Exiles hold their nerve

London Irish 19 Gloucester 15
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The Independent Online

A damp Sunday in Reading may not match the atmosphere of a Six Nations Saturday in Dublin, but there was more than a faint echo of Ireland's epic win over England in the way London Irish clung to a shrinking lead to hold off the belated challenge of Gloucester yesterday.

Belated, because for the first half of the contest the Cherry and Whites might as well have stayed in the dressing room. Ludovic Mercier, the Premiership's leading goal kicker, lost his golden touch, the team collectively lost their discipline and lost Patrice Collazo to the sin bin for a professional foul. They also lost the half 19-0, 14 points coming from the boot of the man of the match, Barry Everitt.

However, the visitors emerged from the break transformed. After a third quarter in which Mercier rediscovered his range, they ensured the Exiles could not relax in an increasingly fraught end-to-end finale.

Both coaches identified the parallels with Dublin. Gloucester's Philippe Saint-André said: "We were indisciplined in the first half and missed a lot of kicks and in the second half we had opportunities to score but panicked too much."

For London Irish, Brendan Venter highlighted his side's defence, saying: "It wasn't a good second half but it took a lot of courage to hang on and our youngsters did very well."

Irish ultimately deserved their win for taking advantage of Gloucester's gifts and then denying their revived opponents the scent of the try line. The Exiles' sole touchdown came from a Gloucester error. Trailing 12-0, the visitors had a scrum on their own line, only for Dimitri Yachvili to scuff his pass from the base and the Exiles blindside, James Cockle, pounced on the ball as it dribbled over the line. The composed Everitt converted to put the home side seemingly out of sight.

In contrast, Everitt's opposite number endured a nightmare first half. Mercier missed five kicks before the break, although both the stand-off and his coach were convinced that two of those should have been ruled good. Gloucester have raised the Kingsholm uprights to accommodate the height of the Frenchman's kicks, but away from home that altitude creates doubt for the touch judges.

After the break, Mercier rediscovered his range with five successes from six but it was not quite enough.

London Irish: Tries Cockle; Conversion Everitt; Penalties Everitt 4.

Gloucester: Penalties Mercier (5)

London Irish: M Horak; J Bishop, G Appleford, R Hoadley, P Sackey; B Everitt, D Edwards (H Martens, 67); N Hatley (M Worsley, 46), R Kirke (N Drotske, 46), R Hardwick (S Halford, 46), R Strudwick (capt), S Williams, J Cockle, D Danaher, C Sheasby (R Bates, 43).

Gloucester: C Catling (J Goodridge, 40); D O'Leary (T Fanolua, 71), J Ewens, R Todd (capt), J Frape; L Mercier, D Yachvili; T Woodman, O Azam (C Fortey, 40), P Collazo (F Pucciariello, 40), R Fidler, E Pearce, A Eustace, A Hazell, J Paramour (F Pucciariello, 14-26; J Boer, 64).

Referee: Ian Rammage (SRU).

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