By Adam Shaw
London Irish 41
Yorkshire Carnegie 17
London Irish cemented their position at the top of the Greene King IPA Championship with a crushing victory over nearest rivals Yorkshire Carnegie.
The Exiles were thoroughly deserved winners, with Ben Ransom and man of the match James Marshall scoring two tries apiece, as they lay down a marker to the rest of the division.
Yorkshire were worthy opponents and there were times, particularly at the beginning of each half, where they threatened to unsettle the hosts.
It would be reasonable to suggest that these two will meet at the business end of the season but, for now, it is Irish who reign supreme.
It was the visitors who actually started brighter – a combination of direct, incisive play and slow Irish reactions – and they took the lead with just a few minutes on the clock.
The hosts were penalised at the breakdown giving Yorkshire fly-half Joe Ford a penalty chance from just outside the 22, which he duly dispatched.
Falling behind kicked Irish into gear and a great move involving Fergus Mulchrone and Blair Cowan saw the ball shipped wide to Ransom.
The winger did the rest, crossing unopposed, and Tommy Bell added the extras.
The home side continued to exert pressure on their opponents and saw a few chances go begging but when Yorkshire were caught holding on, Bell extended the lead to seven points with a penalty.
Irish stretched their advantage even further with a superb try in the right-hand corner.
Their backline showed excellent hands – Aseli Tikoirotuma in particular playing a lovely pass – which created a gap for Joe Cokanasiga.
The powerful right-winger barged over his man before popping it to Tikoirotuma who completed the score.
Bell continued his fine all-round performance with by notching the difficult conversion, leaving Irish 14 points to the good.
Seemingly in control of the match, the Exiles went in for the kill; getting in the faces of their opponents and forcing errors.
It was a mistake of their own, however, which let Yorkshire back into the match.
A strong burst from Ofisa Treviranus created a gap for hooker Gerard Ellis but his long pass was intercepted by Jonah Holmes who strolled in for the try.
Ford added a simple conversion and Yorkshire were back within seven points.
They almost edged even closer but Ford’s drop goal attempt drifted wide before Irish upped the ante once again.
They pushed for a third try late on in the opening half but with Cokanasiga chasing loose ball hard, Pete Lucock came out of nowhere to deny him five metres from the line.
The second half was much scrappier than the first, as both sides recognised the closeness and importance of the contest.
The first opportunity fell to Bell who, with his only blip of the match, saw a penalty sneak to the right of the uprights.
He made amends ten minutes later, however, with a superb kick from halfway to give his side some breathing space.
His penalty had even greater impact given that minutes before, the visitors had been desperately close to scoring their second try of the game.
A deep kick from Ford had created the opportunity and, smelling blood, they pressed hard.
They failed to capitalise on a glaring overlap, however, and some great defence – particular from the excellent Cowan – allowed Irish to turnover and clear.
The Exiles finally got a chance to impose some expansive game play midway through the second half, with substitute Topsy Ojo instrumental.
He popped up everywhere, laying the platform for Irish to win a penalty in the corner.
Quick play from Scott Steele meant the ball was spread to Bell. He fed Ransom who finished smartly in the corner.
Bell was once again unfazed by the prospect of a tough conversion and faded the ball inside the left-hand post to make it 27-10.
Irish’s fresh legs were making the difference as the match progressed and Ojo thought he’d scored, only for referee Ian Tempest to rule it out for a forward pass in the build-up.
They did ultimately get their bonus try through the industrious Marshall.
Good pressure from the dominant Irish pack created the gap, which Marshall dived for and touched down before Bell converted.
He got his second of the afternoon soon after – a similar pattern of recycling the ball left Yorkshire struggling to cope leaving space for the fly-half to add the final touch.
The imperious Bell popped over his seventh kick at goal but it wasn’t to be the last word.
Both sides pressed for one last moment of glory and it was Yorkshire who achieved it.
Quick ball saw the ball reach Holmes and he danced past Ojo to score under the posts.
Ford quickly added the conversion but that was the final act of note as the ref blew and Irish began to celebrate.