Exiles keep up the pressure
Thorpe runs in a hat-trick for Exiles
Last Updated: 13/01/08 11:21am
Thorpe (c): Hat -trick
London Irish have kept the pressure on at the top of Heineken Cup's Pool One after scoring a 41-24 against Newport Gwent Dragons at the Madejski Stadium.
It was very much a game of two halves for the Exiles, who earned a bonus point by virtue of the six tries they scored - four coming in an opening period in which they frequently dominated against opponents who looked particularly weak in the tackle.
Richard Thorpe led the way for the home side thanks to a hat-trick, with Eoghan Hickey, Shane Geraghty and Peter Hewat also touching down.
But, ahead of next weekend's visit to Treviso - the result of which will determine whether they earn a home tie for the quarter-finals - Irish may well need to look at both their defence and their attitude, with Ben Daly, Gareth Wyatt and Ceri Sweeney adding to Richard Fussell's first-half try for the Dragons.
Irish were favourites given the two sides' respective form thus far in the competition and took the lead after four minutes when Hewat found the target with a penalty. But, in the main, the opening exchanges were dominated by a kicking battle.
Even so, in their second attempt to run the ball, the Exiles extended their lead on 12 minutes after a right-to-left-and-back move ended with Thorpe evading several half-hearted challenges and crossing for his first try in the competition.
Hewat kicked the extras and made it 'three from three' four minutes later after Irish's second try: Hickey in plenty of space to touch down after Peter Richards' break had been cynically checked by Dragons' full-back Aled Thomas.
The Welsh region looked like a side facing an early exit from the competition, all the more so moments later when an excellent chance to get themselves back into the game - electing to go for the line after winning a penalty deep in opposition territory - instead resulted in Irish emerging from their 22 with the ball.
It was little surprise, therefore, when their third try came on 26 minutes, Geraghty crossing the line after making a jinking run and evading another less-than-committed tackle - Hewat then, once again, going right down the middle with the conversion.
Nevertheless, the danger in such a situation is one of over-confidence and so it proved on the half-hour when Topsy Ojo appeared too calm in clearing his lines - Fussell mopping up with Ceri Sweeney converting.
But the try was merely respite for the Dragons, with the bonus point being added four minutes before half time when the visitors were turned over - Richards feeding Delon Armitage, whose quick off-load set up Hewat - the full-back's abundant pace allowing him to touch down unopposed.
The Australian missed his conversion, however, and with a forward pass preventing Ojo from adding a fifth, Irish found themselves 29-7 to the good at half time. The second half started in much the same fashion, with Hewat almost immediately pouncing on Hickey's chip across.
Irish's pressure was unrelenting and Thorpe - on the end of a three-on-two overlap in the left-hand corner - scored his second after 48 minutes. Hewat missed the target again but, given the nature of the contest at this stage, it was probably of little concern.
Yet the Dragons still looked good on their few forays out of their own half and, following a cross-field kick from Michael Owen, Daly was lurking on the right-hand side moments later to touch down their second - Sweeney missing the conversion.
The home side were guilty of playing too loose a game by the hour and, following a powerful run by Joe Bearman, the Dragons fed the ball wide for replacement Gareth Wyatt to score easily.
Sweeney again missed the extras but Irish once again found themselves defending as the visitors worked their way through the phases.
It was little surprise when the Dragons' bonus-point try eventually came - Sweeney wriggling through and also, this time, finding the target with his conversion.
From being down and out, the Dragons were now just 10 points behind as the game entered its final 10 minutes. However, Irish finally found their discipline and, with both sides tiring after a hectic game, Thorpe finally broke Welsh spirit with his third try.