- Irish host Carnegie on Wednesday night
- Exiles lead 29-18 heading into second-leg
- Kick-off at 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports 1 HD
On Wednesday night, the line-up in next season’s Aviva Premiership will be completed as London Irish host Yorkshire Carnegie in the decisive Greene King IPA Championship play-off final second leg.
The Exiles, who are attempting to bounce back into the top division at the first attempt, have the advantage but Carnegie have produced a stellar campaign and pushed them hard in the first match last week.
Irish take an 11-point lead into Wednesday’s clash at Madejski Stadium – having won 29-18 in the first leg at Headingley – and will be confident of booking their passage into top flight.
Story of the first leg
It was a tale of two halves at Headingley last week, with Yorkshire Carnegie supreme in the first half before being outclassed in the second.
When Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi burst through to score for Irish, Carnegie supporters could have been forgiven for fearing the worst – but their side roared back in style.
Brothers Richard and Mike Mayhew combined for their first try, with Richard driving towards the line and finding his sibling to score.
Jonah Holmes then got in on the act shortly after, bursting through a gap in the Irish defence after being expertly found by Pete Lucock.
But Irish are the favourites for a reason, and Fergus Mulchrone got them back in business with a try after strong work from Alex Lewington.
And the deadly kicking of Tommy Bell stretched the visitor's lead to 11, giving them a major advantage ahead of the second leg.
One to watch – Topsy Ojo
Veteran Ojo has been around the block several times but remains one of London Irish’s best big-match players.
The two-time England international returned to the side for the first leg and produced a composed display, almost scoring a vital try early in the second half, before he was bundled out into touch.
The 31-year-old is Irish’s all-time leading try scorer and won’t be fazed by the big occasion.
With a healthy and dominant campaign behind them, many are expecting Irish to breeze back into the top flight.
Ojo’s experience will help them cope with that pressure – and fly-half Bell was quick to say the first leg means very little.
“It is quite simple, we go out and win it. If you win two games you’re promoted. We are not out there to win this one by 11 and lose the next one by five, we want to win every match, it’s as simple as that,” he said.
“We are just excited – it’s a big game of rugby and we have some big players in our team who have played at a high level.
“You just have to push it to one side. We have to focus on doing our job. The coaching staff are doing their job and we have to do ours.
“We are working hard and putting the hours in and our whole focus is winning the next game, if we do that then we go up it’s as simple as that. For me I like to keep things simple and the rest will take care of itself.”
The idea of starters and finishers is very much in vogue in rugby, and London Irish Director of Rugby, Nick Kennedy is expecting his bench to make all the difference on Wednesday.
A late charge from his men saw them stretch their advantage in the first leg, with Tommy Bell highly influential.
But the 34-year-old insists his side are not resting on their laurels, and is expecting a fierce comeback from the visitors at Madejski Stadium – increasing the importance of those on the bench. “We are really looking forward to the game and the lads are in good shape.”
“As we saw first-hand last week, our bench will be hugely important during the game and everyone will need to be prepared for the challenge ahead,” he said.
“We are prepared for a very tough game against a well-coached Yorkshire side, who really pushed us all the way in the first leg last week.
“They have threats right across the playing field and we will have to be at our absolute best if we are to get the result that we want.
“We are really looking forward to the game and the lads are in good shape.”
Meanwhile Carnegie winger Holmes admits he is relishing the thought of taking another pop at London Irish – with second chances so hard to come by in sport.
He said: “We were massively disappointed with the last game, even if most of the boys will agree that was the best we’ve played all year against a class team.
“We dropped balls at the wrong time, and they have boys who know what to do to punish us.
“But it is not very often at the end of a sporting event that you get another chance, which I think it is a silver lining to the play-off system.
“We have to go for it. I think it will give us a bit of a licence to go out there and have a good crack.”
Carnegie head coach Bryan Redpath has made two changes to his side from the one that lost in last week's first leg.
Both of those come in the pack, with Michael Cusack replacing Sione Faletau, who suffered a head injury in the first leg, while Mike Myerscough comes in at lock.
London Irish have made just one change, with Canadian international Ciaran Hearn replacing suspended Fijian Aseli Tikoirotuma at centre.
World Cup winner Ben Franks, who was named man of the match in the first leg, continues in a fearsome front row alongside Hobbs-Awoyemi and David Paice.
London Irish: Tommy Bell, Alex Lewington, Ciaran Hearn, Fergus Mulchrone, Topsy Ojo, James Marshall, Brendan McKibbin, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, David Paice (c), Ben Franks, Sebastian De Chaves, Jebb Sinclair, Mike Coman, Blair Cowan, Ofisa Treviranus*.
Replacements: Dave Porecki, Tom Court, Ollie Hoskins, George Robson, Luke Narraway, Scott Steele, Greig Tonks.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Chris Elder, Jonah Holmes, Pete Lucock, Tom Casson, Seb Stegmann, Joe Ford, Alex Davies, Charlie Beech, Mike Mayhew, Michael Cusack, Matt Smith, Mike Myerscough, Ollie Stedman, Richard Mayhew, Ryan Burrows (c).Replacements: Ross Graham, Lewis Boyce, Sione Faletau, Ben West, Richard Beck, Max Green, Max Wright.