London Irish claimed only their third home Aviva Premiership Rugby victory of the season as they ensured it was a happy St Patrick’s Party after defeating a plucky Newcastle Falcons at the Madejski Stadium.
Three first-half tries from Halani Aulika, Scott Steele and Andrew Fenby sealed the win, with former England international Shane Geraghty instrumental behind the scrum.
Newcastle’s second-half performance made for a nervy finale, with Chris Harris and Adam Powell both going over for the Falcons but London Irish held firm under intense pressure.
Sustained early pressure from London Irish had Newcastle Falcons on the back foot and the Exiles were rewarded in the second minute when Aulika burst through the visitors defence from a ruck to touch down, with Geraghty adding the extras.
A bumper St Patrick’s Party crowd was delighted with the start, but Falcons composed themselves, fanning the ball out towards Noah Cato who was inches away from collecting Alex Tait’s inviting pass on the 22.
Poor handling from Eamonn Sheridan cost Irish as they then looked to break but referee Greg Garner called the advantage and awarded a scrum to the home side.
Falcons were penalised for pulling the scrum down with Geraghty opting for touch with the penalty.
Falcons beat Irish 31-13 at Madejski Stadium in LV=Cup last month, but they were second best early on here.
A burst from Sheridan punched a hole in Falcons defence, and the visitors conceded another penalty close to their try-line.
Geraghty again elected to kick, and moments later, scrum-half Steele wheeled away from a ruck and went over for his first Irish try, with Geraghty making no mistake again.
Tom Catterick got Falcons off the mark after a quarter of an hour with a penalty in front of the posts as Dean Richards’ side sought their first Aviva Premiership Rugby win in five.
Irish were reduced to 14 after 20 minutes when Geraghty was sin-binned for deliberate offside.
A deep probing kick from Catterick pushed Irish back into their 22, and although Irish cleared from the line-out, Falcons won another penalty and pinned the Exiles down once more with Catterick’s kick for touch.
A lovely jinking run from Catterick was stopped ten yards from Irish’s line by Fenby’s sturdy tackle.
Moments after Geraghty returned, David Paice was yellow-carded for foul play and Catterick duly doubled Falcons’ tally from the penalty.
But on the stroke of half-time, Fenby dove over in the corner to grab a third try for Irish.
Newcastle came out briskly after the break, testing the Exiles defence as they poured forward.
And they thought they had scored their first try when Sinoti Sinoti touched down in the corner, but after consulting the Television Match Official, referee Greg Garner awarded a scrum for a forward pass.
Catterick’s surging run had Irish on the defensive once more, but loose handling gave possession back to the Exiles and Geraghty’s trusty boot found the safety of touch.
But Catterick nailed his third penalty of the afternoon on 55 minutes to breathe hope into Falcons challenge and make the score 19-9.
Geraghty was badly awry with a penalty of his own shortly afterwards as both sides struggled to take a commanding grip of the second period, although Falcons were seeing more of the ball.
Sinoti wriggled through two Irish tackles as Falcons squeezed for the try line and they finally broke through when substitute Harris extended his lengthy frame and touched down at full stretch to eat into Irish’s lead.
The Madejski announcer, sensing Irish were in danger of letting their lead slip, urged the home crowd to get behind their team.
A penalty was awarded to the Exiles for pulling Falcons pulling down the scrum and Chris Noakes planted the kick deep in Newcastle territory.
Josh Furno and Jebb Sinclair were both sin-binned on 75 minutes and Noakes was presented with a straightforward penalty to snaffle up another three points.
But Powell had Irish hearts in mouths when he went over for a late try which Catterick converted to peg Irish back to 22-21
It was too close but not enough for Falcons as Irish held on for a win that puts them eight points ahead of Newcastle in the table ahead of their European Challenge Cup quarter-final with Edinburgh.
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