Saracens 24 London Irish 20: Jackson has himself a ball at expense of Exiles defence

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The Independent Online

One act of sportsmanship by London Irish and a moment's opportunism by Saracens separated these two sides after a curate's egg of a match.

The Exiles were a couple of minutes away from scraping home by a point on a ground where they had lost once in their previous half-dozen visits. They were penalised at a ruck 25 metres out, the loose-head prop, Dan Murphy, the offender. Anticipating a kick at goal by Saracens' replacement fly-half, Glen Jackson, the Exiles' lock Nick Kennedy obligingly threw the ball to the New Zealander, presumably in the hope of speeding up the taking of the kick and thus leaving Irish with more time to try to score again.

Unfortunately, having delivered the ball, Kennedy turned his back. Jackson looked right, where his full-back, Richard Haughton, was signalling that he had space in front of him. Jackson swivelled and sent a perfectly judged cross kick out to where Haughton gathered it and raced, untouched, over the line.

Jackson missed the conversion, but that was no problem. It might have been a different story had he missed Haughton and kicked the ball into touch. "If it had missed I would have been heading back to New Zealand on a plane tonight, I suppose," he said.

It was a second example of Jackson's nerveless approach in the game. He had come on as a replacement for Gordon Ross after Saracens had been given a half-time roasting and 61 seconds into the second period the former Bay of Plenty No 10 knocked over a drop goal from 42 metres.

Saracens had shown precious little enterprise in a scrappy and at times ill-tempered first half. Ross landed two penalties and a drop goal, but Saracens left all the playmaking to a more adventurous Irish side. Delon Armitage scored the Exiles' solitary try early on and kicked two penalties.

The Exiles' Australian full-back Peter Hewat kicked two more penalties after the interval, either side of Saracens' first try, so the home side still looked wobbly. But Jackson added more than mere points to the mix. He gave Saracens width, space and confidence and in the 56th minute Adam Powell, the 20-year-old centre, emulated him.

Haughton, after a mazy 60-metre run through the densest of Irish cover, shipped the ball to the Fijian wing Kameli Ratuvou and the move broke down momentarily. But Powell, a sharp-eyed former England Under-19, pounced on the ball as it emerged and muscled his 15st bulk through an armful of tackles to drop over the line.

Jackson converted and his team were back in front. Armitage, though, knocked over a third successful penalty in the 76th minute and the Exiles' supporters began to celebrate. Too soon, as it turned out. In the first minute of added time came the penalty and Jackson's ice-cool decision.

His action earned praise from the London Irish director of rugby, Brian Smith. "Fair play to Jacko, it was a big call, but he is on top of his game at the moment."

Smith's opposite number, Alan Gaffney, also praised Jackson. "Glen could do a job for England," said the Australian, referring to the fact that once Jackson qualifies by residency he could pull on the red rose jersey.

Jackson would like that. "I've been here for three years and not played for another country," he said, "and I have been led to believe that I am now qualified to play for England. If they wanted me I would definitely be interested in playing for them."

Saracens: Tries Powell, Haughton; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Ross 2; Drop goals Ross, Jackson. London Irish: Try D Armitage; Penalties D Armitage 3, Hewat 2.

Saracens: R Haughton; R Penney (F Leonelli, 36), K Sorrell, A Powell, K Ratuvou; G Ross (G Jackson, 40), N de Kock (capt; M Rauluni, 59); N Lloyd, M Cairns, C Visagie, T Ryder, H Vyvyan, K Chesney, D Seymour (B Skirving, 64), P Gustard.

London Irish: P Hewat; T de Vedia, D Armitage, S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau; M Catt, P Richards; D Murphy, D Paice, T Lea'aetoa (R Skuse, 65), N Kennedy, B Casey (capt), K Roche (S Armitage, 65), D Danaher, P Murphy.

Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).