London Irish: 19
Doncaster Knights: 0
By Adam Shaw
London Irish began life in the Championship with an impressive 19-0 win over Doncaster Knights at the Madejski Stadium. Tom Fowlie and Asaeli Tikoirotuma scored tries either side of halftime, while former Leicester Tigers fly-half, Tommy Bell, kicked nine points.
It was the Exiles’ superb defensive display, however, which was the most notable feature of the match, as their South Yorkshire opponents failed to register a point. Doncaster, who finished runners-up in last season’s Greene King IPA Championship, are widely considered to be one of Irish’s main rivals for promotion.
Boss Nick Kennedy will therefore be delighted that his side put in such a dominant performance as they seek to bounce back to the top flight at the first attempt. Bell settled any of the hosts’ nerves within the opening few minutes as he slotted a penalty after Doncaster were penalised at the breakdown. The 23-year-old stand-off added six further points as Irish forced their opponents into a series of errors.
The visitors didn’t let their heads drop, however, and they would have got off the mark had it not been for the Exiles’ excellent defensive work. Two minutes before the interval, yet another Irish clearance led to an attacking lineout position in the Knights’ half. A powerful rolling maul, orchestrated by debutant George Robson, put Doncaster on the back foot.
The ball was then shipped wide to Fowlie, who barged through the defence and dived over the line to notch his team’s first try of the new campaign. Bell was unable to add the extras but the hosts went in at halftime with a healthy 14-point advantage.
Unfavourable conditions in the second half meant that mistakes were plentiful while clear-cut opportunities were few and far between. Doncaster, still looking for their first points of the afternoon, saw a Dougie Flockhart penalty strike the upright as they pushed hard for any sort of reward.
However, they were breached once more when Tikoirotuma squeezed in at the corner following more excellent play from the Irish pack. Bell was once again slightly off-target with the conversion, but it was clear that the away side now had a mountain to climb if they were to get anything out of the game. Incidentally it was the Exiles who looked the more likely of adding to their total, as they saw two decent try-scoring opportunities go begging.
Winger Ben Ransom, who had replaced Ross Neal, raced clear late on and seemed certain to score, only to be hauled down metres from the line. Then Academy product Fowlie thought he had grabbed his second of the match but referee Craig Maxwell-Keys had spotted a forward pass in the build-up.
Though it could have been more, Kennedy will no doubt be more than satisfied with his team’s performance, particularly given the calibre of their opponents.
And new defence coach, Declan Danaher, will have plenty to smile about as his charges completed the rare feat of securing a clean sheet.
Narraway named Exiles captain
Ahead of the exiles opening victory over Doncaster Knights last weekend, Luke Narraway was appointed new club captain for the 2016/17 season.
Narraway, 32, takes over the role from George Skivington, who called time on his playing career at the end of last season. Signing a one-year contract extension in April, the former England international has made 47 appearances for the Exiles since joining the club from Perpignan in 2014. Exiles icons Topsy Ojo and David Paice have both been named vice captains.
“It is a huge honour to have been named London Irish captain,” said Narraway. “This is a club steeped in history and tradition and to be following in the footsteps of many legendary captains down the years, fills me with immense pride,” added the Worcester-born back-row.
Irish kickstarted their Greene King IPA Championship campaign at home to Doncaster last weekend and, despite a comfortable 19-0 win, Narraway insists the Championship will provide a stern test for his side. “The Championship will be an extremely competitive competition and we will need to be fully prepared for every game week in week out,” he said.
Director of Rugby Nick Kennedy said: “Luke captained the club on a number of occasions last season in the absence of George [Skivington].
“He always led by example both on and off the field with his work rate and passion, and I’m delighted that he has accepted the captaincy for this season.
“I’m sure he will have the full support of the rest of the squad including vice captains Topsy [Ojo] and David [Paice] whose experience will be invaluable having made more than 500 appearances between them.”
The new boss added that he was satisfied with their opening round victory but that there is still work to be done going forward. I was very pleased with the performance, particularly in defence as Doncaster were a very good side and made it difficult for us,” he said. “We had difficult conditions to contend with in the rain and I’m pleased to see the things that we worked on in pre-season coming into practice.
“We have a few things that we’ll need to put right this week ahead of Richmond.”
The 34-year-old reserved special praise for his defensive coach and was impressed with the brave, physical nature of the Irish play.
“Declan Danaher works extremely hard on defence and the boys worked really hard out there,” he explained. “They were good in the collision and were quickly ready for the next tackle, an aspect of the game we are very pleased with.”