London Irish book Premiership final date
May 9, 2009
Harlequins' Ugo Monye is taken out in the air by London Irish's Adam Thompstone
© Getty Images
London Irish will play Leicester Tigers in this season's Guinness Premiership Final after battling past Harlequins at The Stoop.
Tries from replacement lock James Hudson and veteran fly-half Mike Catt sealed a deserved victory for the Exiles that sees them progress to their first-ever Premiership Final. A superb lesson in controlled and intelligent rugby, from the only English side to have won at The Stoop this season, shackled the hosts who were left to rue a series of crucial missed kicks.
In a tense opening period neither side managed to open the scores and were left to rue their missed chances. Harlequins No.10 Nick Evans and fullback Mike Brown both missed two penalties apiece while London Irish fullback Peter Hewat also missed two attempts at goal as the pressure of the occasion appeared to take its toll.
The highlight of an error-strewn and physical first half was an all-out brawl after just ten minutes sparked by a high tackle from the ever-influential Catt on Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care.
Tempers flared in the opening two minutes and the intensity of the clash almost reached boiling point in the third minute when Quins' Ugo Monye was taken out in the air by London Irish's Adam Thompstone.
Evans, with a heavily strapped knee, failed to hit the target with the subsequent penalty to set the tone for the half. Perhaps anticipating a narrow game, Quins opted for another shot at goal a couple of minutes later but again Evans pulled his effort wide of the target. Catt's dangerous tackle on Care lit up the game on ten minutes and when referee Chris White had finally separated the sides, Brown stepped up only to pulls his kick wide of the posts.
Quins continued to dominate in terms of territory and possession and in a rare flash of attacking endeavour Thompstone was able to snuff out the threat of a chip and chase. The Exiles battled back into the game and scrum-half Paul Hodgson and Thompstone combined well midway through the half to launch an attack up the shortside. Steffon Armitage then went close to scoring in the corner where he was denied by tackles from Brown and Chris Robshaw.
Irish were soon pressing again and a bullet pass from Hewat found Delon Armitage who fed Sailosi Tagicakibau who agonisingly lost the ball forward as he tried to dot down for the try. The powerful winger was then held up just short of the line thanks to some excellent defence from Quins.
Such was the nature of the game, scrums and lineouts were celebrated like tries but Irish, like Quins in the early exchanges, failed to make their domination count where it matters most - on the scoreboard.
Hewat failed to break the deadlock with two kicks in two minutes on the half hour and his side's hopes took a further blow just before the break when Tagicakibau was yellow-carded for a trip on Care. However, Brown was unable to find his range with the penalty leaving the sides locked at 0-0 at half-time.
Delon Armitage finally broke the deadlock two minutes into the second half with his boot finding the target with a penalty and the return of Tagicakibau bolstered their challenge. The Exiles raised their efforts yet further and were rewarded with the opening try of the game. A brave tackle from scrum-half Paul Hodgson on Harlequins wing Tom Williams set up the field position and it was Catt who eventually found Hudson on a great line with the lock able to stroll over under the posts.
Delon Armitage added the conversion and from that point the Exiles were firmly in control as Quins struggled to cope with their opponent's tactical kicking game that kept them on the back foot.
Only some desperate defence kept Quins in the game with Ugo Monye dragging Delon Armitage into touch in the corner after some good work from Tagicakibau and Hewat. Armitage and Hewat were involved again minutes later to conjure an opening that looked to have put replacement hooker James Buckland in for a try but a superb tackle from Brown dislodged the ball to prevent the score.
Forced to give the ball some air, Quins' hopes were extinguished with five minutes to go. A hopeful pass from Andy Gomarsall was snaffled by Catt who capped a superb performance with an easy try.
Delon Armitage's conversion set the seal on the win for Quins' former tenants at The Stoop and ensured they would be playing across the road at Twickenham for the biggest prize next weekend.
Harlequins: Mike Brown; Tom Williams, Gonzalo Tiesi, Jordan Turner-Hall, Ugo Monye; Nick Evans, Danny Care; Ceri Jones, Tani Fuga, Mike Ross, James Percival, George Robson, Chris Robshaw, Will Skinner (capt), Nick Easter.
Replacements: Gary Botha, Mark Lambert, Jim Evans, Tom Guest, Andy Gomarsall, Waisea Luveniyali, De Wet Barry.
London Irish: Peter Hewat; Adam Thompstone, Delon Armitage, Seilala Mapusua, Sailosi Tagickiba; Mike Catt, Paul Hodgson; Clarke Dermody, Danie Coetzee, Richard Skuse, Nick Kennedy, Bob Casey (capt), Declan Danaher, Steffon Armitage, Chris Hala'Ufia.
Replacements: Alex Corbisiero, James Buckland, James Hudson, Richard Thorpe, Elvis Seveali'i, Peter Richards, Tom Homer.
Man of the Match: Steffon Armitage (London Irish)
The controversial tackling technique will be in full swing in Dublin on Sunday, writes Conor O'Shea, and could be a decisive factor for Ireland
"This team deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time." Huw Richards looks at Gareth Edwards' final match for Wales
The two leading contenders for the best modern open-side flanker go head to head in Paris on Saturday. John Taylor assesses the tale of the tape