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Paddy Jackson stars as London Irish make winning return to the Premiership

By PA Authors
By Online Editors

Paddy Jackson kicked 14 points as London Irish made a dream return to the Premiership by beating Wasps 29-26 at the Ricoh Arena.

Uncharacteristically, Jackson missed three kicks but his four penalties and a conversion were just enough to give his side victory. Blair Cowan, Albert Tuisue and Ollie Hassell-Collins were the Irish try-scorers.

For Wasps, Zach Kibirige scored two tries, Dan Robson the other, with Lima Sopoaga kicking two penalties and a conversion. Jacob Umaga added a late penalty to secure a losing bonus point for his side.

Irish had the first chance for points but Jackson made a real hash of a long-distance penalty attempt. Soon after, Sopoaga showed Jackson how it was done by firing a kick over from a similar range to give Wasps a ninth-minute lead.

However, Irish immediately responded with an excellent try. Neat handling sent Hassell-Collins away down the left and when the wing was hauled down 10 metres short of the line, Cowan was on hand to pick up and drive over.

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Jackson missed the conversion before Sopoaga put the hosts back in front with his second penalty to leave Wasps 6-5 in front at the end of an evenly-contested first quarter. A high tackle by Wasps centre Malaki Fekitoa on Hassell-Collins allowed Jackson to score his first points with a straightforward kick but the Irish botched the restart and the home side capitalised.

Wasps seized possession before a burst from Fekitoa put the defence on the back foot and swift transfers allowed Kibirige to squeeze in at the corner. Jackson brought Irish level with his second penalty before they lost their captain Franco Van Der Merwe, who failed a head injury assessment.

The lock’s departure did not stop the visitors’ momentum as the impressive Tuisue powered over from a lineout. Kibirige raced in for his second at the other end and there was just time left in a frenetic half for Jackson to kick a penalty and leave Irish with a 19-16 half-time lead.

Within three minutes of the restart, Irish had their third try when a superb pass from Cowan sent Hassell-Collins away and the wing had no trouble in outpacing the cover defence. Jackson converted and added a penalty before Kibirige was narrowly denied a hat-trick by a brilliant tackle from Hassell-Collins, who forced his opponent into touch inches short of the line.

Visiting lock Ruan Botha was sin-binned as Wasps built up sustained pressure and they were rewarded when Robson darted over from close range. Umaga, on for Sopoaga, kicked a penalty before Botha returned to try and stem the Wasps’ tide and he succeeded as Irish held on by the skin of their teeth for a memorable victory.

“We took our chances and the 10 points we scored just after half-time proved crucial,” said a delighted Declan Kidney, Irish’s director of rugby. “Paddy missed a couple of three-foot putts but fortunately he recovered to kick a few others. We were pleased with the performances of our back three as they are all our academy products and it shows that players want to stay with the club.”

Wasps boss Dai Young, meanwhile, was unhappy with his side’s performance. “We should have been better than that as we gave away some soft tries with two conceded from turnovers. We didn’t get much ball in the first half and when we did, we panicked. We left ourselves with a mountain to climb and I’m frustrated that we put ourselves in that position.

“The second half was a reversal of the first as we had plenty of the ball but we weren’t good enough to change the scoreline. We knew it would be tough against them as the promoted side has won on the opening day in three of the last four seasons, and parts of their game were top drawer. There were a few positives out there with Zach Kibirige finishing fantastically.”

WATCH: Former Australian international Matt Giteau sits down with RugbyPass in the latest episode of Rugby World Cup Memories

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Paddy Jackson stars as London Irish make winning return to the Premiership