London Irish attained a losing bonus point in Round 10 of the Gallagher Premiership after a closely-contested affair with Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park, finishing 22-17.
The Boys in Green opened the score by way of a Paddy Jackson penalty, but Chiefs flooded the goal area with 19 of their final 22 points being accrued in the first half via tries from Dave Ewers, Ruben van Heerden and Olly Woodburn.
So’otala Fa’aso’o converted his second score in Irish colours into the second period, Joe Simmonds extending Irish’s chasing deficit with a slotted penalty kick minutes later.
After much attacking fight in the second stanza, replacement Tom Pearson eventually touched down for Irish’s second effort late on to secure the losing bonus, after an impressive cameo in the last 40 minutes.
A start for Exeter characterised by loose handling was compounded by Benhard van Rensburg getting over the ball in the hosts’ 22, but a later deft pinch from the Chiefs stopped Irish in their tracks.
Penalised for an offside infringement in midfield, Exeter was under the cosh again from the Exiles and after not rolling away, presenting Paddy Jackson with an opportunity at goal which he converted.
After an unclaimed restart, Irish was then feeling the pressure and an offside infringement off their own close to the whitewash allowed for Rob Baxter’s men to advance, penetrating into the goal area with a pick-and-go from Dave Ewers.
Off the back of a scrum, Chiefs worked down the blindside through a marauding Josh Hodge run, who was eventually stopped but maintained possession with his side through offloading in the tackle.
At the following breakdown, Ben Loader was sent to the sin bin for an illegal ruck infringement and utilising the penalty, the Sandy Park side went quickly before Ruben van Heerden jumped through and over the try line.
An opportune moment seized by So’otala Fa’aso’o in defence saw the powerful back-row forward pilfer back possession for his side, but the Exiles could not break through for their first score in the West Country.
Whilst Loader’s reintroduction fulfilled Irish’s complement once more, an illegal clearout from their opposition looked enough for grounds for a similar fate of reduction for Exeter, but to no avail.
Chiefs bagged their third score of the evening through winger Olly Woodburn, stealing a loose Irish pass midway up the park to race away with Joe Simmonds adding his second conversion of the affair.
Irish was five metres away from troubling the Devon outfit, kicking for the corner after a knock-on in the tackle from Rory O’Loughlin, but the subsequent maul wasn’t maintained, and the Chiefs headed into the break 16 points to the good.
Tom Pearson made a strong impression at the breakdown after his introduction at the interval, and a further blend of Academy talent in Tom Parton and Ollie Hassell-Collins progress down the left flank before an unfortunate spill.
Van Rensburg’s second jackal turnover of the day sparked an Irish procession up the field, Exeter then conceding a penalty at the lineout for a tackle in the air with Jackson kicking for touch.
Whilst the lineout maul drive bore no points, Irish had to work through the phases and after another penalty in Irish’s favour, So’otala Fa’aso’o powered over for his second Irish score.
Chiefs nevertheless wasted no time in adding to their tally at the other end of the park with a Joe Simmonds place kick, Irish being deemed offside by referee Hamish Smales and were then behind by 12.
Irish had two opportunities from the lineout drive, but strong defensive mauling from Chiefs stopped the visitors once more - yet Chiefs’ own attacking lineout minutes later saw a not straight throw gift the ball back into the hands of Declan Kidney’s men.
A tearaway break from Irish on the left flank led to some promising territory for the Exiles, but loose handling and a mighty Exeter clearance then switched the pressure onto Irish.
An excellent recovery from Jackson then saw Chiefs being penalised for being off their feet at the ruck, the Irishman’s latter 50:22 a highlight that couldn’t’ be capitalised upon.
Pearson’s penetrative run through a lineout set the flanker up and away into the opposing 22, accompanied by replacement forward pairing Oliver Hoskins and Facundo Gigena.
With a few recycling phases of the ball, it was fed to the impactful young prospect to crash over the whitewash and secure a losing bonus point alongside Jackson’s second conversion.
Score sequence (London Irish second): 0-3, 5-3, 7-3, 12-3, 17-3, 19-3, 19-8, 19-10, 22-10, 22-15, 22-17
Exeter Chiefs: Tries: Ewers (11), Van Heerden (23), Woodburn (35); Conversions: Simmonds (12) (36); Penalties: Simmonds (55).
London Irish: Tries: Fa’aso’o (52), Pearson (77); Conversions: Jackson (53) (77); Penalties: Jackson (8); Yellow Card: Loader (23).
15 Josh Hodge, 14 Dan John, 13 Rory O’Loughlin, 12 Sean O’Brien, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Jack Maunder (S Maunder 61); 1 Alec Hepburn (Sio 53), 2 Jack Innard (Frost 53), 3 Harry Williams (Schickerling 65), 4 Dafydd Jenkins (c), 5 Ruben van Heerden (Dunne 61), 6 Dave Ewers (Tuima 65), 7 Lewis Pearson, 8 Jacques Vermeulen.
16 Dan Frost, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Patrick Schickerling, 19 Jack Dunne, 20 Rus Tuima, 21 Sam Maunder, 22 Will Becconsall, 23 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso.
15 Tom Parton (Jennings 70), 14 Ben Loader, 13 James Stokes (Joseph 48), 12 Benhard van Rensburg, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Joe Powell (Englefield 62), 1 Will Goodrick-Clarke (Gigena 62), 2 Mike Willemse (Miller 72), 3 Lovejoy Chawatama (Hoskins 63), 4 Chunya Munga, 5 Rob Simmons (c), 6 Jack Cooke (Pearson 40), 7 Josh Basham, 8 So’otala Fa’aso’o (Caulfield 74).
16 Isaac Miller, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Josh Caulfield, 20 Tom Pearson, 21 Caolan Englefield, 22 Rory Jennings, 23 Will Joseph.
Referee: Mr Hamish Smales