Rugby: Win up there with the best - Venter

World Cup winner Brendan Venter saw his London Irish heroes paint Twickenham green and then declared: ‘‘It doesn’t get much better than this.’’

World Cup winner Brendan Venter saw his London Irish heroes paint Twickenham green and then declared: ‘‘It doesn’t get much better than this.’’

Irish landed their first major trophy by outclassing and ultimately destroying shell-shocked Northampton to lift the Powergen Cup.

It was the second-biggest winning margin in English cup final history, behind Bath’s 48-6 rout of Gloucester 12 years ago, and inspirational player/coach Venter could scarcely conceal his elation.

‘‘This is way up there among the best of my career achievements,’’ said Venter, an extra-time substitute when South Africa unforgettably won the 1995 World Cup by beating New Zealand in his native Johannesburg.

‘‘It’s fantastic seeing all the hard work translate into silverware, especially for a club that had never won anything before.

‘‘Reality said that we were the underdogs, and maybe that was our best performance of the season. The players put their hands up - they deserve massive credit.

‘‘This is the start of London Irish - the foundation is the players we have in our squad and their attitude.’’

The Exiles led 24-0 at half-time and never looked like relinquishing that advantage, despite spells of sustained second-half Northampton pressure.

Irish international wing Justin Bishop and South African centre, the English-qualified Geoff Appleford, both scored two tries.

Appleford’s second effort followed an 80-metre surge after he intercepted Matt Dawson’s pass, while full-back Michael Horak also touched down.

Former Leinster fly-half Barry Everitt kicked 13 points and all that Saints could muster in reply was a 60th-minute opportunist effort from England wing Ben Cohen which Paul Grayson converted.

Saints’ emphatic defeat completed a hat-trick of cup final setbacks after they finished runners-up in 1991 and 2000 - but the day belonged exclusively to Venter’s green-shirted marauders.

They swarmed all over the Saints, knocking them backwards through some ferocious tackling and winning every key forward battle to render potential Northampton dangermen like Andrew Blowers, Budge Pountney and Olivier Brouzet anonymous.

Right through the side - from full-back Horak to 35-year-old number eight Chris Sheasby, who collected his second cup winners’ medal 14 years after the first, when he helped Harlequins to Twickenham glory in 1988 - Irish met every challenge head-on.

Venter, Irish’s supreme midfield tactician and defensive organiser, won man-of-the-match honours, but that accolade could have gone to just about any of his colleagues.

Bishop, currently out of favour with the Ireland selectors, gained a glowing tribute.

Irish rugby director Conor O’Shea claimed: ‘‘Justin is phenomenal, one of the best defensive wings in Europe.

‘‘He always gives it everything in every game and every training session.’’

Irish cruised into a 24-point lead inside 35 minutes, yet their unflinching defensive resilience in the face of Northampton’s attacking waves before half-time, contributed just as much to the win.

Saints huffed and puffed, but could not blow down Venter’s green wall.

Ultimately, the only way through was from a Grayson cross-kick, which Cohen caught and then finished off in world-class fashion.

‘‘There is competition in the team to see who can make most tackles,’’ said Irish skipper Ryan Strudwick.

‘‘If you don’t put it in, then it shows on the stats sheets. No-one hides in this team - everyone gets out there and does the hard work.’’

Irish struck the first blow after just 13 minutes.

Horak’s break put Saints on the back foot, and after Northampton conceded a penalty under pressure, set-piece possession was worked to Bishop, whose superb offload put Appleford over between the posts for a try that Everitt converted.

Horak smashed his way for another score seven minutes later, and after an Everitt penalty, Irish sensed that they could finish Northampton off before half-time.

The outstanding Horak, relishing every opportunity to take on opposing defenders, chanced his arm from inside Irish’s half - and Northampton capitulated.

Saints missed yet another one-on-one tackle, which allowed Horak all the time he needed to find Appleford in support, and Bishop then completed a 60-metre move without a Northampton player in sight.

After that, Irish knew the ball was firmly in Northampton’s court, and they were content just to close down their space, frustrating the living daylights out of them.

On occasions, it got heated - referee Steve Lander sin-binning rivals props Robbie Morris and Mike Worsley for fighting - and Dawson reacting angrily to the combined challenge of Venter and lock Steve Williams.

But Saints had taken too many knockout blows, and they were reeling on the ropes when Irish finished them off through late tries by Appleford and Venter.

Next up, it’s Pontypridd in the Parker Pen European Shield semi-finals, and Venter will demand more of the same, warning: ‘‘If Pontypridd want to win, then they will have to play better than us.’’

On Saturday’s evidence, that would be some feat to accomplish.

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