Irish ambition checked by salary cap talk

London Irish 48 Newcastle 8
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Money makes the world go around but it can also derail the best-laid plans. Toby Booth, the London Irish head coach, urged Premier Rugby to abandon thoughts of lowering the salary cap from £4m to £3.5m, partly because he would have to rip up several contracts already agreed. "If you're expecting us to compete in Europe, you're hampering us still further," Booth said after this seven-try victory galvanised Irish's play-off aspirations.

"And we can't plan as a business if we've announced eight contracts with more to come and then say 'no, we're going to tear them up and start again'. For me, that's ludicrous."

On the field, the Irish have a watchable high-tempo style and a bit of luck going for them too. Booth perceived a weakness at fly-half at the start of the season which was solved when Peter Hewat stepped forward from full-back with great authority and Mike Catt and Shane Geraghty returned to fitness after injury. A defeat at Saracens nine days ago has been the only interruption in a run of 12 wins, and Newcastle, anxiously vying with Bristol to avoid relegation, were blown apart. Off the field, Booth has no desire to splash the cash but he "strongly advocates" the status quo on the salary cap.

"We have a squad of 33 players, which is similar to Sale and the smallest in the Premiership compared with the rest who have between 38 and 45," Booth said. "I'm looking to add maybe one player this year and one or two more the next. I want 35 or 36 players, with as much quality as possible, and which fits into the £4m wage cap. That's a pretty simple equation."

Booth's search may shift from the number 10 to either 13 or 15, now that Delon Armitage has gone from nowhere – well, three stints with the England Saxons from summer 2006 to spring 2008, to be precise – to be his country's incumbent full-back.

England will name a senior squad on 14 January, with Geraghty, Armitage and the latter's brother Steffon among the candidates. There must be some disquiet that Delon has missed two matches and is wearing a brace on his foot after the toe he broke last season developed renewed complications in December. Irish have a Premiership fixture at Sale and two European Challenge cup matches before the Six Nations Championship kicks off.

Hewat, the Australian who scored Irish's bonus-point try in the 30th minute, is slightly nonplussed but happy enough at the age of 30 to be a guiding light to the emerging Englishmen. "The semi-final in the Heineken Cup [a narrow defeat by Toulouse last April] was a big turning point," Hewat said.

"The younger players don't fear anyone any more and they believe they can win every game they play. My role is about helping with game management. The young guys want to score from every phase they are involved in."

That appeared feasible enough against a Newcastle side whose promising start and powerful scrummage yielded hardly any significant reward. The club's financial situation appears parlous which threatens professional rugby union's standing in the north-east. Being blunt, the 19-year-old fly-half Rory Clegg, who has a lot about him and is learning his trade with the Falcons as Jonny Wilkinson did a decade before him, would find somewhere else to play, but there is more to it than that.

London Irish: Tries: Ojo, S Armitage, Danaher, Hewat, Corbisiero, Catt, Mapusua; Conversions: Hewat 4, Geraghty Penalty: Hewat.

Newcastle Falcons: Try: Visser; Penalty: Clegg.

London Irish: P Hewat (M Catt, 52); T Ojo, E Seveali'i (C Gower, 59), S Mapusua, T Homer; S Geraghty, P Hodgson (A Lalanne, 64); A Corbisiero (D Murphy, 52), D Paice (J Buckland, 52), T Lea'aetoa, J Hudson, B Casey (capt; K Roche, 45), D Danaher, S Armitage (R Thorpe, 52), C Hala'Ufia.

Newcastle Falcons: T May; T Visser, J Noon, T Tu'ipulotu, J Rudd(D Williams, 64); R Clegg (S Jones, 59), J Grindal (M Young, 45); M Ward (D Wilson, 40), M Thompson (R Vickers, 40), C Hayman (Ward, 76), G Parling, M Sorenson, P Dowson (capt), B Wilson, A Balding (E Williamson, 52).

Referee: C Berdos (France).