London Irish lost the 2022/23 Premiership Rugby Cup final with a 24-20 defeat in extra time at the Gtech Community Stadium.
A nip and tuck affair in west London was opened with an Ignacio Ruiz try, hooker counterpart Jack Innard dotting down before Ruiz completed his brace from another rolling maul score.
Jacob Atkins would keep the scoreboard ticking over with a place kick, but Chiefs would peak towards the conclusion of regular time as Josh Iosefa-Scott’s converted try brought the game to added time.
Atkins would add another penalty late on, but it wasn’t to be for Irish for a second year running with Aidon Davis’ effort the decisive score of the match.
Despite Exeter having the lion’s share of ball possession, Irish’s defensive capabilities were on show early on with big hits from Josh Caulfield, Lovejoy Chawatama and So’otala Fa’aso’o.
For a breakdown infringement, Exeter was afforded a first chance at a touch finder and they would continue to work around the fringes, Irish crucially forcing a handling error onto prop Danny Southworth at the whitewash however.
Irish would win the following scrum with referee Adam Leal awarding a penalty, Jack Cooke following that up with a lineout steal as the Exiles showed signs of promise at the set-piece.
Another penalty won at the put-in gave Declan Danaher’s boys their first red zone entry, and as ever this season, they were efficient with their venture.
Jacob Atkins gained valuable territory from his boot for Ignacio Ruiz to rumble over from the catch-and-drive sequence, Atkins then slotting the difficult conversion for a 7-0 lead.
Fa’aso’o continued to be a nuisance at the breakdown to win a penalty win, Will Joseph too making a physical impact before a rip by Josh Basham in the contact that led to an Irish breakaway.
The west Londoners were met by consecutive jackal penalties won by Chiefs, the Sandy Park outfit working their way up the Gtech field with captain Jack Innard crossing for a converted try to level proceedings.
A rare scrum penalty win for Rob Baxter’s men and subsequent Iwan Jenkins kick to touch gave them a solid platform for a try, but Josh Basham’s lineout steal evaporated the pressure for now.
Southworth's high tackle on Fa’aso’o saw the travelling side’s complement reduced with a yellow card, Irish then entering the 22 again with their tails up.
With play brought back for a breakdown infringement, Irish went to the corner and that man Coco Ruiz crossed the whitewash for his brace, Atkins excelling again from the boot with a near touchline conversion.
A penalty awarded to Exeter was slotted by Jenkins a matter of minutes later, despite the over the ball effort from Facundo Gigena with Irish deemed not rolling away elsewhere at the ruck to close the half.
Irish’s intent was clear from the outset in the second forty, Michael Dykes setting off on a trademark searing linebreak before being brought down, with Irish having their own shot at the sticks with a few recycles of the ball.
A cynical deliberate knock-on from Rus Tuima gave Atkins another chance for points, which the fly-half scored and reinstated a seven-point cushion.
London Irish were stout in their defence when waves of Exeter attack went through the phases, forcing a handling error with two more lineout steals, this time from Chunya Munga, who continued the trend.
Two massive hits from Michael Dykes, the latter of which forcing his opponent into touch, was followed by a massive turnover win at the scrum with the aid of replacement Tarek Haffar – the Senior Academy were really showing out!
The out-of-possession industry was out of this world, Eddie Poolman making his presence known after taking to the field with a strong tackle on Tuima, with James Stokes also meeting the West Country outfit before a Jack Cooke jackal win.
Matt Williams would prematurely depart the field after pulling up whilst clearing his lines, but his impact was felt before leaving the park by acrobatically keeping the ball in play for Stokes to exit.
The Exiles’ next move up the park was through brute force, winning another scrum before going for touch after another penalty, but a loose throw-in would reverse possession.
Exeter would camp out in the opposing 22 for some time, the Exiles with their backs against the whitewash with a Sean O’Brien spill metres from the line only enacted through a high Josh Basham tackle, with the loose forward sent to the bin.
Another spill over the line would only delay the inevitable, Josh Iosefa-Scott dotting down after his side worked around the fringes with Joe Simmonds’ conversion levelling the game.
Knock-ons from Chiefs in crucial moments gave Irish some relief, but extra time beckoned for a second consecutive year.
To open the added period of time, Juan Martín González came in with a clutch jackal turnover win at the breakdown, Irish then benefitting from an offside kick where they went to the corner.
Atkins would add three more to his collection despite Irish coming close, but he and the Exiles would find themselves back down the other end with Aidon Davis scoring to switch the lead before the second break.
Chiefs won a turnover in contact to open the final 10 minutes, switching play to a maul where Adam Leal awarded a scrum penalty to the visitors.
A lineout not going five metres gave Irish back the ball, a fantastic scrum set seeing Irish win the penalty and go to the corner to see the remainder of the final in the Exeter 22.
A spill from Irish looked to have ended the game, but a poor exit from Chiefs with time still on the clock gave the Exiles one final shot in possession – Exeter turning over the ball not long after however saw the cup go back to Devon.
Score sequence (London Irish first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-5, 7-7, 12-7, 14-7, 14-10, 17-10, 17-15, 17-17, 20-17, 20-22, 20-24.
London Irish: Tries: Ruiz (15) (35); Conversions: Atkins (16) (36); Penalties: Atkins (46) (88); Yellow Cards: Basham (76).
Exeter Chiefs: Tries: Innard (26), Iosefa-Scott (76), Davis (89); Conversions: Jenkins (27), Simmonds (77) (90); Penalties: Jenkins (39); Yellow Cards: Southworth (33).
15 James Stokes, 14 Matt Williams (Harmes 64), 13 Will Joseph (Poolman 54), 12 Tom Hitchcock, 11 Michael Dykes, 10 Jacob Atkins, 9 Hugh O’Sullivan (Englefield 90); 1 Facundo Gigena (Haffar 51), 2 Ignacio Ruiz (Cornish 64), 3 Lovejoy Chawatama (Parker 65), 4 Josh Caulfield (Scragg 90), 5 Chunya Munga, 6 Jack Cooke (c), 7 Josh Basham, 8 So’otala Fa’aso’o (González 53).
16 Matt Cornish, 17 Tarek Haffar, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Ed Scragg, 20 Juan Martín González, 21 Caolan Englefield, 22 Eddie Poolman, 23 Alex Harmes.
15 Tom Wyatt, 14 Dan John, 13 Sean O'Brien, 12 Tom Hendrickson (Devoto 56), 11 Rory O'Loughlin, 10 Iwan Jenkins (Simmonds 72), 9 Tom Cairns (Becconsall 51); 1 Danny Southworth (Kenny 64), 2 Jack Innard (Harris), 3 Patrick Schickerling (Iosefa-Scott 56), 4 Mike Williams (Kirsten 56), 5 Jack Dunne, 6 Christ Tshiunza, 7 Aidon Davis, 8 Rus Tuima.
16 Iestyn Harris, 17 James Kenny, 18 Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19 Cory Teague, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Will Becconsall, 22 Ollie Devoto, 23 Joe Simmonds.
Referee: Mr Adam Leal