London Irish will return to Doncaster Knights’ Castle Park home after they defeated the South Yorkshire outfit 22-5 to set up a rematch in the Greene King IPA Championship Play-off Semi-finals.
Scores from Alex Lewington, Brendan McKibbin and a penalty try means Irish travel to Doncaster for the first leg on Sunday 30 April (kick-off 3pm), with the return clash taking place at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday 6 May (kick-off 1.15pm).
Lewington’s score on the stroke of half-time proved to be the turning point in a contest which Irish navigated professionally. Notching up his fifth try in six games since his return from injury, Lewington’s explosive burst to the line gave the Exiles the upper hand at 8-0 going into the break. With a two man overlap following excellent work from the pack, Greig Tonks switched the ball wide to centre Theo Brophy Clews who in turn fed Lewington for a 30 metres dash to the line.
Nick Kennedy’s men doubled their tally three minutes into the second period when the Irish heavies underlined their dominance at a driving lineout to yield a penalty try. The hosts were dealt a double blow as hooker Ben Hunter was yellow-carded for his troubles in the build-up, with Bell’s subsequent conversion increasing the deficit to 15-0.
Imperious in the tackle, Irish turned defence into attack moments later when Brendan McKibbin raced clear to touchdown under the posts. Fijian international Aseli Tikoirotuma sliced through the heart of the Knights’ backline at will, before offloading to Brophy Clews who unleashed McKibbin to the whitewash. The boot of Bell put the Exiles in the ascendancy at 22-0 with half an hour still to play.
Doncaster to their credit reacted in positive fashion, launching a flurry of attacks to test Irish’s defensive resolve. Putting Irish under serious pressure, sin-bins for Bell and Tikoirotuma in the last 20 minutes illustrated the hosts’ endeavour. With the last play of the game, the Knights got their reward through a Tyson Lewis try. Lewis had bombed an earlier opportunity when he failed to offload with a three man overlap. This time the winger latched onto Simon Humberstone’s neat dab over the top, to squeeze in at the corner despite Joe Cokanasiga’s desperate attempt to bundle him into touch. Douggie Flockhart cannoned the near post with the conversion, but Irish were 22-5 winners going into the play-offs.
Doncaster Knights: Scanlon, Flockhart, Bulumakau (Humberstone, 64), Hayes, Lewis, Cusack, Heaney (Edgerley, 60), List (Nelson, 52), Hunter, Sproston (Quigley, 52), Challinor (Williams, 54), Young, Shaw, Hills (Makaafi, 56), Carpenter
London Irish: Bell, Lewington, Tikoirotuma, Brophy Clews (Ojo, 65), Cokanasiga, Tonks, McKibbin (Steele, 55), Hobbs-Awoyemi (Court, 55), Paice (c) (Porecki, 60), Franks (Hoskins, 67), De Chaves, Sinclair (Lloyd, 65), Coman, Cowan (Gilsenan, 60), Treviranus
Tries: Lewis 80
Tries: Lewington 40, Penalty try 43, McKibbin 47
Cons: Bell 43 47
Pens: Bell 10
Sin-bins: Bell, Tikoirotuma
Referee: Andrew Jackson