Lamb leads Irish past Ireland's best

London Irish 23 Munster 17: Magners leaders brought down to earth in Heineken Cup thanks to fly-half's boot and Ojo's interception
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Munster have all the history any European contender could wish for, London Irish have almost none. So the boost given to the Exiles' morale by this resounding victory on the opening weekend of the Heineken Cup is hard to calculate.

The Exiles will care little for the fact that Munster's battle-scarred squad is changing; they will not worry about the bonus point conceded in the final move of the match. It is possible that Sam Tuitupou's last-minute try will prove invaluable in determining who wins Pool Three – one of Europe's so-called "groups of death" this season – but just now Irish can revel in their success.

That the fixture also pitched the leaders of the Aviva Premiership and the Magners League against each other added to the raucous atmosphere created by a big crowd. But the most important area for London Irish, who were Heineken Cup semi-finalists two years ago, was the control they were able to exercise over a side who have twice won the competition.

Ryan Lamb has his critics for the occasional gamble he takes but he was at the heart of that tactical control in the first half. The fly-half kicked all but one of the goals that came his way and, more importantly, put Irish where they wanted to be.

"It was a very mature performance," Toby Booth, the Irish head coach, said. "The Heineken Cup is about winning your home games so we have done what is the standard. The issue of Munster getting a bonus point should not cloud what was a great victory."

Yet Booth needs no reminding that his team achieved as much against Leinster, in Dublin, at the same stage last year and that Munster have lost opening games before.

Tony McGahan, their director of coaching, was happy enough with the losing bonus point, though there will be some who wonder whether his non-selection of some grizzled heads – John Hayes, Marcus Horan, David Wallace and Alan Quinlan among them – led to the indiscipline of the first half. That included a yellow card for Tuitupou for a dangerous tackle on Paul Hodgson and four penalties by Lamb from close and long range.

London Irish had to weather Munster's initial enthusiasm for running from anywhere, though it was little chip kicks by Ronan O'Gara, turning the defence, that led to the first points, an easy penalty for the fly-half. Thereafter the home side exacted retribution, their defence forcing errors when Munster were in possession.

Keith Earls, always dangerous, and Denis Hurley were playing their first games this season; Tomas O'Leary was missing at scrum-half with a broken thumb. Before Tuitupou left the field, Lamb had kicked three goals. He added a drop-goal after a wonderful passage in which the ball swung this way and that. Both sides were encouraged by the sympathetic refereeing of Christophe Berdos.

Lamb and O'Gara exchanged penalties before the interval but in the first minute of the second half Irish had their greatest stroke of luck. Johne Murphy, attacking from his own half, saw a pass that was intended for Hurley fall into the hands of Topsy Ojo. The wing sprinted 55 metres to the corner for the game's first try.

It was a reward for obdurate defence and the most effective of line-outs but it drew the wrath of Munster. O'Gara kicked two penalties as Munster battered forward. Their rolling maul was a formidable weapon but when the ball went wide a magnificent defence soaked up everything.

Delon Armitage, whose two loose kicks to touch should not overshadow another fine game, was able to halt the giant Tony Buckley and Alex Corbisiero's tackle forced a knock-on from Denis Leamy. Moreover, Irish forced Munster once more into error: from 51 metres, Armitage landed the penalty that gave his side breathing space, and though he could not repeat the dose from 55 metres, the gap was large enough.

A rampaging run by Wallace gave O'Gara the chance to chip and Tuitupou seized the bounce to score but it could not disturb London Irish joy.

"We played with our heads as well as our hearts," Booth said. He will seek more of the same against the Ospreys in Swansea next weekend.

London Irish D Armitage; T Ojo, E Seveali'i (D Bowden, 68), S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau (J Joseph, 68); R Lamb, P Hodgson; C Dermody (capt), J Buckland (D Paice, 56), F Rautenbach (A Corbisiero, 56), N Kennedy, R Casey (M Garvey, 68), K Roche, G Stowers, D Danaher (C Hala'Ufia, 52).

Munster J Murphy; D Howlett, K Earls, S Tuitupou, D Hurley; R O'Gara, P Stringer (D Williams, 72); W du Preez (M Horan, 65), D Varley, A Buckley (J Hayes, 65), D O'Callaghan, D Ryan (M O'Driscoll, 57), D Leamy (capt), J Coughlan, N Ronan (D Wallace, 33).

Referee C Berdos (France).