London Irish ground out their first GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP away victory in 10 months to leave bottom club Leeds staring relegation in the face after a spirited fightback which ultimately counted for little.
The Exiles had not won on the road in the Premiership since March 10 last season but two tries in four minutes midway through the first half laid the platform for their bonus-point success.
Outside centre Delon Armitage bundled his way over in the left corner on 17 minutes before Argentinian wing Tomas De Vedia finished off a scintillating move which cut Leeds apart soon after.
Those scores put Irish in total control and although Leeds battled gamely throughout, and came back into contention with a 45th-minute try from full-back Leigh Hinton, Irish claimed a third try through Samoan winger Sailosi Tagicakibau.
Yet Leeds were still not done and wing Tom Biggs crashed over with 10 minutes remaining for a converted try which tied the scores at 21-21.
However, Irish replacement David Paice quickly claimed his side’s fourth try to edge the visitors back in front and finally lay their travel sickness to rest.
Leeds, who have now lost 10 of their 11 Premiership outings, are five points adrift of Worcester after claiming a losing bonus point but safety remains a long way off.
That the visitors were not required to move out of third gear to register their two first-half tries said everything about Leeds’ deficiencies.
Heineken Cup quarter-finalists for the first time this season, Irish have struggled for form in the Premiership, but were ahead at Headingley after three minutes with a penalty from full-back Peter Hewat.
Yet Leeds continued to probe and a delightful array of inter-passing saw the ball pass through five pairs of hands and culminated in Biggs embarking on another ambitious foray down the left flank.
Again, Irish’s defence held firm and although Alberto Di Bernardo’s penalty got Leeds off the mark in the 11th minute, Irish began to find their rhythm and Armitage was on hand to follow up Hewat’s kick to ground the ball in the left corner.
Hewat missed the conversion from close to the touchline but four minutes later the Exiles extended their advantage when some delightful handling from Hewat and Nick Kennedy created a hole for De Vedia to scamper through.
Hewat again failed to convert and another Di Bernardo penalty cut Irish’s lead to seven points, Hewat’s second penalty of the game put the visitors 16-6 ahead at the break.
Leeds attacked with pace and purpose after the restart and were rewarded when full-back Hinton scrambled over the whitewash after supporting John Holtby on the overlap down the left flank.
Di Bernardo could not add the extras from a difficult angle and Irish extended their advantage when a period of sustained pressure saw Tagicakibau burrow his way over from close range.
Hewat could not convert and Irish replacement Warren Fury was sinbinned shortly before the hour mark for persistent infringement, while another Di Bernardo penalty kept Leeds in contention.
Jonny Hepworth then put Biggs over in the left corner and the wing celebrated his 37th try for Leeds to draw level with the club’s all-time record try-scorer Dan Scarbrough.
Di Bernardo converted to tie the scores at 21-21 but Paice went over at the other end for an unconverted try which left Leeds heartbroken and possibly doomed.