London Irish 38
Cornish Pirates 29
By Fiona Tomas
At the Madejski Stadium
The deafening roars rung out at the Madejski Stadium as early as the second minute, when the ball found none other than Topsy Ojo, who strode into the Cornish Pirates’ 22 like a fresh 20-year-old.
Even the Irish faithful would have deemed it too scripted had the Exile talisman – making his record 291st appearance as London Irish’s most capped player – was to inscribe his name in the club’s 120-year-old history books by scoring in the opening exchanges.
Instead it seemed fitting, that in a game where most of the build-up was faultlessly centered around Ojo, debutant Ollie Hassell-Collins crossed for Irish’s third try twenty-five minutes, the teenage winger putting daylight between a determined Pirates outfit.
Earlier, in the same passage of play that had involved Ojo from the off, captain Josh McNally stormed through a crowd of bodies to power over the line, with Ben Meehan slotting home the conversion.
The Pirates responded through several flat phases in Irish’s half, but Exile’s defensive efforts meant the visitors came away with an unsatisfying three points.
But it was nevertheless a threatening glimpse of what Pirates had stored in their artillery – and when Robert Wedlake skittled around the outside to wheel in over the whitewash moments later, Irish knew this would be a stern contest.
The visitors’ taut one-point lead lasted barely 10 minutes, as Teofilo Paulo dotted down as Irish implemented their driving maul towards the line with the same conviction they had countlessly displayed a fortnight ago against Yorkshire Carnegie.
Irish looked to have settled into their rhythm by the time Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi dotted down from another maul to secure Declan Kidney’s men the bonus point by half-time and a 26-8 lead.
Barely minutes into the second-half, Matt Rogerson wheeled off the back of a scrum to carve open the Pirates, before feeding Brendan McKibbin, who shrugged off several tackles to just about reach for the line.
But the Penzance outfit would not relent and fullback Kyle Moyle dived over at the other end for his side’s second in an unfortunate moment for Luke McClean, who slipped on the wet turf.
It took the wind out of Irish’s sails – instead swinging the momentum of the game which favoured the direction of the Pirates’ ship.
Irish’s Bryce Campbell was sent for the bin for a high tackle, before Blair Cowan was shown the same card for pulling down a maul seconds later, as Irish suddenly found themselves whittled down to 13 men.
The visitors were subsequently rewarded a penalty try, propagating fears that Ojo’s historic appearance could be unexpectedly blemished by defeat.
— London Irish (@LiRFC) October 29, 2018
Despite trying to keep the play within forward pods, the visitors wasted no time in capitalising with the extra men – and Moyle touched down again with a tense eight minutes left on the clock at 33-29.
But when Cowan and Campbell returned to the field, McNally ended proceedings as he had begun them 80 minutes earlier – the product of another trade-mark maul over the Pirates’ line to hastily wrap up a 38-29 victory.
Resisting the Pirates’ second-half revival – which for the most part was rekindled by two moments of Irish indiscipline – the result sees the London club move up to top spot in the Greene King IPA Championship ahead of a crunch-away clash with Jersey next weekend.