THE play-offs have not yet become an established part of the season's end, but they are coming round with an increasing regularity for London Irish, who would almost certainly have lost this frenzied first leg at Clifton Lane had Rotherham's Dean Lax not failed to ground the ball behind the Irish posts.
Lax had been sent clear by the full-back, Mike Umaga, and was running in goal towards the posts to make the conversion easier, when he collided with Justin Bishop and spilled the ball.
Dick Best, the London Irish caretaker director of rugby, said: "Poor Lax chucked the game away. But nobody has opened us up like this and Rotherham can consider themselves a touch unfortunate."
Rotherham will put their tentative opening down to the fact they have not played for over three weeks. They allowed Irish to settle, and offered Niall Woods the opportunity to calm nerves with an easy penalty.
In the first quarter, Rotherham lost too much possession in the tackle, but their forwards gradually found some passion and controlled fury to keep Irish on the back foot, while Woods missed two kicks.
With a little more control, Rotherham might have scored two or three tries in this period, but Umaga and Jon Shepherd dropped the ball when a clear path to the line lay ahead, and John Dudley and Ben Wade were inches away as Irish clung on. The visitors were powerless to halt Lax from completing a sweeping move initiated by Binns, who converted the score.
Woods' penalty on the stroke of half-time, and a converted try by Bishop nine minutes after the restart, would have counted for little had Lax not made his critical error as Rotherham came storming back. Woods rubbed it in by kicking his third penalty.
Rotherham: Try Lax. Conversion Binns. Penalties Binns 2. London Irish: Try Bishop. Conversion Woods. Penalties Woods 3.
Rotherham: M Umaga: D Lax, J Shepherd, G Austin, M Dawson; G Easterby, S Binns; S Bunting, R Wareham (C Barratt, 82), G Webster, J Dudley (D Cook, 75), B Wade, N Spence (C West, 64), M Schmid (capt).
London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, B Venter, M McCall, N Woods; D Humphreys, N Hogan; J Fitzpatrick, R Kellam, G Halpin, N Harvey, M O'Kelly, K Spicer, K Dawson, I Fea'unati.
Referee: S Lander (Irby, Wirral).Reuse content