Magne escapes his brush with the law

London Irish 24 Bristol 22

Laying hands on the referee is one of the most serious offences in the game, so it must be assumed that Maybank, a full-time employee of the Rugby Football Union, considered Magne's contact to be no more than a brush with authority, unworthy of a red card. Magne has been banned for foul play for his country in the past and in his new career in England has joined a team struggling to shake off an unlovely reputation.

One flash of inspiration from Mike Catt aside, Irish had to settle for winning ugly and might not even have done that if Jason Strange had not suffered his first missed kick for Bristol - albeit from a tough angle and about 50 metres' distance - deep into added time.

Both these teams favour the rush defence, so the onus was on beating the blitz. Catt's isolated masterclass came with the scores level at 6-6 after 27 minutes.

The former England centre coolly allowed the Bristol defensive line to fly up and outflanked them with a long pass to his left. Phil Murphy, the No 8, rumbled off up the touchline and with admirable economy of effort exchanged a pass with his wing, Justin Bishop, before feeding the supporting scrum-half, Paul Hogdson, for the try.

Barry Everitt, who had previously kicked a penalty and a dropped goal to two penalties by Strange, was unable to convert, but Irish increased their lead five minutes later with a second try.

A scrum near the Bristol 22 broke up with the visitors expecting a call of offside as a spot of pinball ensued with surely a knock-on and an offside occurring. Maybank, who tends to be quicker on the whistle than Casey Jones, was unsighted and Hodgson, playing against his old club, did not hang around with a dainty chip and chase to the corner. Everitt added the extras for 18-6.

Each score was the cue for the man on the public address to implore "come on you Irish". Such was the cosmopolitan nature of the line-ups he might have added "and you Aussies, South Africans, French, Canadians and New Zealanders" for the home side, not to mention "Argentinians, Samoans, Welsh and Fijians" for Bristol. Throw in the caps for Hong Kong and Scotland won once upon a time by Vaughan Going and David Hilton respectively and the Premiership grows ever more into a league of nations.

Bristol had unhappy memories of being relegated on this ground in 2003 but slowly they overcame dropping the ball in contact and mauls to gain momentum. And then they had Brian Lima, he of the chiropractic nickname, who almost inevitably left a would-be tackler, Scott Staniforth, crumpled in a heap like a discarded duvet after a poorly-executed attempt to waylay the experienced Samoan.

Straddling half-time there were three more penalties by Strange and two from Everitt to leave Irish ahead by 24-15 with 10 minutes remaining, before Lima made another telling contribution. The Irish cover was at last splintered by Bristol's patient build-up and Lima arced from the right wing to the posts, Strange converting.

As the 80-minute mark ticked past, Bristol kept coming but they had Manu Contepomi penalised for holding on to the ball then deliberately knocking on, and could not work themselves into drop-goal territory.

The Irish tackling was fevered and when it went over the top Strange had his tricky late chance. But the Exiles hung on to celebrate with relief a first home Premiership win since last November, at the seventh time of asking.

London Irish: D Armitage; S Staniforth (J Storey, 13), R Penney, M Catt (capt; P Franze, 63), J Bishop; B Everitt, P Hodgson (B Willis, 73); N Hatley (R Hardwick, 76), A Flavin (D Paice, 73), R Hardwick (M Collins, 63), B Casey, K Roche (R Strudwick, 73), O Magne, P Murphy, K Dawson (P Gustard, 57)

Bristol: B Stortoni; L Robinson (R Higgitt, 49), B Lima, M Contepomi, V Going (D Gray, 86); J Strange, J Rauluni; D Hilton, S Nelson, D Crompton, M Sambucetti, G Llewellyn, M Salter (capt), G Lewis, C Short (D Ward-Smith, 40).

Referee: R Maybank (Kent).


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