Please note that the date for this match is now Saturday 24th October (KO 3.15pm) as opposed to that originally advertised. This date change is as a result of TV scheduling and is beyond the control of London Irish. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.
London Irish dominated possession and territory in a hard fought encounter on a sunny, albeit chilly, early autumn afternoon at Madejski Stadium.
The Exiles will be disappointed that their possession didn’t result in more points on the scoreboard, however they faced a Leeds defence that was determined to resist all that the Exiles could throw at them.
<1>Irish came tantalisingly close to crossing the opposition line on a number of occasions but had to be content with three tries by Kieron Dawson, Paul Sackey and Mark Mapletoft. The London Irish fly-half converted two of the tries and added four penalties.
All of Leeds points came from fly-half, Duncan Hodge who scored and converted his side’s only try and added three penalties.
The home side had started in lively fashion anxious to build on the first home victory of the season recorded against Gloucester two weeks earlier. The early pressure produced a quick result when Leeds were penalised for offside after only three minutes. Mark Mapletoft struck the ball cleanly and sent it 40 meters through the posts for three points.
Irish were quickly back under the Tykes’ posts when a beautifully flighted kick by Mapletoft was kicked on by Paul Sackey, who was beaten to the touch down by the posts. At this time Leeds were defending well but struggling to put any shape on their attack.
Irish on the other hand were moving the ball well through phases but struggled to find the final break through a determined defence. In the 11th minute the Tykes’ defence was finally cracked by Kieran Dawson who burst through from the 22 to touch down just right of the posts. Mapletoft converted easily.
Mapletoft added another three points from a penalty five minutes later for a score of 13-0. Ryan Strudwick and his forwards had the Tykes in a stranglehold at this point. Try as they might the visitors found the Irish back row in particular in uncompromising mood. Kieron Dawson snuffed out move after move with some ferocious tackles and Phil Murphy in his first start of the season gave ample signs of the form that made him “Players’ Player of the Season” in France two years ago. Murphy was unlucky to be stopped just a few metres from the Leeds line after a mighty burst had carried him over twenty metres.
It was Mapletoft who was to move the scoreboard forward once again in the 28th minute when the intense Irish pressure resulted in another penalty for offside.
The half had moved into injury time before Leeds created enough sustained pressure to threaten the home team. Irish were forced to concede two penalties in quick succession that Duncan Hodge coolly slotted over to give his team some hope just as the referee blew his whistle for half-time and a score of 16-6.
The start of the second period mirrored much of the first half as Irish went applied the pressure once again, however a combination of well organised defending and basic errors prevented a further score. In fact it was Leeds who caught the Exiles with a well orchestrated counterattack from deep in their half. Former Bristol winger David Rees had the key role as he broke down the right wing from deep, stumbled twice yet was able to use his outstanding pace to made the vital break for his final pass to Hodge to race through and score under the posts. Hodge had the easiest of conversions to narrow the score to 16-13.
<2>It only took three minutes for the Exiles to stretch their lead courtesy of Mapletoft’s boot and another successful penalty kick. As the game entered its final quarter Irish continued to press the Leeds’ line but were thwarted time and again either by poor handling or dour defence.
The search for Irish’s elusive second try finally ended in the 72nd minute when Darren Edwards and Phil Murphy combined to set up a try for Paul Sackey. Mapletoft converted to leave the score at 26-13. Two minutes later the visitors clawed back three points through Hodge’s third successful penalty.
In the 75th minute Justin Bishop, who had a good afternoon in defence and attack for Irish, was unlucky when a ball bounced unkindly from a clever chip ahead when he had the line at his mercy.
It was all Irish as the game entered its closing stages. Leeds resisted wave after wave of Exiles’ pressure before finally succumbing to a Mapletoft try in the fourth minute of injury time. The fly-half missed the conversion to leave the final score at 31-16.
Head coach, Gary Gold, was full of praise for his team’s outstanding defence but disappointed that the Exiles’ dominance didn’t result in further scores. “We left it late and should have finished them off earlier. Having said that Leeds were very competitive throughout. We are gaining in confidence but have plenty of work to do.”
Scorers: London Irish: Tries: Dawson 11min, Sackey 72, Mapletoft 80+4. Conversion: Mapletoft 2. Penalty goals: Mapletoft 3 (3, 16, 28, 57). Leeds Tykes: Tries: Hodge 54. Conversions: Hodge. Penalty goals: Hodge 3 (40+2, 40+4, 74)
Scoring sequence (London Irish first): 3-0, 10-0, 13-0, 16-0, 16-3, 16-6 (half-time) 16-13, 19-13, 26-13, 26-16, 31-16
Referee: S Leyshon (RFU)