London Irish leapfrog Newcastle Falcons with a 20-15 win at the Madjeski Stadium
Chris Noakes two penalties gave London Irish a 6-0 lead at half-time
Tries from Alex Lewington and Topsy Ojo after the break put the Exiles clear
Nili Latu and Marcus Watson touched down to save Falcons a losing bonus point
Andy Goode scored five points as he made his Newcastle debut
London Irish boosted their Aviva Premiership survival chances as they edged to a crucial 20-15 victory over relegation rivals Newcastle Falcons to climb off the bottom of the table.
Two penalties from Chris Noakes gave London Irish a 6-0 lead at the break after a tense opening 40.
However, a whirlwind opening five minutes to the second half put the Exiles well clear with Alex Lewington and Topsy Ojo both touching down for the hosts.
Replacing Noakes at the break, who dislocated his shoulder late in the first half, Shane Geraghty assisted both tries with beautifully weighted kicks before adding both conversions to put the hosts 20-0 in front.
Tonga legend Nili Latu replied for the Falcons as they attempted to turn the game around with pantomime villain Andy Goode entering the action soon after.
The veteran fly-half narrowed the gap further with a penalty before converting Marcus Watson’s try to bring the Falcons back within five, 20-15.
London Irish though held on despite Falcons pressure in the final few moments for what will be a crucial win in the battle for survival.
Both teams had showed in the last two weeks what they are capable of, making today’s game crucial in the battle against relegation.
The Falcons started the better in a cagey opening, causing the Exiles a few problems in an intense midfield battle.
Noakes though opened the scoring for the hosts from the tee against the run of play with a successful penalty after seven minutes. The fly-half then doubled London Irish’s lead after 25 minutes, 6-0.
Newcastle then thought they’d got back in the game with the opening try soon after but Chris Harris knocked on when it looked easier to score, saving the blushes of London Irish’s Ojo, who had failed to gather.
The Falcons then continued to cause problems, keeping possession in meaningful areas of the pitch but they were unable to penetrate the hosts robust defence while the Exiles continued to look dangerous on the counter-attack, but there was no more scoring in the opening 40, meaning Irish led 6-0 heading into half-time.
London Irish began the second half without Chris Noakes, who dislocated his shoulder in the final play before halftime.
But replacement number 10 Geraghty took just 15 seconds to make an impact with Lewington claiming the kick-off after Harris failed to gather to touch down in the right corner. The fly-half with his second touch then added the extras to give the Exiles the perfect start to the second half, 13-0.
Ojo then touched down his first Premiership try in two years as things went from bad to worse for the visitors as the fullback won the collision in the air against Simon Hammersley for Geraghty’s kick before forcing the ball down. The replacement number 10 then added the conversion to edge London Irish well clear, 20-0.
Latu though claimed a vital score for the Falcons after 54 minutes, peeling off the back of a rolling maul to touch down as the visitors tried to battle back. Craig Willis though could not add the extras, 20-5.
David Paice was then sent to the bin for Irish before Goode narrowed the gap further with his first points for the Falcons, 20-8.
And the visitors took full advantage as Watson, brother of Anthony, gathered Hammersley’s fantastic grubber to finish brilliantly in the corner. Veteran Goode then added the extras confidently to put Newcastle right back in it with 13 minutes to go, 20-15.
Geraghty then missed a penalty for the hosts with eight minutes remaining but the hosts were able to hold on for victory.
MAN OF THE MATCH
London Irish: Alex Lewington
Alex Lewington’s second half try was crucial to London Irish edging clear and eventually claiming what will be without a doubt an important win in the battle for survival. Surely the Exiles wing is now on the edge of an international call.
London Irish: 15 Topsy Ojo, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Luke Narraway, 6 Jebb Sinclair, 5 Will Lloyd, 4 Matt Symons (c), 3 Ben Franks, 2 David Paice, 1 Tom Court
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis, 17 Tom Smallbone, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 Joe Trayfoot, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Fergus Mulchrone
Newcastle: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Craig Willis, 9 Michael Young, 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Nili Latu, 6 Will Welch (c), 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Mark Wilson, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Taione Vea, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Todd Clever, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Andy Goode, 23 Belisario Agulla
Date: Sunday, January 10
Venue: Madejski Stadium
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Greg Garner, Roy Maybank
TMO: Graham Hughes