London Irish 48 Bayonne 5: Flutey takes Exiles beyond Bayonne

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The Independent Online

Riki Flutey masterminded this seven-try rout, underlining the fact that the Guinness Premiership has a strength in depth the French Championship does not. All four semi-final places in the European Challenge Cup have gone to English sides. Newcastle will host the Exiles and Gloucester will welcome Worcester on the weekend of 22-23 April.

"The Premiership is getting stronger and stronger," said Brian Smith, Irish's director of rugby. "Everyone wants to play in it. As a club competition it is the best in the world in terms of overall strength in depth."

Irish made hard work of it initially, struggling to find their focus and finishing in the first half. But the Exiles went on a second-half try spree.

With Flutey calling the tune they brought precision to their attacks and instead of seeing ball spilled or turned over whenever the Bayonne line loomed they were able to put someone away for the touchdown.

They had threatened to overrun Bayonne from the start. The French side lacked appetite for the fight, and all but threw in the towel. Irish dominated the set-piece, commanded the line-out and were happy to take on the opposition with ball in hand.

It was significant that when awarded penalties within range, neither side opted to kick at goal, preferring to seek attacking line-outs or better still to tap and go. And go Irish did.

Flutey's contribution was immense. He may be unfortunate to find someone of the calibre of Daniel Carter ahead of him in the All Black pecking order, but he looks like ruling the roost at Reading for some time to come.

His kicking game was spot on, both at goal, with four out of five conversions, and out of hand, as he knocked back the French forwards time and again with raking kicks.

His handling was fabulous. The cut-out pass which presented the centre Gonzalo Tiesi with his 52nd-minute try was a beauty, and as well as makingsome dazzling breaks Flutey also scored a try himself.

The French side only flared into life vary late in the game, when Irish had been reduced to 14 men after their hooker Robbie Russell, the scorer of their first two tries, was sent to the sin-bin after getting into a scuffle with the scrum-half Gregory Sudre.

A few minutes later Irish lost another player when Tiesi hobbled off. All their replacements had been used, but the Exiles shrugged off the setback and proceeded to score two more tries.

London Irish: Tries Russell 2, Tiesi, Flutey, Ojo, Murphy, Casey; Conversions Flutey 4, Geraghty; Drop goal Flutey. Bayonne: Try Van Schalkwyk.

London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, G Tiesi, M Catt (capt; S Geraghty, 54), S Tagicakibau (J Bishop, 27); R Flutey, P Hodgson (D Edwards, 51); M Collins (N Hatley, 2; D Paice, 60), R Russell, R Skuse, R Casey, K Roche (R Strudwick, 53), D Danaher, K Dawson (Hatley, 73-80), O Magne (P Murphy, 66).

Bayonne: V Noutary; J Nunez Piossek, R Dourthe (J McLaren, 54), S Roque, B Lhande ; G Fraser, S Rouet (G Sudre, 66); E Coetzee, A Heguy (G Hill, 54), J Wessels (J Garcia, 48), T Cleda, M Tewhata (C Bergez, 54), G Combes, L Massabeau (capt), Y Lamour (P van Schalkwyk 63).

Referee: M Changleng (Scotland).