At the northernmost outpost of the Aviva Premiership, London Irish were looking down from the summit of English rugby union last night. Toby Booth's side may not still be there tonight – Northampton play Saracens this afternoon – but they could hardly have planted their flag in more emphatic fashion.
This was Irish on the form that took them to Twickenham the season before last and to victory against Leinster in the first round of the Heineken Cup last term. Their pace, power and precision were far too much for Alan Tait's Newcastle.
"That was probably the London Irish of two seasons ago," said Mike Catt, the Exiles' attack coach. "We had that ruthlessness, that clinical finishing that we lost towards the end of last season."
Topsy Ojo took the honours, the sometime England wing running in a hat-trick, the first two from exquisite counterattacks. There were six Irish tries in all, though, and most of them featured Delon Armitage – a man on a mission to regain the England full-back jersey – and the Samoan outhouse centre Seilala Mapusua. Ryan Lamb's subtle influence at fly-half played no small part too.
For Newcastle, watched by a crowd below 5,000 and very nearly knocked for a half-century of points, it was painful. They were without their captain, the former Exiles lock James Hudson having fallen victim to a hamstring problem that is expected to keep him out until late November. They only had eight minutes to wait before Irish hit their straps.
The visitors were pinned inside their 22 when they snaffled turnover possession and Ojo whacked the ball up the right touchline. Armitage hared upfield to collect it, initially with some neat footwork, before eluding the Newcastle full-back, Alex Tait, and shipping a pass to Ojo, who touched down at the posts.
Lamb converted and seven minutes later set the second Irish score in motion with a deft little dink over the defence on halfway that was gathered by Mapusua. He advanced to the 22 before feeding Ojo, who cut inside to score under the posts. Lamb's conversion left Newcastle with a 14-point deficit on home ground.
Their fans must have feared the worst, but the Falcons managed to fight back. After the home pack had pummelled away to the right of the posts in the 24th minute, a swift switch out to the backs allowed Jimmy Gopperth to cut through a stretched defence and dot down a try that the Kiwi fly-half also converted.
It proved to be temporary relief for Newcastle. As half-time approached the Exiles hit main street again. Lamb and Mapusua whipped quick ball out left to Armitage, who cut a rapier line before slipping a pass to Jonathan Joseph. The wing beat Charlie Amesbury at his leisure. It was another try right out of the top drawer. Lamb failed to land the conversion from the touchline but the Exiles turned round for the second-half 19-7 to the good and seeking a bonus-point score.
It came in the 55th minute, after Lamb had made the game safe with a couple of thumping penalties. Mapusua barged over the gain line, spinning through three tackles, and then fed the inside centre, Daniel Bowden, for a comfortable run to the line.
Lamb's conversion made it 32-7 but the damage was far from over for Newcastle and the rest of it was self-inflicted. First Ojo and then Joseph intercepted wild passes to run in tries from distance. Tait managed a try three minutes from time but it was no consolation to the crestfallen Falcons.
Newcastle Falcons 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).Reuse content