Poor handling allows Irish to pick up points

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The Independent Online

Matches were never as bad as this in the good old amateur days. For a collection of so-called professionals, the players on both sides served up some appaling rugby. No wonder Dick Best, the London Irish director of coaching, announced that training would start at 7.30am today, while Dean Ryan declared that it was not the first match Bristol had thrown away.

Matches were never as bad as this in the good old amateur days. For a collection of so-called professionals, the players on both sides served up some appaling rugby. No wonder Dick Best, the London Irish director of coaching, announced that training would start at 7.30am today, while Dean Ryan declared that it was not the first match Bristol had thrown away.

Although Bristol created two fine tries they proved incapable of repeating them when it mattered and consequently they failed to hang on to their lead.

"We have to face facts," intoned Ryan afterwards. "As a club we just do not have the quality of players here to win Premiership matches. Individuals have to look to themselves to come up with the solution. We are losing games we should be winning."

Penalties, possession, players and even the referee were swapped with the frequency of Pokemon cards in a school playground. The handling by both sides was not the greatest, but Bristol had a couple of purple patches of spillage which would have put an environmental agency on full alert.

Pretty well every penalty produced three points, although Jarrod Cunningham did contrive to miss his third attempt in the 11th minute, which would have pushed the Exiles just that little bit further ahead.

Although Bristol then made a complete hash of the restart, Irish could not find a way through and Steven Vile broke their hearts with a grubber chip and chase to for a five-metre scrum. From the set piece some deft handiwork by Agustin Pichot and Vile ensured clear water for Spencer Brown to sail through.

The Bristol halfbacks were infinitely superior to the Exiles' Kieran Campbell and Cunningham, they showed greater inventiveness and some serious speed of thought, the precise ingredients with which Bristol cooked up their second try when the prop Paul Johnstone went scudding through from close range.

Had it not been for Cunningham's first-half penalties Irish would have been well out of it. Too often they presented Bristol with straightforward possession. Things did improve for Irish in the second half, but the cohesion was still lacking when they tried anything constructive.

Overall, it was extremely poor fare. Both sides were guilty throughout of committing basic errors - losing the ball in the tackle, allowing themselves to get caught in isolation, flinging out thoughtless passes into empty space. Yet Bristol just made enough to hand the edge and victory to Irish. Cunningham's 77th minute drop goal and injury-time penalty, his eighth of the match, clinching it.

Bristol: Tries Brown, Johnstone; Conversions Vile 2; Penalties Vile 4.

London Irish: Penalties Cunningham 8. O'Shea; Drop goal Cunningham.

Bristol: D Dewdney; D Rees, E Simone, J Mayer, S Brown; S Vile, A Pichot (capt); P Johnstone (L Gerrard, 41), B Williams, K Fullman, D Ryan (A Sheridan, 41), G Archer, M Salter (M McCarrick, 48), B Sturnham, A Vander.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); P Sackey, T matson, J Wright, J Bishop; J Cunningham, K Campbell (K Ellis, 58); M Worsley (N Hatley, 53), R Kirke, S Halford (R Hardwick, 41-79), R Strudwick, S Williams (G Delaney, 3-17 & 63-71), E Halvey, C Sheasby, K Dawson.

Referee: G Ashton-Jones (Royal Navy) (Replaced by R Goodliffe, Sheffield, 63).

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