London Irish battle past Munster
October 9, 2010
London Irish's Delon Armitage and Munster's Keith Earls square up at the Madejski Stadium
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London Irish opened their account in this season's Heineken Cup with a hard-fought 23-17 victory over Munster in their Pool 3 encounter at the Madejski Stadium.
A try from in-form winger Topsy Ojo and an outstanding display from fly-half Ryan Lamb - who kicked four penalties and a drop goal - steered Irish to deserved victory but a last-gasp try from centre Sam Tuitupou, who was also sin-binned for a spear tackle in the first half, and a 12-point haul for No.10 Ronan O'Gara saw the perennial title challengers snatch what could be a vital losing bonus point.
A minute's applause for former Ireland and Munster stalwart Moss Keane preceded kick off and although the visitors could not honour his memory with victory, he would no doubt have been impressed by a superb defensive performance from the Exiles, led by man of the match Seilala Mapusua, and a dominant London Irish scrum and lineout.
Munster issued an early statement of intent by giving the ball some air inside their own 22 and their endeavour soon brought reward with London Irish's Faan Rautenbach penalised in the shadow of his own posts. A lively-looking O'Gara capped an impressive all round opening by giving his side the lead. But the Exiles were soon on level terms with Lamb hitting the target from long range after Munster's James Coughlan's eagerness got the better of him at the breakdown. And Lamb doubled the home side's lead just a minute later after Rautenbach got the better of Munster loose-head Wian du Preez at a scrum on the visitors' 22.
Irish continued to pepper the Munster defence with scrum-half Paul Hodgson threatening to carve an opening following a clever lineout move and fullback Delon Armitage and winger Sailosi Tagicakibau combining to stretch their rivals. And although they were both thwarted, Munster's indiscipline enabled Lamb to stretch his side's lead midway through the half. Tempers flared soon after with both sides flooding to a skirmish between Munster's Keith Earls and Armitage with the visitors' Tuitupou eventually shown a yellow card for a spear tackle on Hodgson in the build-up to the fracas. Hungry to hammer home their numerical advantage, Irish injected some urgency into proceedings but Munster met them head on and the game lost a little structure but none of its appeal as a result.
Munster survived all but the final minute of Tuitupou's sin-binning with a clinical Lamb slotting a drop goal before the Kiwi returned to the game. Another penalty robbed Munster of more momentum as the half drew to a close with an in-form Lamb wasting no time in coming forward to claim the ball. The result was the No.10's fifth penalty of the game and a valuable 12-point lead. But Munster rallied before the break and a high tackle by Armitage on a flying Doug Howlett enabled O'Gara to reduce the arrears and keep his side in touch. There was still time for Lamb to narrowly miss another drop goal that although it failed to find its target, underlined his exemplary game management.
Irish took a firm grip on the game in the opening moments of the second half with Ojo delivering the hammer blow courtesy of a classic breakaway try. Munster tried to work the ball down the short side but the Exiles winger pounced on a loose pass from fullback Johne Murphy and raced in from halfway for the score. Lamb was unable to add the extras from out wide and a sloppy obstruction infringement by Elvis Seveali'I handed O'Gara an immediate chance to respond but he failed to capitalise.
Munster battled their way back into the contest with the pack leading the way and pressure at scrum time drew a penalty that O'Gara slotted to offer the large travelling support hope of a late turnaround.
Munster continued to press with a final warning issued to Irish skipper Clarke Dermody after his pack pulled down an ominous-looking driving maul. The kick went to the corner again for the lineout and the forwards edged the ball closer to the line with prop Tony Buckley going closest before the ball was lost forward by Denis Leamy.
A huge scrum followed and Irish scrambled the ball away only for replacement David Paice to put the ball out on the full. Back came Munster but this time when the penalty came their way - with Irish No.8 George Stowers the guilty party - they opted for the shot at the posts which O'Gara kicked to set up a thrilling finale.
Armitage settled the home side's nerves with a penalty from just inside his own half and some excellent work from the industrious Mapusua gave his fullback the chance to double his tally but he could not repeat the feat.
Forced to chase the game in fear of leaving empty-handed, Munster rallied once more with replacement flanker David Wallace leading the charge up field. Support was slow in coming but it arrived in time to allow O'Gara to chip ahead for Tuitupou to race on to and claim not only the try but a valuable bonus point for his side.
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