Sackey's try has Exiles flying

London Irish 30 Saracens 23
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The Independent Online

He was described as looking like a pint of flat Guinness before the kick-off, but Paul Sackey produced the champagne moment with a stunning 77th minute try to lift London Irish into second place in the Premiership yesterday.

It was the highlight of a match which the Exiles should have run away with had it not been for some sterling defence and the wit and wisdom of Saracens' streetwise older players.

Tim Horan, Kyran Bracken, Jannie de Beer and Richard Hill had shown class and canniness easing their young team-mates ahead with an hour gone. There had been two penalties by de Beer, then a controversial moment when Saracens were awarded another one 30 metres out.

De Beer, the former South Africa fly-half, appeared to signal for the kicking tee, meanwhile the Irish hooker, Naka Drotske, decided it was an opportune moment to return to the fray.

Thus the distracted Exiles assuming it would be a kick were retreating to the goal-line. But, crucially, the referee, Steve Leyshon, had not signalled that a goal-kick was de Beer's choice. The outside-half looked up, saw a hole as big as the one at the Kimberley diamond mine and tapped and went. The prop David Flatman, in support, scored a gem of a try, which was converted by de Beer, to a background of howls of outrage from the home fans and looks of disbelief on the faces of their team.

Worse was to follow. The Exiles' replacement hooker, Richard Kirke, spilled a pass from Declan Danaher when the home side were pressing hard for a try of their own. The Saracens left wing, Darragh O'Mahony, swooped, scooped and looped around the cover before sprinting 75 metres for a touchdown of his own. De Beer again added the necessary.

However, Irish put behind them all the basic errors that had spiked their usually efficient approach and began counter-attacking in earnest. They were awarded a penalty try after successive collapses of a five metre scrum – there was actually a suspicion of boring in by Saracens.

Thus energised, the Exiles stepped up the pace. Scrum-half Darren Edwards, formerly with Newport, maintained continuity with a stream of high quality passes. It his pop ball which allowed the replacement lock, Jeff Fahrensohn, to thunder through a gap for try No 2. Then came Sackey's moment.

Having been a star turn in the first half for some superlative defensive work, he was finally allowed to demonstrate his lethal finishing. It was the blindside Danaher who released him and with only the narrowest of space in which to work the 21-year-old right wing with the dyed blond hair – hence the pre-match likening to a pint of stout – fairly fizzed the 25m to the line, stepping delicately but precisely outside and around every attempted tackle.

Everitt's third penalty polished it off and ensured that the Exiles won the Guinness Challenge – they had to be in the top four at Christmas – and earned coach Brendan Venter the "Freedom of Guinness", believed to guarantee him a free first pint of it in every watering hole around the world. The team have to be content with a golden keg of their sponsors' brew.

London Irish: Tries: Penalty try, Fahrensohn, Sackey; Conversions: Everitt 3; Penalties: Everitt 3. Saracens: Tries: Flatman, O'Mahony; Conversions: de Beer 2; Penalties: de Beer 2.

London Irish: M Horak; N Ezulike, J Bishop, G Appleford, P Sackey; B Everitt, D Edwards; M Worsley (N Hatley, 48), N Drotske (R Kirke, 29-38 & 48), R Hardwick, R Strudwick (capt), S Williams (J Fahrensohn, 54), D Danaher, C Sheasby, K Dawson.

Saracens: B Sparg; B Johnston, T Horan, K Sorrell, D O'Mahony; J de Beer, K Bracken (capt); D Flatman (S Phillips, 70), R Russell (M Cairns, 77), P Durant, K Roche (K Chesney, 66), K Benazzi (S Hooper, 60), R Hill, B Cole, A Roques.

Referee: S Leyshon (Bristol).