Marland Yarde’s hat-trick put London Irish within reach of an LV= Cup semi-final spot, as the 46-24 win over Worcester Warriors makes it four straight for the in-form Exiles – for the first time since 2010.
Overlooked by England selectors, Yarde’s devastating attacking performance highlighted an impressive all-round Irish effort, as Brian Smith’s team finally look to be a finding their feet.
Tongan powerhouse prop Halani Aulika crashed over twice himself before half-time – but it’s the damage he exacted on the Worcester front-row at set-piece that will give Richard Hill, facing Matt Mullan’s departure at the end of the year, more concern as the Warriors crashed out of the competition.
Worcester’s first-half performance only troubled the score with a Danny Gray penalty on three minutes, but it wasn’t without highlights.
Josh Matavesi looked electric early, breaking and showing distribution skills while Leicester Tigers product Richard De Capentier also showed the kind of skill set that will ease the loss of flanker Matt Kvesic to the England squad.
However the visiting side rarely looked like opening up the Exiles goal-line defence, with impressive defensive performances from Canadian flanker Jebb Sinclair and No.8 Alex Gray.
Tom Homer levelled the game from the tee, but Irish are a side defined by their open field threat, and playing with the confidence that three straight wins gives a side, passes stuck where they perhaps hadn’t earlier in the season.
Returning talisman Sailosi Tagicakibau was first to cut open the Worcester line, breaking tackles and sprinting free down the left touchline. The run set up a breakdown just inside the Worcester 22, where Aulika found himself with nothing but grass between himself and the tryline, charging over to give his side the lead.
The Tongan prop doubled his tally on 31 minutes, emerging from the bottom of a perfectly executed rolling maul, after a Yarde break put his side in range, and Homer had waved off a shot at the posts.
Yarde got his name on the score sheet with the final touch of the half – getting his fingertips to a Shane Geraghty kick before the cover defence. Homer missed the conversion, his first miss of the day, as the home side went in 22-3 ahead.
Homer added three more soon after the break, but Worcester responded well, controlling possession and hammering the Irish line before Danny Gray skipped over from short range, converting his own try to take the score to 25-10.
Irish looked unrattled and put faith in an impressive set-piece game – with Aulika and new boy Mike Mayhew comfortably filling the Alex Corbisiero and David Paice-shaped holes in the front row.
Winning a scrum penalty deep inside the Worcester 22, Homer put the ball in the corner and Irish executed another driving maul to shove 22-year-old Alex Gray over for his first try of the year.
Worcester did not lay down however – De Carpentier showing real pace on a 40m break that came a within a diving Yarde cover tackle from scoring, before minutes later the recalled David Lemi first powered through a tackle, then demonstrated amazing control to dot the ball down in the corner with his body still in mid-air. Andy Goode, on for Danny Gray, knocked over the touchline conversion.
Again Irish hit straight back, Yarde stepping through the Worcester midfield before going in under the posts, untouched, just a minute later.
Worcester replacement James Percival crossed for a consolation try with six minutes to go – after slick hands from Goode and replacement scrum-half Ollie Frost – before Yarde completed his hat-trick on the final whistle, again displaying his impressive kick-chase game, out-muscling the Worcester cover to dive on Homer’s chip.