London Irish 39-22 Doncaster Knights.
London Irish progressed to the Greene King IPA Championship finals with a 74-25 aggregate win over the Knights but were given plenty of headaches in the semi-final second leg by a committed Donny side that battled from minute one to eighty.
The Knights arrived at the Madejski Stadium faced with the highly improbable task of overturning a 32-point deficit but were determined to give a more accurate reflection of their capabilities than they head in the previous two head to heads and they did just that. Outscored by five tries to the three, the Knights showed they are capable of hurting the Exiles but, ultimately, the regular season proved just too powerful.
The early signs were concerning with the Knights struggling to sustain much possession and the Irish backs looking dangerous from the get go with Joe Cokanasiga and Aseli Tikoirotuma asking questions of the Donny defensive line.
The early siege produced points before long with the Irish driving line out doing damage as it did three times last weekend.
Hooker David Paice worked his way to the back of a well-formed maul and the former England international recorded his third try of the semi-finals. Tommy bell added the extras to compound a poor start for Donny.
The travelling support might have been worried as to how bad it could get for the Knights but they needn’t have. The try rallied the Donny troops as they began to weave phases of play together and make significant gains with powerful carries from the likes of Jack Ram and Jarad Williams.
Patient attacks and good territory attained through the half back combo of Simon Humberstone and Michael Heaney who did well to pin Irish deep in their own half for much of the first half. One particular touch finder from Humberstone forced full back Tommy Bell to carry the ball to touch in his own five-metre. From the line out the Knights forward could not quite establish the maul but carried furiously creating a slight gap for Jack Ram who charged over to score.
Unfortunately, Irish forged an immediate response with their hard-hitting defence coming up trumps. A booming hit on Humberstone by Fergus Mulchrone forced a fumbled which was hacked forward. Paul Jarvis did well to race back and retrieve possession but, under heavy duress, the full back gave up a penalty which was quickly taken.
With the Knights expecting a kick at goal the ball was spun wide at pace where Alex Lewington produced a fine finish to extend the Irish lead. Bell’s conversion making the score 14-8.
The game’s second quarter belonged to Donny as they carried the fight with aggressive and committed play to hammer dints into the Exiles exalted defence. Opportunities came and Dougie Flockhart added a penalty shortly after the Lewington try when Irish were penalized post line out.
Possession and momentum stayed with the Knights but, as they have done so often this season, Irish created an opportunity from a seemingly innocuous position.
A quickly taken line out set the Irish backs in motion and with Donny scrambling back Ben Hunter gave up a penalty at the ruck which Bell slotted, 17-8.
Jack Ram almost provided an immediate response for the Knights as he broke into the home 22m on a purposeful run, unfortunately the Tongan was cut down just short but Donny would not be denied for long.
With little time left in the half the Knights put a penalty to touch and set about driving towards the home line. The initial drive was stopped but, with the vision and pace of a wing-heeled scrum half, Matt Challinor darted down the blindside to round the cover and score. Flockhart nailed the conversion to bring the score to 17-15 and shortly after referee Matt O’Grady blew for half time.
It was always going to be difficult to carry the level of intensity shown in the opening forty into the second half and Irish struck quickly following the restart.
A penalty against Flockhart for a high tackle was put to the corner and the machine-like home driving maul rolled over the whitewash with Ben Franks getting the score.
Replacement hooker Dave Porecki went over in very similar fashion just before the hour mark and it looked as if Irish might run away with the game but the Knights were not done.
Good work from Ram saw the flanker force a penalty as the Irish midfield looked to recover a loose pass just outside their 22m.
Humberstone kicked to touch and Dave Nelson launched a long line out over the top of his forwards into the hands of Lloyd Hayes. Hayes charged into the heart of the home defence before possession was spun wide and collected by Joe Sproston who, with probably his first touch of the game, barged through traffic to dot down. Dougie added the extras to make it a ten-point game; 32-22.
As the clocked ticked towards eighty both coaches made full use of their replacements and Donny tried to force attacking play to claw themselves back into it. It was not to be and in the dying moments replacement scrum half Scott Steele dotted down to confirm the Irish win.
A defeat on the day but the Knights certainly gave the regular season Champions food for thought in a performance the whole squad can be pleased with.
Thank you very much for the fantastic support once again this season, we look forward to seeing you again in 2017/18!
London Irish XV: 15 Tommy Bell, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 12 Fergus Mulchrone, 11 Joe Cokanasiga (Greig Tonks, 10 James Marshall, 9 Brendan McKibbin (Scott Steele 62’), 1 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Tom Court 64’), 2 David Paice (c) (Dave Porecki 55’), 3 Ben Franks (Ollie Hoskins 54’), 4 Sebastian De Chaves (George Robson 57’), 5 Jebb Sinclair, 6 Mike Coman (Conor Gilsenan 57’), 7 Blair Cowan, 8 Ofisa Treviranus
Replacements: 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Tom Court, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 George Robson, 20 Conor Gilsenan, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Greig Tonks
Tries; Paice 12’, Lewington 21’, Franks 43’, Porecki 57’, Steel 73’
Conv; Bell 12’, 21’, 57’, 73’
Pens; Bell 31’, 50’
Knights XV; 15) Paul Jarvis, 14) Dougie Flockhart, 13) Andy Bulumakau, 12) Lloyd Hayes, 11) Tyson Lewis, 10) Simon Humberstone (Dec Cusack 66’), 9) Michael Heaney (Sam Edgerley 63’), 1) Richard List (Jack Bergmanas 54’), 2) Ben Hunter (Dave Nelson 60’), 3) WillGriff John (Joe Sproston 60’), 4) Matt Challinor (Dave Nolan 63'), 5) Jarad Williams, 6) Jack Ram, 7) Michael Hills (Aaron Carpenter 65’), 8) Alex Shaw.
Replacements; 16) Jack Bergmanas, 17) Dave Nelson, 18) Joe Sproston, 19) Dave Nolan, 20) Aaron Carpenter, 21) Sam Edgerley, 22) Dec Cusack.
Tries; Ram 19’, Challinor 36’, Sproston 61’
Conv; Flockhart 36’, 62’
Pens; Flockhart 26’
Referee; Matt O’Grady