Narraway back to his best as Gloucester revival gathers pace
Gloucester 23 London Irish 9
Saturday 19 February 2011
Up to third in the Aviva Premiership table and increasingly Scrooge-like on home soil at Kingsholm, the bright young things of Gloucester, aided and abetted by the odd horrible hard-nut of the thirtysomething variety, have rediscovered their swagger. Crucially, they are every bit as committed in defence as they are energetic in attack. London Irish attracted most of the referee David Rose's favours and had virtually all the game in the final stages of last night's contest, yet they left with nothing.
The Exiles' brains trust headed west with an additional thinker in the ranks: Jake White, the South African sage who guided the Springboks to the world title in 2007 and has been linked with just about every high-profile rugby job since – not least those in the England set-up. London Irish must seem small beer by comparison, but the challenges there are by no means negligible. One win in seven league outings and a premature exit from the Heineken Cup is hardly the stuff of sweetness and light.
Despite some early high-jinks from Topsy Ojo, whose early running from full-back was a whole lot better than his kicking, the visitors found themselves on the back foot early in the piece and struggled to impose themselves on Gloucester at any point in the opening 40 minutes. Darren Allinson, their scrum-half, might have claimed a chargedown try midway through the first quarter, but smart home defence tight to the goal-line forced Irish to settle for a Chris Malone penalty instead. And that would have been that for the Exiles as far as the first half was concerned, but for Tom Homer's long-range strike on the interval whistle.
Gloucester were far more productive. Bristlingly competitive up front and full of running behind – Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, their Samon centre, was especially threatening, along with Nicky Robinson in close and Tom Voyce out wide – they forced the Exiles into all manner of sharp practice and chicanery on the deck, and when Rose finally tired of it, the club captain Clarke Dermody was given 10 minutes' rest without the option.
By then, the West Countrymen had registered a couple of penalties from the boot of Robinson and a try from Luke Narraway, a No 8 whose brilliant England future may not yet be behind him. This score was not a Narraway special, given that the distance he travelled for his touchdown to the right of the sticks was best measured in millimetres. But he remains as good a footballer as he looked on his country's ill-fated two-Test tour of New Zealand in 2008, and now he has beefed up his act at close quarters, there is no reason why he should not interest the red-rose selectors again.
He was at it again early in the second half, after Malone had brought the Exiles back to within a score at 16-9 with a left-sided penalty. Capitalising on some accurate work near the right touchline, Narraway milked some space on the other side of the field before releasing Olly Morgan with a pass of high quality. Morgan then played his part by finding Akapusi Qera with a scoring inside delivery that effectively put the game to bed.
From there on in, the action was concentrated in the Gloucester 22. The referee had long since changed tack on the penalty count, deciding that the visitors were the team being sinned against, not the team doing the sinning. Yet despite two long spells of pressure within five metres of the Cherry and White line, they could not find a way across it. Gloucester lost Dave Lewis, their replacement scrum-half, to the cooler, but conceded nothing else. It was the mark of a side going places.
Scorers: Gloucester: Tries Narraway, Qera; Conversions Robinson 2; Penalties Robinson 3. London Irish: Penalties Malone 2, Homer.
Gloucester O Morgan; C Sharples, T Molenaar, E Fuimaono-Sapolu, T Voyce; N Robinson, R Lawson (D Lewis 54); N Wood, S Lawson (O Azam 69), P Doran-Jones (R Harden 70), W James (A Strokosch 63), J Hamilton, P Buxton, A Hazell (A Qera 25), L Narraway (capt).
London Irish T Ojo; A Thompstone, D Bowden, S Mapusua (capt), T Homer; C Malone, D Allinson; C Dermody (A Corbisiero 54), J Buckland, F Rautenbach (p Ion 54), N Kennedy, K Low (G Johnson 60), K Roche (R Thorpe 60), J Gibson, G Stowers.
Referee D Rose (Devon).
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