London Irish went close to snatching a losing bonus point against Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership, the Exiles going down 40-25 at the Madejski Stadium.
Three second half tries courtesy of Alex Lewington, Tommy Bell and Josh McNally gives the Exiles a platform to build on ahead of Friday’s trip to Newcastle.
The visitors went in front as early as the second minute through scrum-half Nic Groom, who finished off a sweeping move that was started by British & Irish Lions wing George North. Harry Mallinder’s simple conversion made it 7-0.
Saints’ centre Rob Horne doubled his side’s advantage moments later when he scythed his way to the line despite the desperate efforts of a scrambling Irish defence.
14-0 down, the Exiles responded almost immediately, however an attempted looping pass to Blair Cowan found touch with the try line in his sights. Irish’s endeavour in attack came to fruition from the resulting phase of play, with Tommy Bell kicking a penalty to reduce the deficit to 14-3.
On 15 minutes Lewington was bundled into touch just short of Northampton’s try line, another reminder of the potential threat posed by Irish’s backline.
Saints extended Northampton’s lead on 25 minutes, Horne crashing through a flurry of Irish defenders to bag his brace for the afternoon. Mallinder skewed the conversion wide, but Saints were in the ascendancy at 19-3.
Jim Mallinder’s men wrapped up the bonus point just past the half hour mark through Haywood, the hooker burrowing over from a driving lineout after Mallinder opted to kick to the corner in favour of a shot at goal.
With the interval looming, Irish went in search of that elusive try, Napolioni Nalaga and Johnny Williams carrying well. On the stroke of half-time Bell slotted home a penalty to close the gap to 26-6.
The impressive Lewington offered Irish a glimmer of hope 10 minutes into the second period when he unhinged Saints’ backline with a cross-field run that resulted in an emphatic try in the corner. Leaving a string of Saints defenders in his wake, the explosive winger used his strength to notch up his second try of the campaign. Bell’s touchline conversion cut the gap to 26-13.
Irish’s reprieve was short lived, and with referee Matt Carley playing an advantage for Northampton, the ball was switched wide for North to coast in at the far corner. Mallinder’s successful conversion made it 33-13 to Saints.
Not deterred by the score line, Bell’s try 15 minutes from time made for an interesting finale as Irish went in search of a losing bonus point. A period of sustained pressure inside Northampton’s 22 resulted in the score, with replacement scrum-half Scott Steele making the most of a three on one situation to feed Bell for the score.
Pressing for another score, Irish were undone against the run of play when Cobus Reinach pounced on a loose ball to race the length of the field. Mallinder added the extras to make it 40-18.
Nick Kennedy’s men had the last word however, in the shape of Josh McNally, who used his brute strength to force his way over the line. Greig Tonks took over the kicking duties to slot home the conversion.
Tries: Lewington 50’ Bell 65’ McNally 80’
Cons: Bell 51’ Tonks 80’
Pens: Tommy Bell 12’ 40’
Tries: Nic Groom 2’ Rob Horne 5’ 25’ Haywood 32’ North 53’ Reinach 78’
Cons: Harry Mallinder 2’ 6’ 33’ 54’ 78’
London Irish: 15 Tommy Bell, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 James Marshall, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 1 Ben Franks (c) (Harry Elrington, 62), 2 Dave Porecki (David Paice, 46), 3 Petrus Du Plessis (Ollie Hoskins, 57), 4 Franco van der Merwe (Teofilo Paulo, 57), 5 Sebastian De Chaves, 6 Josh McNally, 7 Conor Gilsenan (Jake Schatz, 58), 8 Blair Cowan
Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Teofilo Paulo, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Topsy Ojo
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala (Ben Foden, 58), 14 George North, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Luther Burrell (James Grayson, 62), 11 Tom Collins, 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Nic Groom (Cobus Reinach, 58), 1 Alex Waller (Campese Ma’afu, 61), 2 Mikey Haywood (Reece Marshall, 75), 3 Paul Hill (Kieran Brookes, 54), 4 Michael Paterson, 5 David Ribbans (Christian Day, 61), 6 Courtney Lawes (c), 7 Jamie Gibson, 8 Sam Dickinson (Ben Nutley, 65)
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Christian Day, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 James Grayson, 23 Ben Foden
Referee: Matt Carley