- Yorkshire Carnegie: 18 - Tries: M. Mayhew (17), Holmes (26). Cons: Ford (28). Pens: Ford (5, 64)
- London Irish: 29 - Tries: Hobbs-Awoyemi (13), Mulchrone (55). Cons: Bell (14, 57). Pens: Bell (2, 7, 67, 70, 78)
London Irish have taken a huge stride towards promotion after overcoming Yorkshire Carnegie in a hard-fought first leg of the Greene King IPA Championship play-off final at Headingley.
Carnegie had Irish reeling before the break thanks to tries from Mike Mayhew and Jonah Holmes, despite Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi’s score, as the Reading-based side found it almost impossible to breach the home side’s defence.
But a second-half try from Fergus Mulchrone and expert kicking from Tommy Bell means Irish return to the Madejski Stadium with an 11-point advantage
Ferocious Carnegie have Irish rocking
The writing looked on the wall when the table-toppers’ full-back Bell kicked a penalty after just two minutes but Carnegie regrouped quickly and got straight back on the board.
Seb Stegmann caught Chris Elder’s kick to help ramp up the pressure and earn a penalty, which was converted by Joe Ford.
But Irish are not favourites for promotion for no reason and soon enough, their class shone through.
Prop Hobbs-Awoyemi burst through the Yorkshiremen’s defence and thundered over the line after a 30-metre charge.
And yet still, the home side kept hitting another level and under the lights they found a way over the try-line.
Great work from Richard Mayhew following a line-out saw the outside flanker drive towards the line before finding his brother Mike, who completed the job.
Irish were rocking under the pressure of being the favourites and their defence was breached again nine minutes later.
A free-flowing Carnegie move saw Pete Lucock find a gap in the Irish defence and his pass unleashed Holmes on the wing who sprinted over the line to give the Yorkshiremen the lead.
Irish couldn’t get their natural game going in the first half thanks to the tenacity of the Carnegie defence and sloppy handling.
Even when Alex Lewington managed to power past several defenders, the winger knocked the ball on. Irish were on the ropes and needed the half-time whistle.
Irish show class to power back
Irish had a point to prove and came out strong. It looked almost certain Topsy Ojo was going to give the visitors the lead as reward for their patient build-up but Holmes somehow forced him out of play inches from the line.
But eventually their pressure told. After a strong cross-field run by Lewington was thwarted just metres from the line, Mulchrone was able to bundle the ball over to restore Irish’s lead.
There was nearly an instant response from the home side as Elder kicked well and almost chased the ball down to score a try but he couldn’t compete with the blistering pace of Ojo who beat him to the ball.
Ford’s penalty brought it back to a two-point game but Irish now looked in control and three penalty kicks from Bell helped put the game beyond Carnegie’s reach.
Yorkshire Carnegie: 15. Elder, 14. Holmes, 13. Lucock, 12. Casson, 11. Stegmann, 10. Ford, 9. Davies; 1. Beech, 2. Mayhew, 3. Faletau, 4. Smith, 5. West, 6. Stedman, 7. Mayhew, 8. Burrows (capt).
Replacements: 16. Graham, 17. Boyce, 18. O'Donnell, 19. Myerscough, 20. Beck, 21. Green, 22. McColl.
London Irish: 15. Bell, 14. Lewington, 13. Tikoirotuma, 12. Mulchrone, 11. Ojo, 10. Marshall, 9. McKibbin; 1. Hobbs-Awoyemi, 2. Paice (capt), 3. Franks, 4. De Chaves, 5. Sinclair, 6. Coman, 7. Cowan, 8. Treviranus.
Replacements: 16. Porecki, 17. Court, 18. Hoskins, 19. Robson, 20. Narraway, 21. Steele, 22. Tonks.
Referee: JP Doyle (Ireland)