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The many new supporters that responded to the “Try us with CityJet initiative”, in the process contributing to an above average attendance of 9,795 for a LV= Cup fixture, experienced two of the fundamentals of rugby union – if you don’t have the ball, scoring is difficult and a wet rugby ball and slippy underfoot conditions do not make for a great spectacle.
The visiting Scarlets coped better with the conditions and continued their winning ways when playing away against the Exiles. The Welsh team’s victory was based on their dominance of possession and an exemplary kicking performance by their talented out half Steven Shingler. His total of 20 points from a combination of six out of seven penalty kicks and one conversion provided his team with crucial momentum on the scoreboard at key points of the match.
An uncharacteristic, indifferent home performance by London Irish left supporters with little opportunity to get behind their team. The Exiles struggled to retain possession for any length of time – rarely did it last beyond the fourth phase of play, an adverse statistic for a team that likes to play with pace and panache. To make matters worse, London Irish were under pressure in the scrum throughout the 80 minutes, although the line-out worked well.
Nick Kennedy was in charge of a starting XV that combined a rich vein of experience with the precocious talent of gifted Academy players and they started well with Kennedy stealing a line-out in the opening minutes.
Irish continued to have the better of the opening exchanges and forced Scarlets to defend deep in their half. In the sixth minute Darren Allinson whipped the ball from the base of a ruck to Chris Malone, he chipped the ball over the defence perfectly for Daniel Bowden to catch and outwit his opposite number before passing to Elvis Seveali’i who had a clear run to touch down under the posts. Malone added the extras to give Irish the perfect start.
The visitors rallied quickly as their powerful back row, No 8 Ben Morgan in particular, began to make an impact. Irish had to defend and were forced into conceding penalties which Shingler capitalised on with two successful kicks in the 13th and 18th minutes.
Malone extended his team’s lead with a penalty in the 20th minute only for Shingler to strike again within four minutes when Steffon Armitage was penalised for not rolling clear.
A combination of handling errors and pressure by Scarlets meant Irish were constantly on the defensive as the second quarter unfolded. Deprived of possession and with quick ball as rare as a ray of sunshine in the Thames Valley yesterday, the home team struggled to escape from their half.
Shingler’s fourth penalty on the half-hour gave his team a two point lead for the first time in the match. His team’s confidence was growing by the minute and his forwards drove the Irish pack backwards in a scrum.
A rare visit to the visitors’ half in the 33rd minute saw Irish awarded a penalty which Malone kicked from 25 metres to regain the lead.
With half-time approaching an exciting, searing run through the defence by Jonathan Joseph floundered when he lost his footing as he attempted a side-step as a gap opened for him.
Irish maintained field position in the Scarlets’ half and went into the interval with their one point lead intact.
Within five minutes of the restart Scarlets had imposed themselves on the match once again. With their forwards in the ascendancy, the Welsh team dominated possession and forced Irish to defend in their 22.
Irish had a let off in the 48th minute when Scarlets’ centre Scott Williams appeared to have dived through the home defence to touch down but the television replay showed that he lost control of the ball as it went over the try line.
The let-off brought temporary relief to the home team as prompted by their lively scrum half Martin Roberts and their captain, prop Phil John, the visitors maintained the pressure.
In the 52nd minute Irish introduced four fresh players, among them Richard Thorpe who was making his first senior appearance of the season after injury.
A minute later Shingler had an opportunity to regain the lead for his team but his kick from 25 metres flew wide of the posts, it was his only miss of the afternoon.
The Exiles lifted their supporters with a 40 metre’ rolling maul down the right by the forwards led by the outstanding Kieran Low. For once the Scarlets failed to defend the counter-attack and strayed offside. Malone sent the resulting penalty between the posts to extend the lead to four points.
With 20 minutes to go Richard Thorpe’s over enthusiasm at his return to match action resulted in a late tackle on Roberts, the visitors’ scrum half. The Exiles’ flanker received a yellow card.
It took only two minutes for Scarlets to capitalise on the Exiles’ player’s absence. A stable scrum provided the platform and Roberts crafted the move from which left wing Lee Williams scored. Shingler kicked the conversion to give his team a 19-16 lead.
Encouraged by the score the Welsh team ensured the Exiles had to work hard to regain possession but they struggled to retain it, repeatedly returning the initiative it the visitors.
Shingler extended his team’s lead with his fifth penalty in the 72nd minute when Irish pulled down a rolling maul. Two minute’s later Malone had the opportunity to reduce the margin with a penalty but his attempt drifted wide.
The final scoring opportunity of the match fittingly went to the young Scarlets’ out half, Shingler who kicked his sixth penalty in the 79th minute to leave the final score 25-16 to the Welsh.
On a disappointing afternoon for London Irish and its supporters, the club’s coaching staff will be encouraged by the way the Academy players in the team stepped up to senior level competition on the Madejski stage in front of the television cameras.
Scorers: London Irish: Try: Seveali’i (6); Conversion: Malone. Penalty goals: Malone 3 (20, 34, 57). Scarlets: Try: Williams L (62); Conversion: Schingler. Penalty goals: Schingler 6 (13, 18, 24, 30, 73, 79).
Scoring sequence (London Irish first): 7-0, 7-3, 7-6, 10-6, 10-9, 10-12, 13-12 (half-time) 16-12, 16-19, 16-22, 16-25.
London Irish: 15. J Lennard, 14. M Watson, 13. E Seveali’i, 12. D Bowden (rep: T Ojo, 52), 11. J Joseph, 10. C Malone, 9. D Allinson, 1. D Murphy (rep: A Corbisiero, 52), 2. D Paice (rep: J Buckland, 62), 3. F Rautenbach (rep: P Ion, 52), 4. N Kennedy (captain), 5. M Garvey, 6. K Low (rep: B Casey, 62), 7. S Armitage, 8. C Hala’Ufia (rep: R Thorpe, 52, sin-bin: 60-70).
Scarlets: 15. D Evans, 14. L Rees (rep: A Fenby, 55), 13. N Reynolds, 12. S Williams, 11. L Williams, 10. S Shingler, 9. M Roberts, 1. P John (captain)(rep: R Jones, 73), 2. E Phillips (rep: K Owens, 57), 3. P Edwards (rep: S Gardner, 57), 4. A Shingler, 5. D Day (rep: D Welch, 65), 6. J Fa’amatuainu (rep: N Cudd, 71), 7. J Edwards, 8. B Morgan.
Referee: Mr G Garner (RFU)