London Irish secured an instant return to the Aviva Premiership as they beat Yorkshire Carnegie 55-48 in an enthralling encounter at the Madejski Stadium.
Leading 29-18 following last week’s Championship final first-leg win at Headingley, Irish completed the job in style in front of their own fans to banish the memories of last season’s relegation with an 84-66 aggregate victory.
In an exhilarating first 20 minutes the sides traded tries in a manner more befitting sevens rugby than 15s as Canada international Ciaran Hearn and scrum-half Brendan McKibbin’s efforts for Irish were cancelled out by Seb Stegmann and Mike Mayhew.
But after an even first quarter, the hosts demonstrated the class that saw them lose just one game en route to finishing top of the regular season table as Fergus Mulchrone, Alex Lewington (twice), McKibbin and the boot of Tommy Bell helped them run riot.
Ben West, Sione Faletau, Stegmann’s second and a penalty try for the visitors at least made the scoreline respectable, while Charlie Beech and Ben Franks were shown late red cards for punching.
Facing an 11-point deficit, Carnegie desperately needed to fly out of the blocks in Reading but instead they dropped the opening kick-off and from the resulting scrum the ball was spread to Hearn, who ran through a couple of arm tackles for the easiest of tries.
Bell, who was otherwise impeccable from the tee, missed the conversion and his audacious offload attempt then failed miserably, allowing Elder to feed Stegmann for the perfect Carnegie response.
Irish’s second try came when Lewington’s neat inside offload found McKibbin running an unstoppable angle to scythe through a static defence, but Carnegie hooker Mayhew did his best impression of a scrum-half on 20 minutes as he sniped from the base of a ruck on the 22 and rumbled over to narrow the aggregate deficit to six points.
That was as good as it got for the visitors, however, as a 35-metre Bell penalty gave the Exiles breathing space, which was increased as Mulchrone jinked his way over from close range before the break.
Joe Ford slotted a Yorkshire penalty on the stroke of half-time but then Lewington scored one of the tries of the season, beating five men to score from halfway, before McKibbin burrowed over.
Lewington then seized on a loose ball for his second to put the tie out of reach.
Bell booted four further penalties as Irish ran riot before Carnegie started to make the score respectable as West went over for his own close-range try and the visitors were awarded a penalty try for Tom Court’s deliberate offside.
Front-rowers Beech and Franks were shown red for punching each other as the game degenerated slightly and although Faletau and Stegmann grabbed further consolation for the visitors, it was a dream evening for Premiership-bound Irish.
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London Irish promoted to Premiership
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