London Irish returned maximum points for the second successive week in the Premiership Rugby Cup, performing a memorable second-half turnaround to take the game by 28 points to 26 at the Gtech Community Stadium against Northampton Saints.
The Exiles were 19 points down at the interval, Sam Graham opening Northampton’s account with a James Ramm brace adding to the deficit.
Subsitiute Hallam Chapman inspired Irish’s fightback with a duo of tries of his own, taking Irish over the whitewash for the first time in the game before Logan Trotter pounced on an opportunity to bring the hosts within a score.
After excellent defence from Declan Kidney’s side, Saints own rearguard subsided when their opponents pushed to the line, and after persistent offences, referee Dan Jones awarded a penalty try for the west Londoners to bring another classic under the lights in Brentford to an end.
With both sides feeling each other out in the opening 10 minutes and Saints recording the higher penalty count, Irish’s first red zone entry via a Rory Jennings touch finder only resulted in a knock-on in later phases.
Ollie Sleightholme’s linebreak after being found in close quarters by James Grayson was halted by excellent tracking back from Logan Trotter, Luca Morisi fielding a loose pass to alleviate some pressure on Irish.
Courtnall Skosan looked to have taken Saints into the lead after taking in a Grayson kick from hand out wide, but was held up and brought back for an earlier knock-on in play.
Saints then bagged the first try of the contest via Sam Graham, the number eight powering over the try line after running a bustling line close to the whitewash, Grayson converting.
A high tackle from Northampton on Trotter gave Rory Jennings another opportunity to kick Irish further up the park and retain the ball, Hugh O’Sullivan passing off to forwards with one of the last being Tarek Haffar.
The prop’s impressive carrying throughout saw his contribution with the ball be his last, an awkward step capping his time on the field after Ben Atkins’ earlier substitution for Izzy Moore-Aiono.
Initial strong carrying around the fringes progressed Northampton into Irish ground, when the ball was spread a smart touch from Sleightholme via his foot kept them in play before James Ramm’s run into the goal area.
Irish started to find some momentum after a Chunya Munga strip from the maul and subsequent metres made with ball in hand, but hopes of a foothold in the game were put on ice as Saints won a penalty at the breakdown.
Grayson’s 50:22 kick situated his side further forward, a later nudge to Sleightholme with a penalty advantage not locating the winger but Saints instead made it count after referee Dan Jones brought it back to a feed for the travelling team.
Callum Braley found his half-back partner Grayson off the back of a scrum, who then offloaded to Ramm to stretch out and take Northampton three tries to the good.
Sleightholme found his match once more in Trotter after racing away into space in the wide left channel, the new Scotsman taking the Saint into touch with half-time following shortly after.
Replacement Hallam Chapman’s strong carrying and handling in the second half were one of multiple signs of an Irish uptick, alongside quick hands and winning their first scrum penalty.
Boosted by their set-piece form, Irish elected for the put-in in front of the posts and it was Hallam Chapman whose quick thinking from a later penalty saw him hulk his way over for Irish’s first score.
Saints swiftly counteracted Irish’s try with a five-pointer spawning from a rolling maul, Aaron Hinkley with the touchdown and Grayson converting their bonus point try.
Chapman epitomised Irish’s dogged attitude in attack, pushing his way over the line for a quick retort for Irish, Jennings’ extras taking it to a two-score game.
The Exiles held firm and after Saints were penalised for not rolling away, the Exiles had the benefit of another advantage and went for the scrum in front of the uprights once more.
Irish gained two penalties from successive feeds after many more before the decision to go for a scrum, but when the ball was fed back into play a knock-on was conceded and Saints had possession back.
A clearance from Grayson found Michael Dykes on the outskirts of the 22, and a penetrative run from the winger combined with Jacob Atkins innovative pass back infield off a Saint, Trotter then picked up the loose ball and dived into score.
Jennings added the touchline conversion and Irish were close, five points in fact, and a Morisi breakaway threatened but abruptly concluded in an unfortunate spill forward.
As Irish were penalised on halfway, Grayson lined up a place kick that fell just short, and as Saints played to find touch with the clock in the red, a stray ball was knocked down from a Northampton player.
The ball was gleefully collected by Cooke, Saints then penalised for approaching the ruck at the side and Irish pushed up the park.
