LONDON Irish ran in eight tries as they recorded a 52-22 bonus-point win at home to Coventry to keep their Greene King IPA Championship title aspirations firmly on track, writes Richard Ashton.

Exiles made a dream start as debutant Ian Keatley scythed through the visitors defence inside the opening two minutes, the former Ireland fly-half converting his own try to make it 7-0.

Any thoughts of an Irish cruise were dispelled during the next 20 minutes, as while they dominated possession and territory, they found Coventry in obdurate mood and were unable to add to their points tally.

Indeed it was the away side who reduced the deficit on 26 minutes, Dan Lewis knocking over a penalty to reduce the arrears to four.

Keatley’s afternoon was then halted prematurely following a ferocious collision with Coventry full-back David Halaifonua, the Irishman making the tackle but crashing to the floor with a suspected concussion upon impact.

However, that setback appeared to galvanise Declan Kidney’s men, and they took control of the contest with a brace of quick-fire tries.

Firstly, a series of rumbles from the forwards inside the visitors’ 22 allowed scrum-half Brendan McKibbin to snipe over from close range, and after James Voss was sin-binned for slowing play as Irish attacked, Exiles kicked to the corner and used their trademark rolling maul for Dave Porecki to crash over.

The Australian’s 13th try of a productive campaign made it 19-3, and while replacement Jacob Atkins could not add the extras, they took a solid lead into half-time.

The second half began in cagey fashion until some wonderful vision from Atkins set up his side’s bonus point. The young stand-off – looking more and more confident with each passing week - spotted a gap on the left-hand touchline and floated a precise kick cross-field for fellow academy graduate Ollie Hassell-Collins to collect the ball and dot down.

A fifth try for the hosts followed on 52 minutes as another fine break from McKibbin allowed the Australian to unselfishly pass the ball inside to Albert Tuisue, the impressive Fijian flanker touching down for his first try since joining the club. Atkins made no mistake from the tee and the hosts were in complete control at 31-3.

However, Coventry rallied and aided by a yellow-card for the otherwise excellent TJ Ioane – who inexplicably handled in the ruck with referee Matt Turvey almost on top of him – scored two tries of their own in quick succession to breathe life into proceedings.

The first came just a minute after Irish were reduced to 14 men, Tom Jubb going over, while the second was a fine run from Scott Tolmie who raced to the line. With Lewis converting both efforts, Coventry had hauled themselves back to within two scores with a quarter of the game remaining.

Yet Exiles erased any fears of an unwanted comeback courtesy of a magnificent break from the ever-improving Tom Stephenson. He waltzed his way through the Coventry defence, and after a couple of phases, the ball was sent wide to Hassell-Collins for his second of the afternoon. Atkins landed an excellent touch-line conversion to make it 38-17.

The hosts then put the game firmly to bed on 74 minutes, Stephenson’s centre partner Brendan Macken – given a late start after Terence Hepetema’s withdrawal through illness – wriggling his way through for a score which Atkins again converted.

Coventry again showed their bravery by grabbing a third try when a swashbuckling break from substitute scrum-half Pete White led to his try, albeit Lewis was finally unsuccessful with his shot at goal.

It was Irish who were to have the final say, however, as they went through the phases before the ball found its way to Topsy Ojo on the right wing, Exiles’ all-time top try scorer having the simple task of placing the ball over the whitewash. Atkins landed the kick and Irish had completed another fine victory.

Kidney’s men stay nine points clear at the head of the table after Ealing Trailfinders also picked up an impressive bonus-point at Cornish Pirates, and next turn their attentions to a RFU Championship Cup home semi-final against Yorkshire Carnegie next Sunday (1pm).

London Irish: Veitokani, Ojo, Stephenson, Hepetema, Hassell-Collins, Keatley (Atkins 27), McKibbin (Steele 67), Reid (Elrington 58), Porecki (Adams 73), Hoskins (Cilliers 70), Van der Merwe (Maddison 70), McNally (c), Tuisue (Schatz 58), Ioane, Rogerson.

Coventry: Halaifonua, J Bulumakau, Knox, Stevens (c), A Bulumakau, Lewis, Kessell, Gibbons, Tolmie, Brighthouse, Voss, Jubb, Woolford, Nutley, Adams.

Referee: Matt Turvey

Attendance: 2,666