London Irish gained a psychological boost before Sunday's Tetley's Bitter quarter-finals by beating opponents Newcastle in the Zurich Premiership last night.

Watched by England coach Clive Woodward, Irish maintained their unbeaten home record at Reading's Madejski Stadium despite the absence of injured skipper Conor O'Shea.

They always held the upper hand but had to withstand some fierce Newcastle pressure in the closing stages.

With 12 minutes to go Newcastle did have a chance to level the scores, but Dave Walder's attempted conversion of Gareth MacLure's try sailed wide and the Falcons were never able to get as close again.

Life was not made easier for the Irish by referee Chris White's decision to show the yellow card to both Dinos Alexopoulous and Ofisa Tonu'u in a stormy second half.

Walder kicked Falcons in front with a third-minute penalty and then the usually reliable Barry Everitt missed with a penalty for Irish.

Everitt was successful with his next two penalties and then Irish drew further ahead when they were awarded a penalty try after Mark Delaney was pulled down by Newcastle just short of the line.

Another Walder penalty made the half-time score 13-6 to Irish then two second-half penalties from Everitt and two from Walder took the score to 19-12 before MacLure's late try and Walder's vital miss with the attempted conversion.

Irish are building a reputation as hard to beat at their Reading home and nearly 5000 fans urged them on as, for the second time in consecutive home games, they held out under intense pressure.

They will travel to Newcastle on Sunday confident that they can repeat the exercise.

l Bridgend coach Dennis John praised his squad after a 67-0 trouncing of bottom club Cross Keys kept them firmly at the top of the Welsh-Scottish League.

He said: ''We made eight changes to the side that played Caerphilly a few days earlier and the player who came in did an excellent job.

''It is the start of a make-or-break period with three games this week. It was important to win our two home games and we go to Llanelli in confident mood.

''The quality of the whole squad will be tested but we are becoming more competitive.

''The aim is to secure a European Cup place by finishing in the top five and I think we have a squad capable of doing just that.

''I was particularly pleased to see players like Steve Ford and Paul Williams making their first starts and doing well.

''Overall I was very happy with the result and the fact that we kept a clean sheet.''

Cross Keys captain Arthur Howarth said: ''I was disappointed with my display, having missed a few crucial tackles, but the spirit within the club remains high.'