The visitors conceded another penalty at a maul, and another in open field play and Irish were purring, and after bringing down Irish’s dominant rolling maul, Saints conceded a penalty try and the Exiles executed a comeback for the ages – again!
Score sequence (London Irish first): 0-5, 0-7, 0-12, 0-14, 0-19, 5-19, 7-19, 7-24, 7-26, 12-26, 14-26, 19-26, 21-26
London Irish: Tries: Chapman (51) (59), Trotter (75), Penalty Try (80); Conversions: Jennings (52) (60) (76); Penalties .
Northampton Saints: Tries: Graham (18), Ramm (24) (37), Hinkley (55); Conversions: Grayson (18) (25) (56); Penalties .
15 Logan Trotter, 14 Ben Loader (Harmes 52), 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Tom Hitchcock (Atkins 52), 11 Michael Dykes, 10 Rory Jennings, 9 Hugh O’Sullivan (Allan 74); 1 Tarek Haffar (Jack 22), 2 Patrick Harrison (Vajner 40), 3 Ciaran Parker (Summerfield 52), 4 Ed Scragg (Chapman 40), 5 Chunya Munga, 6 Jack Cooke (c), 7 Isaac Curtis-Harris, 8 Ben Atkins (Moore-Aiono 17).
16 Joseph Vajner, 17 Jamie Jack, 18 Mikey Summerfield, 19 Hallam Chapman, 20 Izzy Moore-Aiono, 21 Ollie Allan, 22 Jacob Atkins, 23 Alex Harmes.
15 James Ramm (Hendy 60), 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Tom Litchfield, 12 Joel Matavesi, 11 Ollie Sleightholme (Thame 40), 10 James Grayson, 9 Callum Braley (c) (McParland 74); 1 Marty Mulhall (Heffernan 48), 2 Robbie Smith, 3 Ehren Painter (Patten 62), 4 Brandon Nansen, 5 David Ribbans (Lockett 40), 6 Kayde Sylvester, 7 Aaron Hinkley, 8 Sam Graham.
16 Aston Gradwick-Light, 17 George Patten, 18 Oisín Heffernan, 19 Tom Lockett, 20 Henry Pollock, 21 Archie McParland, 22 Toby Thame, 23 George Hendy.
Referee: Mr Dan Jones
Injury Update | Jack Singleton
Following Saturday’s fixture with Northampton Saints, Gloucester Rugby can confirm Jack Singleton suffered a significant lower leg injury.
The hooker sustained the injury in a tackle in the 32nd minute of the Cherry & Whites’ win over the Saints.
Singleton underwent surgery on Monday evening and will now work closely with the Gloucester Rugby medical team during this rehabilitation period.
COO, Alex Brown, said:
“We’re all gutted for Jack. He’s an influential member of our squad, and clearly, we are disappointed to lose his quality from the pitch over the next few months.
“Whilst it’s still too early to pinpoint how quickly Jack will return, we know that he will be doing everything he can to make a full and swift recovery.”
Cowan-Dickie to leave the Chiefs
“Obviously, it’s a different competition, a different language – which I’ll have to learn – but I think it’s time for a change. Hopefully, I’ve still got plenty of years left in my career, but this is an opportunity for me to go over there and show what I am all about.”
Before now and the end of the season, Cowan-Dickie insists his sole focus is on the Chiefs and delivering performances to a club he says he will forever be grateful to.
“I’ve still lots to give here,” he added. “This is my club and I want to go out on a real high and win some trophies. It will be weird when the time comes to say my goodbyes, but for now I want to do all I can to ensure it finishes how I want it to.
“Since I arrived all those years ago, I’ve had some unbelievable memories and made friends for life. For me, this is the most important year of my Chiefs career because it’s my last. The club, the people, the supporters, they’ve all done so much for me and I’m excited to get out there and put my best foot forward.”
Among those to have helped nurture Cowan-Dickie – who has won 42 England caps and three for the Lions – from a raw rookie at Truro College to one of the world’s leading forwards have been the Chiefs coaching staff, whom he was quick to praise for their input.
“The early stages it was Robin Cowling and Ricky Pellow who did a lot for me,” he said. “Some of the things Robin made me do, like extra fitness, I still remember that now, but without them I wouldn’t be here now.
