London Irish recorded their ninth Premiership win of the season yesterday with a 24-13 victory over Bristol to maintain their momentum at the top of the table thanks to two tries from Paul Gustard. But in front of their record crowd at the Madejski stadium – 12,813 – they were made to work hard for the victory.
Coach Gary Gold has urged the Exiles to step up a gear if they are going to become "an all-round rugby team". "We worked really hard this week and that is why we are a little disappointed," he said.
"We wanted to play good rugby, entertain the crowd, score tries. There wasn't a bad performance but there is a lot of room for improvements.
"We didn't recycle the ball as much as we would have liked. That meant we didn't get the ball through as many phases as we would have liked. It was very difficult. Bristol had more numbers to break down than we did. We have got to adapt to that."
Yet the South African has transformed Irish along with with Brendan Venter and Conor O'Shea, and they remain in contention for a place in next season's lucrative Heineken Cup, while Bristol have now slumped to seventh in the League.
The home side started well with flanker Gustard recording his first try for the club after four minutes. On loan from Leicester Tigers until the end of the season, he capitalised after Paul Sacky was brought down just short of the line, picking up where Sacky left off and muscling his way over. Fly-half Barry Everitt converted and added two penalties before the break.
But Bristol were not to be outdone. The Argentinian fly-half Felipe Contemponi fired over a 30th-minute penalty, and former England international David Reece followed up another Contemponi effort with the visitors' first try
The winger was quick on his feet and intercepted a pass by the Exiles' player coach Venter. He charged 40 metres upfield to score and reduce the deficit to 13-10 at the break.
Contemponi levelled the score shortly after the interval but that was where Bristol's challenge ended. Irish had clearly been given a wake-up call at half-time. Everitt put them back in front with a 51st-minute penalty and then Gustard touched down again.
After the Exiles had done the hard work, forcing Bristol to defend their line ferociously, Gustard picked up from a ruck to scramble over. Everitt rounded it off by registering his fourth penalty.Reuse content