England hopeful James Simpson-Daniel scored a stunning late solo try as table-topping Gloucester stormed to a fourth straight GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP win.
The league leaders burst out of the blocks and opened the scoring after just four minutes.
Former France hooker Olivier Azam stole an Irish line-out 30 yards out and from the resulting ruck Scottish number nine Rory Lawson darted down the blindside and flipped through the narrowest of gaps.
Lawson, deputising for Peter Richards who is on international duty with England, was hauled down just short of the line but was still able to get the ball away to James Bailey to score in the corner, with Willie Walker converting to make it 7-0.
Gloucester got their second touchdown in the 16th minute. A line-out take from Alex Brown, who was making his first start since September, released Azam peeling around his forwards. The Frenchman’s pass was timed to perfection and the increasingly sharp Lawson raced home from 25 yards.
The Exiles eventually got on the scoreboard with a Barry Everitt penalty with 12 minutes left in the half. Five minutes later they managed to add their first try, Everitt deciding if Irish could not go through Gloucester they would go over them. And his chip was missed by the visitor’s covering defence and Riki Flutey pounced to score. Everitt missed the easy conversion to make it 12-8 to the Cherry and Whites.
Ryan Lamb’s imperious boot kept Gloucester in Irish territory for the remainder of the half but they failed to turn the pressure into points.
Gloucester continued to play expansive rugby after the break and within three minutes the visitors were rewarded as the Irish pack was caught offside and Walker slotted a simple penalty from in front of the posts.
The Exiles then put together a magnificent passage of play that moved them 50 yards up the pitch to the Gloucester five-metre line, where the Cherry and Whites gave away a simple penalty and Everitt brought Irish back within four points.
London Irish were determined to get back into the game and managed to hold on to the ball for large periods and pressure a tiring Gloucester pack.
However, the Exiles’ eagerness to force the play backfired with just 10 minutes left as a loose pass from one-time England stalwart Mike Catt was met on the volley by Delon Armitage, with the ball flying up into the gut of Gloucester’s Simpson-Daniel, who raced away to score under the sticks from 70 metres. Walker added a straightforward conversion to make it 22-11.
Gloucester had further reason to cheer on a drizzly night in Berkshire, with England centre Mike Tindall returning to action off the replacement’s bench late on following a calf injury.
With Irish desperate to add a bonus point in the dying minutes, the expert boot of England hopeful Lamb kept the Exiles at bay, with a number of perfectly executed kicks from hand.