James O’Connor’s Aviva Premiership debut for London Irish ended in defeat as Northampton Saints were kicked home to a 19-14 victory by Stephen Myler.
O’Connor, capped by Australia 44 times, joined the Exiles this week and was immediately thrust into the action at the Madejski Stadium.
The 23-year-old impressed, particularly in the second half with ball in hand, but a resolute Saints defence held out and Myler’s consistency from the tee – kicking 14 points – proved decisive.
James Wilson’s first-half try was another highlight for high-flying Northampton, who kept up the pressure on the Aviva Premier pacesetters with the victory, while Irish were indebted to
O’Connor for assisting Sailosi Tagicakibau for their only try.
The Saints started on the front foot and Myler put them ahead on five minutes – his penalty on five minutes in front of the posts coming about as a result of an offside call.
But Ian Humphreys levelled the scores on ten minutes when he lofted over a three-pointer after Sam Dickinson was penalised.
Irish were then caught with their hands in the ruck and Myler, via the post, knocked over his second penalty of the afternoon on 12 minutes.
Things got even better for Saints on 23 minutes when Wilson crossed after a flowing move.
It started from a well-worked lineout, Kahn Fotuali’I spread the play which eventually found its way to George Pisi and his offload found the onrushing Wilson who broke a tackle to dot down under the posts.
Myler did not pass up the chance to add to his growing points tally with the conversion, and neither did Humphreys two minutes later as the Exiles responded immediately with a penalty.
The game turned scrappy in the run up to half-time, but Myler’s concentration was not broken and he fired over another kick to give the Saints a 16-6 lead.
That was before a moment of class from James O’Connor, who drew Ken Pisi in from the touchline, gave Tagicakibau a free run into the left corner to reduce the Exiles arrears to five points at the break.
Myler missed his first kick of the afternoon after the interval, and O’Connor showed signs of his fast feet in beating two men as the hosts sensed blood.
The Australian was seeing much more of the ball in the second period but Saints were holding firm.
Humphreys slipped another three-pointer wide for the Exiles with 20 minutes to go, but moments later he brought them within two points of Saints’ lead.
Myler extended that to five with another penalty 12 minutes from time but sliced his next effort well wide – a kick that could have put Saints more than a converted try up on Irish.
It mattered little, though, as Saints held off a late onslaught from O’Connor and co to seal a vital victory.