Seveali'i looping round George Stowers for the return ball and Delon Armitage sending Thorpe to the corner.

Only Barkley's kicking kept Bath in touch and when Thorpe was dismissed for pulling down a maul, finally Simon Taylor's pass gave Michael Claassens a glimpse of the home line and what was only Bath's 12th try of the Premiership season.

Barkley's fourth penalty put Bath ahead but the centre rushed up too hastily as the Irish brought Topsy Ojo in from the blind-side wing, leaving Ojo to purr through the hole to the posts. But the Exiles could not deny Bath the ball and, driven forward by Luke Watson whose captaincy means so much to them, the West Country club completed a Premiership double.

London Irish D Armitage; T Ojo, E Seveali'i, D Bowden, S Tagicakibau; C Malone (S Mapusua, 65), P Hodgson (capt, D Allinson, 65); A Corbisiero (D Murphy, 70), J Buckland, F Rautenbach (C Dermody, 60), N Kennedy, M Garvey (R Casey, 66), R Thorpe, G Stowers (K Roche, 66), S Armitage.

Bath J Cuthbert; M Carraro, O Barkley, S Hape (N Abendanon, 70), M Banahan; A James, M Claassens (M McMillan, 72); D Barnes (D Bell, 46), L Mears (P Dixon, 70), D Wilson, S Hooper, D Grewcock (I Fernandez Lobbe, 60), L Watson (capt), S Taylor, L Moody.

Referee G Garner (Warwickshire).