- London Irish: 55 (84) - Tries: Hearn (2), McKibbin (15, 45), Mulchrone (35), Lewington (42, 49) Cons: Bell (15, 35, 43, 46, 50) Pens: Bell (24, 57, 60, 64, 70)
- Yorkshire Carnegie: 48 (66) - Tries: Stegmann (9, 77), M Mayhew (20), West (53), penalty (68), Faletau (73) Cons: Ford (10, 21, 54, 68, 74, 78) Pens: Ford (13, 40)
London Irish were crowned Greene King IPA Championship champions as they beat Yorkshire Carnegie in a thrilling second-leg encounter at the Madejski Stadium to seal an instant return to the Aviva Premiership.
Leading 29-18 following last week’s first leg at Headingley, Irish – who topped the regular season table – completed the job to win 84-66 on aggregate in one of the most entertaining games of an action-packed campaign.
In an exhilarating first 20 minutes the sides traded tries as Canadian international Ciaran Hearn and scrum-half Brendan McKibbin’s efforts for Irish were cancelled out by Seb Stegmann’s clinical finish and Mike Mayhew’s quick thinking.
Fergus Mulchrone also dived over for the hosts as they took a 13-point aggregate advantage into half-time before Alex Lewington’s scintillating solo effort and McKibbin’s second just after the break ended the tie as a contest.
Lewington dotted down again and Bell kept the scoreboard ticking over from the tee before Ben West, Sione Faletau, Stegmann’s second and a penalty try bought Carnegie closer.
And although both sides had a man – Ben Franks and Charlie Beech – sent off, that could not spoil a spectacular evening as Irish earned promotion back to the top flight after last year’s relegation.
Facing an 11-point deficit before a whistle had even been blown, Carnegie desperately needed to fly out of the blocks in Reading but instead, suffered a nightmare start.
They dropped the opening kick-off and from the resulting scrum the ball was spread to Hearn, who ran through a couple of arm tackles from Alex Davies and Tom Casson for the easiest of tries.
Tommy Bell – who was a magnificent seven from seven off the tee in the first leg – missed the conversion and the full-back’s evening got worse shortly afterwards.
His audacious offload attempt on halfway fell to the ground and was collected by Chris Elder, who offloaded to Stegmann and the winger stretched out of Hearn’s last-ditch tackle to touch down.
Joe Ford nailed the conversion, and did the same with a 13th-minute penalty from the right-hand side to narrow the overall deficit to six points but again Irish responded.
Lewington’s neat inside offload found McKibbin running an unstoppable angle to scythe through a static Carnegie defence and this time Bell’s conversion was good.
But, perhaps inspired by McKibbin, Carnegie hooker Mayhew did his best impression of a scrum-half to continue the breathless start to proceedings on 20 minutes – when quick-thinking saw him snipe from the base of the ruck on the 22 and rumble over the whitewash, before Ford’s extras closed the aggregate gap to six points once again.
Exiles take control
A 35-metre Bell penalty after the visitors were pinged at the breakdown gave the Exiles breathing space and while some last-ditch Carnegie defending denied Topsy Ojo and Ofisa Treviranus, Mulchrone did jink his way over from close-range before the break.
And despite a second Ford penalty on the stroke of half-time, Irish took a two-point lead on the night – and more importantly, a 51-38 advantage in the tie – into the dressing room.
FT London Irish 55-48 Yorkshire. We're back in the Premiership! An enormous thank you to all of you for your brilliant support!! pic.twitter.com/aHrqGMUO5W— London Irish (@LiRFC) May 24, 2017
And that promptly became 58-38 two minutes into the second half as Lewington scored one of the tries of the season, being fed the ball on halfway before going outside one defender, cutting inside two more and slicing between the final pair to dot down.
Australian McKibbin burrowed over from close-range to pile on the misery and Lewington collected a loose ball before racing clear for his second as Irish began to run riot.
Party time despite Carnegie comeback
Bell continued the impressive kicking he has shown all season as he booted four further penalties to hold an impending Carnegie comeback at bay.
Firstly, West scrambled over for his own close-range try and the visitors were then were awarded a penalty try for Tom Court’s deliberate offside.
The game took a slightly unsavoury turn as referee Matthew Carley, following consultation with the TMO, was forced to show front-rowers Beech and Franks red for appearing to strike each other.
That could not dampen the party mood however and Carnegie finished the season with a deserved flourish as prop Faletau and winger Stegmann grabbed further consolation for the visitors in the final ten minutes.
But it was a dream evening for Premiership-bound Irish as they can now plan for life back in the top flight after a 12-month absence.
Yorkshire Carnegie: 15. Elder, 14. Holmes, 13. Lucock, 12. Casson, 11. Stegmann, 10. Ford, 9. Davies; 1. Beech, 2. M Mayhew, 3. Cusack, 4. Smith, 5. Myerscough, 6. Stedman, 7. R Mayhew, 8. Burrows (capt).
Replacements: 16. Graham, 17. Boyce, 18. Faletau, 19. West, 20. Beck, 21. Green, 22. Wright.
London Irish: 15. Bell, 14. Lewington, 13. Hearn, 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: Matthew Carley