‘We showed the strength in depth in the squad’: Declan Kidney’s post-Newcastle analysis
London Irish Director of Rugby Declan Kidney believes the quality throughout the squad was prevalent in Saturday’s Round 12 Gallagher Premiership win over Newcastle Falcons.
Being the Exiles first game at home in six weeks, Kidney’s men made it a homecoming to remember as his side registered five tries to win 39-17 at the Gtech Community Stadium.
Three of Irish’s scores were dotted down by replacements, and with the bench emptied in the second half, the boss duly credited the performances of his finishers on the day to come back from a four-point deficit.
Such was the challenge that Newcastle posed on the day, Falcons took the lead in the third quarter but the headstrong attitude of his Exiles on the day saw the home side to their second league win of the year.
“Being back at home is a big influence, we’ve been on the road for quite a few days, someone said it’s been 43 days since our last home game!
“It’s a difficult way to run a sporting business, but credit to everyone in the organisation to keep a safe track and it was great that we managed to get a result,” Kidney stated.
“The scoreline probably does Newcastle a little bit of an injustice but we stuck at it to the end and we’re delighted with the result, though we know there’s still room for improvement.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the boys, we had a few things thrown at us in terms of injury, but it shows the strength in depth of the squad and the boys came through.”
In Irish’s absence from their west London home, a winless run of form followed but the belief in the squad and their performances that picked up five losing bonus points this season shone through on the evening.
“Sport is a microcosm of life, there’s no point in getting down on yourselves and you have to work your way through it, and we done that.
“We were probably tentative in the first half; they had a couple of balls that rolled out to gave us field position back and it was tight for that first 50 minutes, but they came back strongly in those 10 or 15 minutes after half-time.
“It was at that stage we said, ‘let’s get going here’ and I thought we played really well from there on in.”
Out of possession, Irish shone in their defensive output with strong sets that repelled the visitors in key moments of the second half.
The Boys in Green maintained their standing as the league’s highest performing side in regards to tackling percentages, completing 140/155 (90.3%) attempts on the evening.
As well as their free-flowing scores, Kidney was keen to credit the squad’s mindset when faced with a Newcastle team looking for their fourth win of the Premiership season.
He explained: “It has always been that combination of both, Newcastle have been scoring for fun with some great tries so to hold them to two tries was a real pleasing aspect of the performance.
“Those sets were absolutely massive in the outcome of the game.
“The tries are good and we’ll never take them for granted because we do a lot of work on that, but there’s a lot of work that goes on beforehand too.
“Teams are inclined to tire themselves out, gaps will appear towards the end of the game and they’re renowned for taking those opportunities also.
“We had a couple of good defensive sets and managed to take our opportunities when they came our way.
“I could’ve said the same thing in the last few weeks whereby we didn’t take our opportunities and one or two defensive sets that let us down, but that’s the tightness in all the matches.”
The evening, a massive occasion for Irish in terms of the context of the season, also allowed for personal accolades.
Captain Matt Rogerson reached a century of appearances for London Irish, with front-row forward Oliver Hoskins also surpassing the 150 milestone.
“That’s what it means to Matt, Oliver Hoskins also had 150 appearances too so the attention must go to those boys as well.
“They’re two big milestones, and I’ve had the good fortune to work with those lads from the day I’ve arrived, and they are a credit to themselves, their families and their team.
“When you have boys like that in your team, you know that you’ll always be there or thereabouts.”
The Exiles now take a two-week break from domestic action, with a first Heineken Champions Cup berth in a decade beginning with the arrival of Montpellier Hérault this Friday.
The Top 14 champions bring with them a unique skillset, Kidney commented, that will be another exciting challenge for Irish.
“The importance of the last couple of weeks is that we have been learning to win, all credit to the players to do that.
“When you have that hunger the last few weeks can give you, that’s what can happen.
“What we need to do now is use that going forward, it’s a new competition this week with new challenges, a different type of opposition with a different way of playing.
“It’s a good place to be after Saturday, a special thanks must go out to the supporters after the last couple of weeks, they were great again and helped to bring us through in those defensive sets.
“It’s brilliant for us, it’s the first time we’ve been in the competition for a decade and we’re the opening match, so the games keep getting bigger and better.”
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