London Irish faced a trip to Sandy Park for their A League fixture versus the Exeter Braves on Monday 6 October. Irish, who started this year’s A league season in a promising fashion, were hoping for a return to winning ways following a loss to the Saracens Storm in their last outing.

It was, however, the hosts who came out on top. Five tries from the Braves saw them home 33 – 10 at Sandy Park in front of over 1,300 attendees.

The hosts started brightly, winger Fetu’u Vainikolo bursting though the Irish defence before the cover defence bundled him into touch. Irish were unable to secure possession from the lineout however, and the Braves continued to mount the pressure.

Exeter crossed soon after, Namibian full-back Crysander Botha spotting a whole in the Irish defence and broke through to score under the posts. Ceri Sweeney added the extras to give the hosts an early 7 – 0 lead.

The Braves dominated the opening stages of the game, retaining possession and looking threatening with ball in hand. Fortunately for Irish, however, the accuracy was missing as several crucial passes went to ground.

Exeter smashed their way over the line again soon after, this time through the pack. Sam Simmonds the man to claim the spoils as the forwards crashed their way over. Sweeney again added the conversion to bring the core to 14 – 0 after fifteen minutes.

It wasn’t until the twenty-minute mark that Irish began to assert themselves. A strong run down the wing from Ross Neal put the hosts under pressure and Irish won a penalty at the breakdown. Irish opted for the corner but the Braves defended well and managed to turn it over and clear their lines.

With the Braves' captain Sam Skinner sent to the bin Irish looked to turn the screw. Strong work by the pack provided the platform for the backs to go for the line but the Exeter cover defence got back to hold Eoin Griffin up over the line.  

Cam Cowell tried to release Neal down the blind with the chip through but Exeter again covered back and won the twenty-two metre drop-out.

In the final play of the half Irish managed to get on the board. Myles Dorrian converted a penalty to give Irish their first points and make the score 14 – 3 at half time.

The home side started the second half strongly. After winning a penalty on the Exiles’ five-metre line they opted for the scrum. After several re-sets Exeter were rewarded for their diligence at scrum time when Irish conceded again and Exeter were awarded a penalty try. Another successful conversion bought the scores to 21 – 3.

Exeter were camped on the Irish line seconds later after a strong kick chase forced Irish into conceded another five metre scrum. The Irish pack responded well and won a penalty of their own and Myles Dorrian gratefully cleared the Irish lines.

The hosts were camped on the Irish line again seventeen minutes into the second half, Greg Bateman crossing the line for try number four and to bring the scores to 26 – 3.

The Exiles’ first try came in the form of their captain Myles Dorrian after 66 minutes. Conner Murphy’s quick tap caught the Braves' off guard as he launched the attack from just outside his 22. Mike Mayhew then broke through before feeding Dorrian who also added the extras to make it 26 – 10.

Irish came agonisingly close to crossing again soon after. This time Ross Neal made the line break but the ball went to ground and Exeter won a penalty at the breakdown under the shadow of their own posts and a chance to clear their lines.

Exeter soon struck back. Replacement Jack Stanley powered his way over and with the conversion from Sweeney the score stood at 33- 10 with just under ten minutes to play.

Irish went for one last roll of the dice, running the ball from deep. Exeter tracked across however and forced Irish in touch and with it bought the game to a close with a final score of 33 – 10.

The Exiles fielded a squad with 12 players aged 18 or under, so the experience they gained from the contest will be invaluable. 

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