London Welsh were the architects of their own downfall at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday, as London Irish comprehensively came out on top in the Battle of the Exiles.
The home side never recovered from leaking two tries in the opening five minutes to Alex Lewington and Tom Fowlie, although James Tincknell’s try briefly hinted that Welsh might make more of a contest of it.
Shane Geraghty, however, in outstanding form for Irish just as he was in the sides’ Boxing Day meeting, crossed twice before Matt Parr and Andrew Fenby added further tries to send Irish in 38-7 up at the break.
Lewington added his second try and although Taione Vea forced his way for a deserved and hard-earned try for the home side, Lewington rounded off a comprehensive win for Irish by completing his hat-trick.
Just as he had at the Madejski Stadium on Boxing Day, Geraghty was again the inspiration for Irish’s victory on Saturady, with the fly half the pulling the strings in a superb 40 minute display. It was his chip for Lewington to chase which forced Nick Scott to concede a five-metre scrum, and although a free kick allowed the home side to escape, it was a brief reprieve as Eamonn Sheridan’s strong carry laid the platform for Lewington to go over in the corner.
A try down after just three minutes, Welsh compounded their bad start by gifting Irish a second try just two minutes later, as a loose pass left James Lewis scrambling and Irish hacked on twice for Fowlie to gather and touch down.
The only positive Welsh could glean was that Geraghty was unable to convert either try, and the home side hit back with a brilliantly executed try from first phase – Carl Kirwan releasing the rampaging Opet Fonua who burst through before feeding Tincknell to cross. Will Robinson added the extras and we seemed set for a ding-dong battle.
The tries would indeed keep coming, but with Irish enjoying a monopoly over them. The visitors forced their way to within metres of the Welsh line, and when the ball was flung wide Geraghty ghosted through the home side’s defence to touch down.
This time the fly half would make no mistake with the conversion, and a short time later would also convert his second try – albeit after an element of good fortune. Irish pushed a penalty into the corner but as Welsh prepared to defend the surely inevitable catch and drive, the lineout was overthrown.
The bounce, though, favoured Geraghty, as players from both sides converged from all angles on the loose ball, and the fly halves’ momentum saw him burst clean through.
The visitors wrapped the bonus point up five minutes before the break when Geraghty nudged another a penalty into the corner and this time the visitors got the catch and drive just right, with Parr the man driven over. Welsh’s miserable opening 40 was completed when Elliot Kear’s clearance was run back with purpose and Fenby crossed for try number six. Geraghty’s conversion ensured Irish took a commanding 38-7 lead into the break, and left Welsh with plenty to ponder.
It was a different Welsh side which emerged after the interval, no doubt with Justin Burnell’s words still ringing in their ears. Kear’s break came to nothing but set the tone as the home side threw caution to the wind, as they had to.
It was Irish who struck first, however, as Tom Guest was strong in the tackle before offloading for Lewington to race away. Chris Noakes, on at half-time for the excellent Geraghty, added the conversion.
Geraghty’s half back partner, Scott Steele had also given way at half-time, and Welsh seized upon the change to exert the kind of consistent pressure that Geraghty and Steele had imposed upon them in the opening 40.
Fenby saw yellow as Welsh rumbled up to the Irish line and they would eventually make their one-man advantage tell as Vea forced his way over from close range. The home side would continue to batter away, but they could find no further way through. A penalty into the corner was stolen by Irish, while Nathan Morris came close, and Nic Reynolds’ intelligent kick into space forced James Short to concede a five-metre scrum, only for Welsh to fall foul of crossing. Despite their lead, the Irish defence was clearly in no mood to offer Welsh any cheap tries.
Having extracted themselves from Welsh’s vice-like grip, Irish moved down field to ensure it was they that had the final word. Jebb Sinclair was denied in the corner by an excellent tackle from Kear, only for Eoin Grifin to then side-step his way through to set up Lewington to complete his hat-trick, bring up the half century for Irish and round off a miserable afternoon for Welsh.
London Welsh scorers:
Tries: Tincknell, Vea; Cons: Robinson.
London Irish scorers:
Tries: Lewington (3), Geraghty (2), Fowlie, Parr, Fenby; Cons: Geraghty (4), Noakes.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Touch Judges: Ross Campbell & Jonathan Healy