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REPORT: London Irish 38-29 Cornish Pirates – Exiles survive scare to go top of the table

Josh McNally
Josh McNally gave Irish an early lead

London Irish survived a big second-half Cornish Pirates fightback to clinch the win which moves them top of Championship table.

The Exiles looked well-placed to ease to an eighth straight win to start the campaign with tries from Josh McNally, Teofilo Paulo, Ollie Hassell-Collins and Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi putting them 26-8 ahead at the break.

Brendan McKibbin then crossed the whitewash soon after the restart, but the game swung when yellow cards in quick succession for both Bryce Campbell and Blair Cowan gave Pirates a two-man advantage and they made it count by reducing the deficit to just four points.

However, back up to their full complement Irish saw the 38-29 win over the line thanks to another McNally score to preserve their unbeaten start.

Topsy Ojo led the side out with his children for his record-breaking 291st appearance for the club and he came agonisingly close to making a dream start.

It was a special day for Topsy Ojo

The winger was stopped just three metres short of the try line in the opening minutes, but Irish were soon in front when captain McNally found a gap following a line-out.

But the visitors responded well, reducing the deficit to 7-3 when Will Cargill kicked through the posts before getting their noses in front as Robin Wedlake went over in the corner.

However, Irish retook the lead midway through the half when an excellent break from Brendan Macken eventually led to a penalty, which the hosts opted to kick to the corner.

And in traditional style, the powerful pack forced their way across the line with Paulo claiming the try.

Pirates, who arrived sitting in fourth place in the table, were putting up a fight and came within inches of reducing the arrears when Alex Day was stopped just before reaching the line. The visitors kicked to the corner, but could not convert from the line-out.

And that proved costly as just minutes later Declan Kidney’s men restored a cushion when debutant Hassell-Collins collected from Macken and went over in the corner to round off a brilliant team move across from one side of the pitch to the other.

Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi scored in the second half

There was time for the bonus point try to be secured before the break through another line-out drive with Hobbs-Awoyemi flopping over and Ben Meehan’s impressive conversion took the half-time lead to 26-8.

And that advantage extended soon after the restart when McKibbin found a gap to break through the centre and reach over the line despite pressure from a man in purple.

Winger Kyle Moyle responded by crossing in the corner and Pirates were given further hope when Campbell was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle.

The revigorated visitors quickly made the extra man count, earning a penalty try after an infringement by Cowan, which also saw the flanker sent to the bin.

Irish were under pressure but they looked to have seen out the spell with 13 men until one last attack. With Campbell and Cowan on the sidelines waiting to return, Pirates broke down the right and despite two big challenges from Hassell-Collins, they kept the ball alive with Moyle crossing again.

With 10 minutes to play the lead stood at just four points but the hosts regrouped when restored to 15 men and eventually saw the win over the line when McNally crossed for his second try of the afternoon.

The Exiles go top of the Championship, three points clear of Ealing Trailfinders with a game in hand to come at Jersey next week.

LONDON IRISH: McLean, Ojo, Macken (Hearn 74), Campbell, Hassell-Collins, Meehan, McKibbin (Myler 71), Hobbs-Awoyemi (Cilliers 50), Matu’u (Porecki 63), Hoskins, McNally (c), Paulo (Maddison 71), Schatz (Gilsenan 57), Cowan, Rogerson.
Reps: Saulo.
Tries: McNally x2 (5,80), Paulo (22), Hassell-Collins (29), Hobbs-Awoyemi (36), McKibbin (44)
Cons: Meehan x2 (6,30,37,45)
Yellow card: Campbell (55), Cowan (56)

CORNISH PIRATES: Moyle, Wedlake, Koster, Patterson (Rojas Alvarez 63), Strong, Cargill, Day, Owlett (Gendall 61), Cowan-Dickie (Matavesi 54), Andrew (Walker 46), Freeman, Beukeboom (c), McRae, Bolwell, Duncan.
Reps: Cutmore, Schwartz, O’Meara.
Tries: Wedlake (15), Moyle x2 (48,70), Penalty (56)
Cons: Cargill x2 (49,71)
Pens: Cargill (10)
Yellow card: Beukeboom (79)

Referee: Ian Tempest
Attendance: 3,406

Scoring sequence (Irish first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-3, 7-8, 12-8, 17-8, 19-8, 24-8, 26-8, 31-8, 33-8, 33-13, 33-15, 33-22, 33-27, 33-29, 38-29.

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