London Irish became the first team for over a year to inflict a home defeat on Coventry Rugby in the Greene King IPA Championship.
The Exiles had to dig deep against the newly promoted side, Brendan Macken’s try 10 minutes from time securing a precious victory for Declan Kidney’s men.
Making it four wins from four for the season, Irish were given a stern examination at a partisan Butts Park Arena, which saw the home side leading 10-7 at the break.
After Jake Sharp slotted home a penalty for the hosts on 11 minutes, Irish responded immediately by virtue of a Dave Porecki try. Clean ball at the lineout 10 metres from Coventry’s whitewash presented Porecki with the opportunity to dot down on the back of an intricate lineout move. The expert boot of Stephen Myler extended Irish’s advantage to 7-3.
The visitors’ defensive resolve was tested from the restart with the likes of Josh McNally and the returning Blair Cowan called into action with a series of crucial tackles.
The industrious Tom Stephenson looked mennacing with ball in hand, the centre going close on a couple of occasions to breaching Coventry’s rearguard. However, the East Midlands outfit stood firm in defence and got their reward just short of the half hour mark when Tongan centre Sam Tuitupou raced in under the posts from a clever backline play. Sharp’s simple conversion edged Coventry 10-7 ahead.
Irish came out for the second period in determined mood and it took them four minutes of the restart to level the score through a Myler penalty. The Premiership-winning fly-half repeated the trick five minutes later to make it 13-10, before his side had to soak up a period of intense pressure.
Midway through the second half Coventry were throwing everything at Irish’s backline, David Halaifonua racing clear for what he thought was a try, only to have the score chalked off for a forward pass.
Halaifonua continued to be a thorn in Coventry’s armoury and his presence yielded a lineout five metres from Irish’s line, which Coventry made the most of. With the heave on and the pack wheeling towards the try line, replacement hooker Scott Tolmie flopped over. Sharp kicked the extras for a 17-13 lead going into the final quarter of the contest.
Not deterred by Coventry’s dramatic score, the Exiles showed tremendous guts and determination to turn the game on its head through Macken’s scintillating touchdown. The former Leinster man showed his opposite number a clean pair of heels to scoot in for the try thanks to excellent interplay in the midfield. Myler missed the touchline conversion, with the Exiles 18-17 in front.
Myler’s boot came to the fore on 76 minutes, his penalty from bang in front of the posts increasing his side’s lead to 21-17. Coventry pressed Irish’s defensive line in the closing stages, but Kidney’s troops held on courageously to make it four wins on the spin.
Tries: Tuitupou (26), Tolmie (60)
Cons: Sharp (27), (61)
Pens: Sharp (11)
Tries: Porecki (13), Macken (70)
Cons: Myler (14)
Pens: (44), (49), (76)
Coventry Rugby: Stokes, Bulumakau , Stevens, Tuiyupou , Halaifonua , Sharp, Kessell, Gibbons, Nilsen, Beech, Jubb, Voss, Makaafi , Ram, Peters, Tolmie, Jeannot, Gray, Preece, Fenner, White, Knox
London Irish: Parton, Ojo (Campbell, 65), Macken, Stephenson, McLean, Myler, Steele (Meehan, 45), Reid (Hobbs- Awoyemi , 58), Porecki ( Fainga’a , 25) , Hoskins ( Cilliers , 68), McNally, Paulo (Maddison, 65), Schatz, Cowan, Treviranus (Rogerson, 48)