Delon Armitage took only 40 seconds to score the opening try as London Irish boosted their hopes of reaching the Aviva Premiership Rugby play-offs by beating Exeter 39-17.
Armitage has ground to make up before England go to the World Cup and he wasted no time in producing a man-of-the-match performance. His younger brother, flanker Steffon, weighed in with two tries, replacement hooker David Paice also touched down and winger Tom Homer kicked 19 points for the Exiles, now unbeaten at home since New Year’s Day.
Exeter, who had won three of their previous four Aviva Premiership Rugby matches, replied with a try from prop Chris Budgen and four penalties from fly-half Gareth Steenson.
With the game less than a minute old, fly-half Bowden split the Exeter defence wide open, sliding a low kick into the corner which Delon Armitage anticipated superbly to make the try look easy. Irish struck again in the fifth minute with a length-of-the-field try, started by the elder Armitage and finished by sibling Steffon.
Delon, fielding a high ball and making the mark, took Exeter by surprise as he launched an attack from inside his own 22. Bowden, centres Seilala Mapusua and Elvis Seveali’i and lock Bob Casey were all involved before second-row Nick Kennedy charged down the right wing before being hauled down two metres from the Exeter line.
Kennedy quickly recycled the ball and Steffon Armitage forced his way over, with Homer converting to give the home side an early 12-0 lead.
Steenson opened Exeter’s account with a ninth-minute penalty, before Homer responded with two penalties for Irish. The sharp-looking home side were dominating the game but Delon Armitage inadvertently had a hand in Exeter’s only try when his huge 85-metre kick from inside his own 22 went dead at the other end.
With play brought all the way back for the resulting scrum, Exeter were handed the advantage and poor Irish defending enabled powerful Fijian centre Sireli Naqelevuki to burrow to within a metre of the home line before heavyweight Budgen drove over from close range.
Exeter, on the receiving end for much of the first half, benefited from a spell of London Irish indiscipline at the breakdown after the interval. The home side conceded three penalties in the first 10 minutes of the second half and Steenson, kicking superbly, landed all three to reduce the deficit to a single point at 18-17.
Irish responded with right-wing Topsy Ojo racing through the Exeter defence to set up a sustained series of forward assaults down the left. Irish chose to kick a penalty into the corner rather than go for goal and the tactic paid off with Exeter’s repeated infringements under pressure resulting in flanker James Scaysbrook being sin-binned in the 56th minute.
Exploiting their numerical superiority, Irish chose another scrum instead of the penalty kick and justified the choice when Paice, re-appearing off the bench after nearly four months out with an ankle injury, was driven over by his dominant pack to leave Homer an easy conversion.
The youngster turned the screw further with a massive penalty from inside his own half to increase the lead to 28-17 in the 63rd minute. Steffon Armitage secured the bonus point for Irish, forcing his way in for his side’s fourth try nine minutes from time and Homer kicked took his penalty tally to five with two more, in the 74th and 76th minutes.