After 75 minutes last night Llanelli Scarlets were cruising to an easy win with a 32-6 lead in this Pool Five Heineken Cup match at the Madejski Stadium. For the remaining five minutes of proper time, however, the Welsh region were forced into a scrambled rearguard action by a resurgent London Irish.
They had pulled away from the Guinness Premiership team thanks to tries by Simon Easterby, Mark Jones, Iestyn Thomas with No 10 Stephen Jones adding 12 points with the boot. Then, having registered a bonus point, they allowed Irish back into the game through quickfire tries by Phil Murphy, Seilala Mapusua and Delon Armitage.
London Irish are not newcomers to the competition and have not broken any records, but until last night had never been beaten at home. They are in the same group as Toulouse and Ulster - both of whom have won the tournament.
The Scarlets, on the other hand, have made the quarter final play-offs once, the quarters four times and even advanced to the semis twice. They could do with another big show this season having been a disappointment for each of the past two campaigns.
But while London Irish have made little mark in the Premiership, Llanelli under director of rugby, Phil Davies, are second in the Magners League to leaders Ulster. Mind you, they had won only one game in their past six away from Stradey Park.
Llanelli began with a bang. The winger Mark Jones spilled the ball in attempting to cross the line. After a brawl, fly-half Jones pushed a penalty wide of the left upright. Irish then had some mistakes to live with, Michael Horak spilling a long ball kicked to him by Jones.
At the end of a period of mixed play with passes dropped, kicks misplaced and all sorts of errors, Barry Everitt pushed over a straightforward penalty.
Jones drilled over a penalty before Mike Catt - returning after injury for the first time in four weeks - struck an upright with an attempted dropped goal.
Everitt helped himself to another penalty before Seilala Mapusua hacked the ball upfield. Ceiron Thomas picked up, fed Jones, who in turn fed hooker Matthew Rees who handed it on to Dafydd James who became the first player to score 25 tries in the Heineken Cup. Jones kicked the conversion from the touchline. Llanelli were 10-6 up.
Declan Danaher was off the field, sent to the sin bin, when James's try was scored, but he was back when Simon Easterby was on the end of a pushover, Jones converted and Llanelli were beginning to travel.
Within another four minutes Mark Jones cruised in, Iestyn Thomas got the fourth try and with it a bonus point. Stephen Jones slotted another penalty before the high excitement of the final period.
London Irish: Tries P Murphy, Mapusua, D Armitage Cons Everitt (2) Pens Everitt (2). Llanelli Scarlets: Tries James, Easterby, M Jones, I Thomas Cons S Jones (3) Pens S Jones (2)
London Irish: Horak, Armitage (Ojo, 65) Mapusua, Catt (Tiesi, 49), Tagicakibau, Hodgson (Rees, 49), Everitt, Hatley, Paice (Coetzee, 47) Skuse (Lea'aetoa, 32) Roche, J Hudson, McCullen, Danaher (Magne, 47) Leguizamon (P Murphy, 52)
Llanelli Scarlets: C Thomas, James, King, G Evans, M Jones, S Jones, Peel, I Thomas, Rees, Dunlea (Manu, 61), Cooper, Afeaki (A Jones, 47) Easterby, G Thomas, Popham (N Thomas, 68).
Referee: R Poite (France).Reuse content