Catt hails 'unbelievable' Mapasua as Irish go on the rampage against Newcastle
Newcastle 12 London Irish 46
Seilala Mapasua is not the only outhouse of a three-quarter to have emerged from Wesley College in Auckland. Nor is he the biggest. Indeed, London Irish's outside centre was probably never tall enough to kick any grains from the school sandpit up into the face of Jonah Lomu.
Still, at 5ft 11in and 16st 1lb, the Samoan is big enough to knock gaping holes in the opposition. And unlike the 6ft 4in, 18st 13lb Lomu in his mayhem-causing pomp, Mapasua is blessed with the subtlety of movement and touch that can perform the vital unpicking in the tightest of situations.
That much was evident at Kingston Park on Saturday evening as London Irish surged to the summit of the Premiership with an attacking performance featuring the irresistible blend of pace, power and deadly precision that took them to the play-off final the season before last and which promised much in the opening months of the 2009-10 campaign.
Fifteen minutes in, with the Exiles already one corking counter-attacking try to the good, Ryan Lamb chipped a kick over the advancing Newcastle back-line and, quick as a flash, Mapasua darted through to collect it. It was impressive enough that he managed to do so one-handed, while stretching forward in mid-stride – even more so that he proceeded to draw Alex Tait, the Newcastle full-back, then ship a swift feed out right for the sometime England wing Topsy Ojo to run in the second of his three tries.
It was a world-class assist and there was another 15 minutes after half-time. Taking a crash-ball feed from Lamb in centre-field, Mapasua spun his way past three defenders, then gave the most delightful one-handed back-door offload for his centre partner Daniel Bowden to claim the bonus point try.
There was much, much more to admire as the Exiles hit Main Street form with a vengeance: the razor sharpness of the full-back Delon Armitage, whose assists for Ojo's opening try and the first of Jontahan Joseph's brace were equally sublime; the clinical finishing of the two wings, the rejuvenated Ojo and the 19-year-old Joseph; the subtle string-pulling of Lamb from outside half; and not least the stream of quick ball provided by a purring pack.
In a team performance that left the Falcons thoroughly wing-clipped, it took a lot to stand out but the magnificent Mapasua – the Players' Player of the Year in the Premiership two seasons ago – managed to do so.
"This is the first time he has had a pre-season with us for three or four years, because he's been away with Samoa," Mike Catt, London Irish's attack coach, reflected. "You can see what happens when he gets three months of proper preparation. He's unbelievable."
As for the all-round excellence of the Exiles, Catt said: "That was probably the London Irish of two years ago. We had that ruthlessness and that clinical finishing that we lost towards the end of last season. It's all about consistency for us this year."
Newcastle: Tries Gopperth, Tait; Conversion Gopperth. London Irish: Tries Ojo 3, Joseph 2, Bowden; Conversions Lamb 5; Penalties Lamb 2.
Newcastle A Tait; G Bobo (L Fielden, 50), L Eves, A Henderson, C Amesbury; J Gopperth (J Manning, 65), M Young (C Pilgrim, 56); J Golding (G Shiells, 50), R Vickers (capt), T Ryan (M Ward, 59), F Levi, T Swinson (G Townson, 62), B Wilson, R Pennycook (W Welsh, 50), A Hogg.
London Irish D Armitage (S Tagicakibau, 65); T Ojo (C Malone, 65), S Mapasua, D Bowden, J Joseph; R Lamb, P Hodgson (D Allinson, 60); C Dermody (capt; M Lahiff, 60), J Buckland (D Paice, 49), F Rautenbach (A Corbisiero, 49), N Kennedy, B Casey (M Garvey, 46), K Roche, D Danaher (J Fisher, 60), G Stowers.
Referee W Barnes (London).
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