It is a bizarre fact of rugby life that most transfers are announced in mid-season, leaving the departing player and their current employer enduring months of what must sometimes feel like waiting for a decree absolute.
There is no suggestion that Marland Yarde is leaving London Irish under a cloud, but the England wing was dropped from any involvement in this startling six-try rout, after giving a mixed performance including a yellow card at his future club Harlequins last week. And wouldn’t you know it, Yarde’s direct replacement Andy Fenby ran in a hat-trick of tries as Irish laid waste to Newcastle.
“We have put a marker out to go with the guys who want to be here, and we’ll continue with that,” said Brian Smith, Irish’s director of rugby, making a virtue of 14 of the starting team being players who will be here next season. The exception was the Toulon-bound James O’Connor, who went off with a hamstring twinge.
The leggy and pacy Fenby, 28, joined Irish from the Scarlets last summer. He was a student at Newcastle University and made a few appearances for the Falcons as well as Blaydon. But it was his former team-mates who weren’t at the races in the first 15 minutes, during which they conceded three tries.
“London Irish were always going to throw the ball around,” said a furious Dean Richards, Smith’s Newcastle counterpart, referring to the home team’s safe position of 10th in the table. “But we should have been good enough to contain that. It was one of the worst first halves of rugby I’ve probably ever seen. There was a distinct lack of focus – some of the boys think they’re safe already and you can’t do that. It comes down to an attitude thing, not a technical thing.”
In front of their lowest Premiership crowd of the season, 5,614, Irish kicked their first penalty into touch, and Fenby grabbed his first try after a couple of rucks on the short side of a maul. Rory Clegg kicked a penalty in reply, and so it went: tries for the Irish and three more penalties for Clegg, as Fergus Mulchrone and Fenby crossed for an Exiles lead of 19-12, then Eamonn Sheridan, Fenby again and Gerard Ellis went over in the eight minutes leading up to half-time.
The most excruciating score came in the 36th minute when Newcastle’s scrum-half Warren Fury had the ball robbed from his hands by Irish’s Blair Cowan; the blindside flanker slipped an immediate pass to Fenby, who was making his first appearance against his old club, and scoring his first Premiership tries for his current one, although he had six in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Newcastle appeared utterly flummoxed by Irish’s blitz defence. Left in no doubt what Richards thought of them, some substitutes helped stop the rot – truly, it was a game of two halves, the second of them scoreless – and although it was the Falcons’ 13th straight Premiership defeat since they beat Irish in October, and it left the seven-point gap separating them from the bottom club Worcester unaltered, it would be amazing if Newcastle suffered the drop.
In the three rounds remaining, Newcastle host Saracens next Sunday – and it would not be a surprise if the league leaders rested a few first-teamers with an eye on the following Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final –followed by Wasps away and a finish at home to Exeter on May 10. Worcester need to gain some points from their next two matches – dauntingly, away to Bath and Saracens – to keep it going.
London Irish: Tries Fenby 3, Mulchrone, Sheridan, Ellis; Conversions O’Connor 5. Newcastle: Penalties Clegg 4.
London Irish J O’Connor (M Dorrian, 68); T Ojo (A Lewington, 63), F Mulchrone, E Sheridan, A Fenby; S Geraghty, T O’Leary (D Allinson, 51); M Parr (J Yapp, 51), M Mayhew (J Stevens 51), L Halavatu (J Hagan, 51), G Skivington (capt), N Rouse, B Cowan, G Ellis (B Evans, 63; I Gough, 75), O Treviranus.
Newcastle N Cato; R Shortland, J Helleur (J Fitzpatrick, 59), L Smith, S Sinoti; R Clegg (J Hodgson 41), W Fury (M Blair, 47); G Shiells (G Strain, 68), M Thompson (G McGuigan 41), O Tomaszczyk (S Wilson, 41), S MacLeod, F McKenzie (D Barrow, 47), W Welch (capt), A Saull (R Mayhew, 47), M Wilson.
Referee L Pearce (Devon).