London Irish boss Tom Coventry is convinced the Exiles’ battling 23-18 win over Gloucester in Reading can be the perfect catalyst for his side to enjoy a great run of form at the end of the Aviva Premiership Rugby season.
Irish cut the gap to 11th-placed Newcastle Falcons to just five points with five games remaining and are now firmly in contention to retain their status in the division.
Blair Cowan’s late try and the boot of Greig Tonks sealed a victory at the Madejski Stadium that could prove vital in the final reckoning for Coventry’s side.
Winless since February and having conceded 98 points in their previous three outings, the Exiles nonetheless entered the game with confidence after a good performance against table-toppers Saracens in New Jersey last weekend.
“There were some times when we had our backs to the wall,” Coventry said. “But they fought and they scratched and did what they needed to do to get to the finish line.
“Do I think we can stay up, absolutely – I believe in this side and I believe in our quality and spirit.
“Obviously it is just one game out of a number that we need to perform well in, but it’s a start, isn’t it?
“Some of the finishing today meant that we lost the lead to go 10-all at half-time. Maybe if we’d have finished off a couple of the tries in the first spell it might’ve been a different result, it might’ve been a lot more comfortable in the second half.”
The Exiles scored in the first half as Halani Aulika muscled the ball over the line from a metre out following a jinking run from Topsy Ojo with ten minutes played.
Gloucester scored a try against the run of play, Lewis Ludlow bundling the ball over the line, with James Hook adding the conversion to make it level at the break.
The visitors took the lead for the first time in the contest on 56 minutes, when Henry Trinder snuck inside the touchline down the left, having done well to chase down Hook’s kick and keep himself in play, before Hook missed a difficult conversion.
Irish made the most of their numerical advantage late on after a Gloucester sin-binning, when Cowan touched down following a good maul from the Exiles, Tonks coolly converting to give the hosts the lead once more at 20-18.
And closing out the game was made even easier when Tonks scored a penalty under considerable pressure on 76 minutes to leave the visitors needing a try that they could not muster.
Gloucester’s director of rugby David Humphreys, meanwhile, was left visibly irritated by his players’ below-par showing, which dents their hopes of a top-six finish.
“We feel a huge sense of frustration, a huge sense of disappointment,” Humphreys said. “Today’s performance wasn’t acceptable.
“We know in any season that there’s going to be ups and downs. Last week was a bit of a down, but we fully expected to bounce back and produce the level of performance that we have in the previous five or six weeks.
“There was very little free-flowing, a lot of stop-start. It was a case of what we’ve built our performances in the big games on throughout the course of the season is a strong set-piece, a strong defence.
“Today, our set piece failed. Last week, we lacked a physical edge. Today, I don’t think it was necessarily a physical edge. It was just one of the key parts of the game wasn’t there.
“We can look at reasons, but for me it was pretty much around that indiscipline on set-pieces.”
London Irish: Maitland (Mulchrone 57), Lewington, Hearn, Williams, Ojo, Tonks, Steele (McKibbin 75), Court (Smallbone 42), Cruse (Paice 45), Aulika (Halavatau 55), Lloyd (Sexton 55), Symons, Narraway (c), Cowan, McCusker (Sinclair 54)
Replacements not used: Brophy Clews
Gloucester Rugby: Marshall, Sharples (Cook 43), Meakes, Twelvetrees (c), Trinder, Hook, Braley, Wood (Dawidiuk 28), Hibbard (Thomas 28), Afoa (Doran-Jones 63), Thrush (Savage 49), Galarza, Kalamafoni, Kvesi, Ludlow (Evans 63)
Replacements not used: Randall, Cook
Tries: Aulika, Cowan
Conversions: Tonks 2
Penalties: Tonks 3
Tries: Ludlow, Trinder
Penalties: Hook 2
Referee: Matt Carley