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The inform fly half kicked four penalties out of four to propel his side to a hard fought victory which had looked in doubt after substitute Ryan Davis’s drop goal had given the hosts a 9-6 lead with just 15 minutes left to play.
With Gloucester and Newcastle already defeated at Sandy Park this season, the visitors went into the match fully briefed on the dangers posed by Rob Baxter’s hardworking side and the Exiles’ cautious pre match preparations proved well founded as Exeter made sure that the warm welcome extended to the travelling London Irish fans was certainly not offered to the players on the pitch.
The first half was a niggling, aggressive affair and the Chiefs’ physical approach looked to have paid dividends when Gareth Steenson slotted a second penalty of the match with just three minutes remaining to give his side a well earned
6-3 lead going into the break.
But Irish stirred themselves and a deep Lamb punt forced a lineout just metres from the hosts’ try line.
The pressurised defensive position told and Nick Kennedy soared majestically to steal the ball and set up an attacking ruck inches out.
The opportunity momentarily looked lost when the ball spat out of the ruck but referee Wayne Barnes saw an infringement and Lamb kept his nerve to bring the scores level with the last kick of half.
Earlier a Lamb penalty had opened the scoring just past the quarter of an hour mark before Steenson’s two kicks gave Exeter a well earned lead.
After half-time and with the scores level, both sides battled for superiority as the contest momentarily opened up, but some persistent rain checked the flow of the game as the pitch became slippery underfoot and the ball became harder to control.
Irish’s task was made harder when Delon Armitage was harshly sent to the sin bin after winger Andrew Higgins had slipped into a tackle from the England fullback.
Despite being a man down, Irish were able to keep control of the match with their excellent line out with the interchanging of Kennedy, Bob Casey and Kieran Roche constantly being a thorn in Chiefs’ side.
There were a few nervous moments when Exeter managed to break the Irish line but when Davis’s slotted a drop goal with his second touch of the match to gave his side the lead Exiles kept their cool and maintained the pressure on the Chiefs line.
And that pressure told as first Lamb brought the scores level with 10 minutes to go and then with just five minutes left on the clock, Tom Johnson was penalised and the 24-year-old stepped up to kick the decisive kick of the match.
Exeter threw everything at their opponents in the dying minutes, but Irish’s nerve and defence held strong and it was fitting that Lamb’s kick sailed into touch to complete the victory that returned London Irish to the top of the Aviva Premiership.
Penalty goals: Steenson (21, 37).
Drop goal: Davis (63)
Penalties: Lamb (16, 40, 71, 75);
Scoring sequence (LI first): 3-0, 3-3, 6-3, 6-6. HT. 6-9, 9-9, 12-9.
Exeter Chiefs: 15. Luke Arscott; 14. Andrew Higgins; 13. Phil Dollman; 12. Bryan Rennie (Naqelevuki, 63); 11. Mark Foster; 10. Gareth Steenson (Davis, 61); 9. Haydn Thomas; 1. Brett Sturgess; 2. Neil Clark; 3. Chris Budgen (Tui, 58); 4 Tom Hayes (capt); 5. James Hanks; 6. Tom Johnson; 7. James Scaysbrook (Kimlin, 70); 8. Richard Baxter (Slade, 70).
Replacement not used: Whitehead, Moon, Cowley.
London Irish: 15. Delon Armitage; 14. Topsy Ojo; 13. Seilala Mapusua; 12. Daniel Bowden; 11; Sailosi Tagicakibau; 10. Ryan Lamb; 9. Paul Hodgson; 1. Clarke Dermody (capt); 2. David Paice (Buckland, 53); 3. Alex Corbisiero (Rautenbach, 53); 4. Nick Kennedy; 5. Bob Casey (Garvey, 61); 6. Kieran Roche; 7. Chris Hala’ufia (Low, 76); 8. George Stowers.
Replacements not used: Murphy, Joseph, Malone, Allinson.