Five reasons London Irish can be Premiership playoff contendersRecent history suggests that one Premiership play-off place will go to a surprise package that either builds form during the Six Nations period or puts together an even later surge. In 2018, Newcastle Falcons reached the knockouts. Two seasons later, Bath mounted a post-lockdown charge.
“It was the defining point of the game, ” Rob Baxter admitted. “It is a 14-point turnaround, basically. It is a bit of a symptom of where we are. We just got into a scenario where we didn’t take that extra step. ” On the face of it, this was a mid-table contest. The teams occupied the sixth and seventh rungs on the Premiership ladder before kick-off, though both were looking upwards. Irish survived a scare when Jack Innard skewed his throw from a close-range line-out, but Exeter were clinical from their next opportunity.
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That foreshadowed a period of pressure and Patrick Schickerling eventually burrowed over. Down 14-0 on the verge of the second quarter, Irish mustered some fluency. Stokes skipped past a couple of tackles from full-back and Adam Coleman’s offloading caught the eye. Continuity earned a breakdown penalty. Following a brawny maul, Cornish shunted across the try-line. Paddy Jackson pulled his conversion attempt wide but had another opportunity from the tee within minutes. Don Armand was collared for an off-the-ball-tackle and, this time, the kick split the posts.
Steel Fighting back from 14-0 behind, particularly against a team as dogged as Exeter, requires resilience and courage in one’s convictions. Brad Davis, the Irish defence coach, evidently inspires his players, too. A perfectly-timed tackle from Coleman on Tom O’Flaherty summed up the Exiles’ display without the ball. He shuts down the space, stoops low and dominates the gain-line: Coleman amassed 21 tackles, with Pearson making 22. From the bench, Olly Cracknell rattled carriers and Mike Willemse forced a vital breakdown steal.
In achieving that, for the first time since 2010-11, they leapfrogged their opponents and breached the top six. Australia lock Adam Coleman shone for the Exiles and Tom Pearson, the 22-year-old openside flanker, was outstanding. Two graduates of Cardiff Metropolitan University, Alex Dombrandt and Luke Northmore, have stamped their mark on the Premiership in recent years to win England call-ups. Pearson is another alumnus relishing his introduction to the top flight. “There are some gems out there, ” said Les Kiss, the Irish head coach, of Pearson, whose contribution he described as “immense”. “Tom just does the business. He’s very coachable and, despite not coming through a professional academy, he has a great approach to the game.
A resourceful starting front row of Will Goodrick-Clarke, try-scorer Matthew Cornish and Oli Hoskins combined well. Coleman and Simmons are line-out weapons as well. Style and skills The verve of Irish’s phase-play continues to impress. Despite defending for long periods, they still completed 193 passes against Exeter. Hoskins, the tighthead prop, threw a couple of doozies. Coleman and Pearson flipped away two offloads each, tying Chiefs’ total of four between them.
Hogg gathered an Exiles clearance and looped a long pass across-field for Ian Whitten to gather momentum. Joe Simmonds then flashed a dummy and sliced the Irish line. Scramble defence delayed the Chiefs until their forwards regained impetus and Jack Maunder sniped at the fringes before lifting a delayed pass to Olly Woodburn. The roaming wing wriggled free and Simmonds converted for a 7-0 lead within five minutes. Even amid a reshuffle that slipped Harvey Skinner to inside centre in the absence of Henry Slade, Exeter’s backline was causing trouble. Using the wind, Simmonds drove a delightful kick that earned a 50:22.
A breakthrough star Pearson was hailed as a “gem” and “immense” by Kiss. One 40-metre charge, leading to Jackson’s second penalty, shifted momentum. It comes after Cornish and O’Brien have pilfered possession and Hoskins has sparked a transition opportunity with a swinging pass: The graduate of Cardiff Metropolitan University, signed to the Exiles’ senior academy ahead of this season, also won a jackal turnover late on. It was a stirring performance to continue a breakthrough season.
Pearson tore 40 metres down the middle to bring about the Exiles’ next points. Attempting to stop the surging back-rower, Armand appeared to be knocked unconscious in a nasty collision with colleague Dave Ewers. He left the field, having thankfully returned to his feet, and Jackson cut the gap to three with his third penalty. Exeter have been unusually profligate of late and hashed another close-range routine.
Les Kiss hails 'gem' Tom Pearson as London Irish continue playoff push with comeback win over Exeter As the Premiership games continue apace during the Six Nations, testing the depth and cohesion of squads, this promises to be a crucial stage of the season. London Irish look in a strong position to capitalise and mount a push for the play-offs. They were good value for this triumph. Three months after storming Sandy Park, Irish battled back from 14-0 behind to complete a double over Exeter Chiefs for the campaign.
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