Homer boots Exiles to victory over Saracens
February 9, 2013
London Irish pulled off a crucial victory in their battle for Aviva Premiership survival with a 29-16 win over capital rivals Saracens.
With a win for fellow strugglers Sale on Friday night, there was great pressure on the Irish but they responded magnificently to out-battle second-placed Saracens at the Madejski Stadium.
It was 9-9 at the break but a crucial interception try from late call-up Shane Geraghty put the Irish on the road to victory. Jonathan Joseph, replaced by Geraghty, was a late absentee with an ankle injury, with flanker Will Fraser withdrawing from the Saracens line-up with a dead leg.
Saracens were ahead after only two minutes when Charlie Hodgson kicked a penalty from inside his own half but this was soon nullified by one from Tom Homer for the home side.
Another long-range penalty from Hodgson saw the visitors regain the lead but it was short-lived for Matt Stevens as penalised for a dangerous tackle, allowing Homer a second success.
The opening exchanges were evenly contested with Hodgson having the next chance for points but this time his kick, again from inside his own half, was wide of the mark. It was 6-6 at the end of the first quarter before the Exiles had the first real chance of the opening try.
George Skivington burst away on a 45 metre kick and chase which took London Irish deep into the opposition 22. Hodgson got back to save before the ball ran loose for Pat Phibbs but the scrum half knocked on with line at his mercy. At the resulting scrum, Saracens were penalised and surprisingly Homer was unable to take advantage, missing with an angled 25 metre kick.
London Irish had the better of the second quarter in terms of territory and possession and when Saracens again conceded a scrum penalty, Homer made no mistake with his third kick.
Back came Saracens with a penalty from Hodgson to level it at 9-9 at the end of a very disappointing first half.
London Irish began the second half strongly with a storming run from Chris Hala'ufia, carried on by Marland Yarde, getting the hosts a platform in the Saracens 22. They maintained the pressure and they were back in front when Homer kicked another goal.
Saracens brought on Nils Mordt and Schalk Brits in an attempt to instil some more urgency in their game but their increased enterprise cost them dear. A careless long pass from Mordt was easily intercepted by Geraghty who raced 45 metres for the try which Homer converted to give the Irish a handy 19-9 lead going into the final quarter.
Saracens were rattled, making a number of unforced errors, and they went further behind when Homer banged over another penalty.
With 14 minutes to go Saracens at last created something when a lively Dave Strettle saw a gap in the home defence to score an individual try that Hodgson converted. Scenting victory, Saracens played with more width but another error gave London Irish a chance to seal the game.
The visitors carelessly lost possession for Topsy Ojo to be on hand to kick ahead with replacement Ofisa Treviranus winning the race for a crucial touch down which Homer converted for a match-winning tally of 19 points.
Irish director of rugby Brian Smith was delighted with his side's crucial win and paid particular tribute to Geraghty, who only came into the team as a late replacement for Jonathan Joseph.
"The boys really stepped to the plate today. It was a very physical encounter and we were very strong in defence," he said. "It was a ding-dong battle and neither side were too far ahead in any area of the game. Up front the boys probably edged it and put the squeeze on the Saracens especially in their own 22.
"Shane only knew he was starting at 11am as Jonathan Joseph stubbed his toe in training. "I am especially pleased for Shane as he has skippered the team well in the past few weeks and responded brilliantly to the call up, scoring the defining try."
Smith's Saracens counterpart, Mark McCall, accepted his side were second best.
"We were well beaten today with full credit to Irish, as they put us under a lot of pressure," he said. "I am very disappointed that when we were chasing the game there was a lot of poor decision making. We had a good team out and didn't lack effort but there were too many mistakes and poor choices.
"There were few positives to take from the game, David Strettle was very busy and scored our try and our young loosehead Nick Auterac performed with credit but little else. However we don't have many bad performances and have a good record with 19 wins from 24 games this season."
London Irish were in celebratory mood after beating Saracens © Getty Images
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
We bring you our pick of the best pictures from around the world in the last seven days with the battle for Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup glory taking centre stage
"If you listen carefully you should be able to hear them mining the granite for the statue of a certain Jonny Wilkinson" Graham Jenkins reports from the Heineken Cup Final
Quade Cooper's defence is better than it was 12 months ago and Robbie Deans has erred in omitting him from the core Wallabies squad to play the Lions, Greg Growden writes
"People on the outside think unfounded thoughts on Toulon." Tom Hamilton talks to RCT lock Nick Kennedy ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup final against Clermont