GEORGE Skivington admitted London Irish will continue to chop and change their starting 15 as they seek to find their best combinations following a 45-31 European Challenge Cup home success against Bayonne, writes Richard Ashton.

Exiles ran in five tries in an exciting contest which lifted them to second place in pool two ahead of their double-header against French giants Toulon.

And while Gallagher Premiership safety maybe the number one priority to outsiders, assistant coach Skivington said European action is equally important.

He commented: “We’re giving everyone the opportunity to play. We’re not targeting one tournament or another, but the timing of it means we can make some changes. We’ve got guys coming into the squad and it’s a growing stage for us.

“I thought it was a pretty good performance. They had a very big pack, good set-piece and we knew it would be hard work, but I thought the boys came out and straight away had a dominant scrum and that set the tone for the way we wanted to play.”

Exiles had fallen behind after just six minutes when returning full back Alvireti Veitokani was unable to claim a high kick, the ball being spun to the left for wing Arthur Duhau to dot down. Brandon Fajardo added the extras to put Bayonne 7-0 to the good.

Exiles hit back, however, with Veitokani redeeming himself when a clever cross-field kick from Paddy Jackson forced the visitors under pressure, Ollie Hassell-Collins and Tom Stephenson winning a turnover which left Fijian star Veitokani with a simple run-in.

The end-to-end action continued as Bayonne prop Toma Taufau barrelled over from close range, only for Jackson to throw a delightful dummy before gliding over for his maiden Exiles score.

Yet Irish again shot themselves in the foot by failing to deal with the restart, Duhau the beneficiary as he crossed for his second of the afternoon.

Visiting full back Julien Tisseron was then sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, and Exiles’ impressive pack shunted their way over from a rolling maul, Albert Tuisue the man to get his name on the scoresheet. Jackson’s conversion levelled matters at 19-19.

For a third time Irish gifted their opponents a score from the restart, though, Tuisue’s attempted inside ball dropped by Curtis Rona as Matt Luamanu raced over for his side’s bonus-point score.

However, it was Exiles who went into half-time with the lead, a carving break from the impressive Tom Stephenson seeing the outside centre cross, and his partner in midfield, Terence Hepetema, then benefitted from a beautiful inside Tuisue pass to cross on the left.

Leading 31-24 at the interval, the hosts effectively put the game to bed with a brace of scores within five minutes early in the second half.

Firstly, Saia Fainga’a went over at the back of another impressive maul, before scrum-half Ben Meehan sniped over following more impressive work from the forwards. Jackson converted both to push the lead out to 45-24.

Bayonne refused to give in, though, and grabbed a fifth try of their own through Edwin Maka.

However, that proved not enough, as Exiles held their nerve to seal a first win in the pool.

Tongan international Steve Mafi also came off the bench during the second period, and along with the likes of Tuisue, Ruan Botha, Franco van der Merwe and incoming Australian international second row, Adam Coleman, Exiles are going to possess a hefty pack as the season goes on.

And Skivington said: “To get big guys in was the line of recruitment we went down. We looked around pretty hard and were careful in who we selected and tried to bring to the club. We’re fortunate to have the guys we do, but they’ve got to earn the right to play for the club as the guys who started the season have done very well. It’s a good challenge and hopefully they add to it.”

Yet while a strong forward pack will prove the basis of their game, 12 tries in two home games following the five they ran in against Leicester Tigers a fortnight ago show Exiles will also throw the ball around.

Skivington concluded: “We’re not putting restrictions on the way the boys play. That can open it up for the odd moment of trouble, but if they earn the right to play and do the hard yards, it’s then up to them how they want to feel their way through a match. (Head coach) Les (Kiss) is a big advocate of playing rugby and not being too prescriptive as to what you’ve got to do.”