By Damian Dolan
London Irish will take an 11-point lead into the second leg of their Championship Final with Yorkshire Carnegie, but director of rugby Nick Kennedy is refusing to get carried away.
The Exiles welcome Carnegie to the Madejski Sradium on Wednesday 24 May (KO 7:45pm) for the second leg of the final following their 29-18 victory at Headingley, and are now just 80 minutes away from making an immediate return to the Premiership.
“Yorkshire Carnegie had a good first half, but at half-time we told our players to focus on two aspects, which paid dividends in the end,” said Kennedy.
“I can’t reveal exactly what the plans were as there is another game next week. With the rain all day, we expected them to play a tighter game but both teams missed opportunities and I was very pleased with our set piece in the second half as our experienced bench made a considerable difference.”
Tommy Bell and Joe Ford traded early penalties, before Bell struck again and Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi burst through on a great line to score and increase the away side’s lead.
However, the home side hit back through Mike Mayhew and Jonah Holmes, and a Ford penalty, to put Carnegie ahead at half-time, 15-13. It was a lead the Yorkshire side deserved.
The Exiles, though, produced an excellent second half display with Fergus Mulchrone crossing to restore their lead. Bell added three penalties, with Ford kicking Carnegie’s only points of a disappointing second half, to secure an 11-point advantage for the Exiles.
“The forwards made the hard yards and Tommy was very accurate with his kicking when the penalties were awarded,” added Kennedy.
“We were tested in lots of areas – mentally, physically and tactically. I thought the boys were strong in areas of our game and we have a few things to work on ahead of next week.
“It’s all about looking after the guys for next Wednesday’s second leg as it will soon come round.”
Kennedy reserved special praise for the club’s supporters who made the long trip up the M1 for the Wednesday night game.
“Our supporters were tremendous once again and I have to tip my hat to them for making the long journey north on a weekday night,” he said.
“We could hear them loud and proud all evening and it would be fantastic to have a big crowd for the second leg.”
Key to Irish’s first leg victory was full back Bell, who was successful with all seven of his kicks at goal on the night.
“The club deserves to be in the Premiership and everyone has worked extremely hard both on and off the field to put us in a position to go back up,” said Bell, who joined Irish last summer from Leicester Tigers.
“To come back from a tough first half and put ourselves in the position that we are in now was a huge effort from all of the boys.”
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