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London Irish started and finished the game brilliantly to come away with a resounding victory over Aviva Premiership newcomers Exeter Chiefs in front of over 20,000 fans at Madejski Stadium.
Irish made a flying start to the game with returning full back Delon Armitage claiming a Dan Bowden grubber kick in the Exeter 22 metre line to score within the first minute of the game. It was an electric start by the Irish boys that completely caught the visitors out. Tom Homer hit the post with his conversion attempt.
Delon Armitage was again instrumental in the Exiles second try that came shortly after and resulted in his younger brother scoring from a pick and go a metre out. Delon claimed a mark inside his own 22 metre line and set off on a waving run before offloading to his Samoan team mates Mapusua and Seveali’i to set Irish on their way again. Nick Kennedy galloped his way towards the Chiefs try line only to be tackled a metre out. This paved the way for Steffon Armitage to dive over. Homer made no mistake with the resulting conversion and extended Irish’s lead to 12-0.
Exeter scored their first points of the game after 10 minutes through a Gareth Steenson penalty after an infringement at the breakdown by an Irish player.
Tom Homer immediately hit back with a penalty of his own as the away side were penalised for going in for the ball when it was still in the ruck.
It was clear from the start of the game that the Exiles meant business. Every time Irish had the ball in hand they caused Exeter problems and the quick ball produced by the forwards was creating the perfect platform for Paul Hodgson to play off.
Anything Irish could do in attack was being matched in defence as both forwards and backs produced huge tackles and gave the Chiefs nowhere to go.
The set piece in the first half looked assured at both the scrum and lineout. Tom Homer added his second penalty of the game with less than 10 minutes to go in the half as the smaller Irish pack got the initial hit at the scrum, causing the Chiefs to concede a penalty. Homer successfully added the three points to extend London Irish’s lead to 18-3.
To their credit Exeter did keep plugging away and scored a try of their own on 35 minutes through their prop forward, Chris Budgen to slightly dampen Irish’s first half display. The Exiles went into the break with a 18-8 lead.
The second half started with the away side in the ascendancy. The big Exeter forwards got a rolling maul drive going, carrying their opponents 15 metres before referee Greg Garner whistled for a penalty. Gareth Steenson slotted his second penalty of the game to cut the Exiles lead to just seven points.
The Chiefs were back again and it was the fly half Gareth Steenson whose high kick to the corner almost resulted in another try for the visitors. London Irish were only saved by Dan Bowden’s last ditch defence.
Steenson did cut the deficit to just four points with another penalty and it was Exeter who had their tails up.
The visitors continued to eat away at the Exiles lead and another Steenson penalty saw Exeter come within a point of the Irish.
It took a 50 metre run from Topsy Ojo to inject some life back into the Exiles after 14 minutes of the second half. The Ojo run gave the Exiles momentum and some sustained pressure in the Exeter 22 resulted in Exeter openside flanker James Scaysbrook being sent to the sin bin for dragging down the Exiles driving maul.
From the resulting scrum George Stowers picked up at the base and went storming into Gareth Steenson before the returning David Paice burrowed his way over the line to mark his return with a try. Tom Homer added the simple conversion.
The try definitely lifted the Exiles and minutes later Tom Homer was lining up a penalty from inside his own half which he booted over from 53 metres out. This penalty gave London Irish a 28-17 lead.
A game of kicking tennis soon followed before Delon Armitage launched a huge kick that stopped just half a metre out from the Exeter line, forcing the away side to carry the ball over.
From the resulting scrum and 10 phases of possession, the Exiles scored their bonus point try through Steffon Armitage. This ended Exeter’s hopes of coming away from the game with a victory and left 20,000 London Irish fans very happy.
There was still time for Tom Homer to add two further penalties as Irish ended the game 39-17 winners.
Delon Armitage was rightly named man of the match for his outstanding performance. It was a fantastic day had by all and the result capped it off.
Irish face local rivals London Wasps at the Madejski next Sunday.
Scorers: Tries: Delon Armitage (1), Steffon Armitage (5), (72), David Paice (59) ; Conversions: Homer 2; Penalties: Homer 5: Exeter: Tries: Budgen (35): Penalties: Steenson 4
Soring sequence: (London Irish first) 5-0, 12-0, 12-3, 15-3, 15-8, 18-8, 18-11, 18-14, 18-17, 25-17,28-17, 33-17, 36-17, 39-17
15. Delon Armitage; 14. Topsy Ojo (rep: Adam Thompstone, 74); 13. Elvis Seveali’I; 12. Seilala Mapusua; 11. Tom Homer; 10. Dan Bowden (rep: Ryan Lamb, 74); 9. Paul Hodgson (rep: Darren Allinson, 67); 1. Clarke Dermody (rep: Paulica Ion, 74); 2. James Buckland (rep: David Paice, 48); 3. Faan Rautenbach (rep: Alex Corbisiero, 48); 4. Nick Kennedy (rep: Richard Thorpe, 78); 5. Bob Casey (rep: Gary Johnson, 19); 6. Jamie Gibson; 7. Steffon Armitage; 8. George Stowers
15.Luke Arscott; 14. Matt Jess (rep:Nemani Nadolo, 60); 13. Jason Shoemark; 12. Sireli Naqelevuki; 11. Nic Sestaret; 10. Gareth Steenson; 9. Haydn Thomas (rep: Junior Polu, 24); 1. Brett Sturgess (rep: Been Moon, 72); 2. Neil Clark (rep: Simmon Alcott, 64); 3. Chris Budgen (rep: Hoani Tui, 60); 4. Tom Hayes (Capt); 5. James Hanks (rep: Chad Slade, 19); 6. Tom Johnson (rep:James Phillips, 67); 7. James Scaysbrook (sin bin 57-67); 8. Richard Baxter;
Referee: Greg Garner