At a wet and blustery Sunbury on Saturday past, the Wild Geese assured their promotion to National League 2 with a dogged and, mainly, defensive game (particularly in the second half) against the only side to have beaten them this season – Weston-super-Mare – by 27 points to 17.
Weston kicked off and spent the first 5 minutes in London Irish territory. The pattern of determined London Irish defence was established during this period when right wing Fraser Carlisle brought off a great tackle on a Weston lock who looked twice his size! Unfortunately, the only ‘prize’ to be gained from this was a penalty (for offside in midfield) to Weston, which their fly-half kicked to give them a 3-0 lead. The Wild Geese established position in the Weston half after this but two penalties awarded to them were kicked to touch for position but yielded nothing. Then a back row move, well executed, led to a try from centre Sean Cunningham, which fly-half Ed Keohane converted to make the score 7-3 to London Irish after 14 minutes. Consistent pressure by the home side was rewarded when Keohane kicked a penalty after 20 minutes to increase their lead to 10-3.
A good break by Keohane led to a try by blind-side flanker Scott Moore, after 22 minutes, to make it 15-3. A rare foray by Weston into the London Irish half came to nothing. Instead a good, relieving kick by Keohane gave London Irish the position to launch further attacks. From a scrum and another well-worked back-row move, Carlisle scored a brilliant try, bisecting the last two defenders; Keohane converted to give the Wild Geese a seemingly unassailable lead of 19 points as half-time approached. London Irish may have relaxed and/or Weston had other ideas; they scored a converted try on the stroke of half-time, after a series of pick-and-drives, to reduce the deficit to 22-10.
Weston started the second half where they had left off. Constant pressure by them led to successive penalties and, from one of them, a quick tap penalty led to a converted try to bring the scores to 22-17 after 9 minutes. The warning signs were there for the home team and three successive line-out errors did not help. This was a complete turnaround as the London Irish line-out had seemed so composed in the first half. The nearest the Wild Geese came to scoring during this period was a long-range penalty by Keohane that fell short. The game really became a succession of pick-and-drives, or rolling mauls, by the Weston pack versus the London Irish defence. Then the game turned on one of those rare moments of magic when, first of all, the Weston fly-half screwed a kick to touch, London Irish got clean possession from the line-out, and replacement scrum-half Liam Prescott sent a beautiful, hanging kick up, which left-wing George Owen caught, evaded the last line of defenders and scored a very good try after 38 minutes to seal the victory at 27-17.There were only a couple of minutes remaining for London Irish supporters to celebrate and for Weston to accept defeat, facing the 10 point deficit. Overall, it must be added that a very good display of refereeing helped the game.
Followers of the Wild Geese have become accustomed to them winning with style but this was not one of those occasions, apart from two sumptuous tries on the day scored by their free-scoring wings. With the poor conditions prevailing, playing with their usual panache was ‘not on’ for the Wild Geese, but this was ultimately a test of the defensive character of the home side, a test which they passed with honours. When it comes to showing your resolve there is no better man to have on your side than No.8 Sam McKinney. While still portraying his barnstorming runs, it was his defensive steel that led by example. However, this was a team effort, as the season has been, and in that one must include the management and coaching staff: well done, to one and all. The coaching staff has lifted the fitness levels above any other team in the league and that augurs well for next season.
London Irish Wild Geese: C Quinn; F Carlisle, L Price (Capt.), S Cunningham, G Owen; E Keohane, T Eastham; L Batten, P Doyle, C Connor; A Evans, C Davey; S Moore, S MacConville, S McKinney. Replacements: J Johnston, C Browne, L Prescott.
John S Hunter – Sunbury