Two tries in injury time maintained London Irish's hold on the Powergen Cup at Kingston Park yesterday just as it seemed Newcastle would prise it from their grasp. After dominating the second half, the Exiles belatedly turned possession into points with first one replacement, Neal Hatley, and then another, Simon Halford, going over in the closing minutes to leave Mark Mapletoft, who had also come off the bench, with a match-winning conversion.
"I feel sorry for Newcastle," Conor O'Shea, the London Irish rugby director, said. "It's a horrible way to lose but it's a great result for us. Newcastle will go out with all guns blazing [against us] next week in the league game and feel they have something to put right. Jonny Wilkinson will be back and it'll be another tough one, but we had so much possession yesterday we should have been comfortable winners."
He added: "At 16-5 down, another score by Newcastle would have made it a comfortable win for them and we're happy to get away with the win."
It had all started so well for the Falcons with their new signing, Mark Mayerholfer, making an immediate impact with a crunching tackle after London Irish had produced a fast start to turn over the ball in front of the posts. He then produced a rifling left foot kick to get Newcastle into the opposition half for the first time.
The first scoring chance fell to the Exiles' Barry Everitt with a drop-goal attempt which flew wide in the eighth minute. But Mayerholfer's influence was evident again with two inch-perfect passes as Newcastle swept into the attack and drew a 14th-minute penalty for offside. Liam Botham kicked it and added another five minutes later.
Newcastle brought on Craig Newby in the 32nd minute for the injured Stuart Grimes and, with his first touch of the ball, he slipped an inside pass for Tom May to score under the posts. Botham's conversion gave the home side a 13-0 lead. Right on half-time, a powerful drive by London Irish ended with Mike Worsley being surged over for a try to cut the deficit to 13-5.
Newcastle found themselves under the cosh at the start of the second half, but Everitt missed another kick at goal, his fourth, in the 54th minute. Five minutes later, the Falcons drove upfield and forced a penalty, which Botham kicked.
As the clock ticked into injury time, Newcastle, who had struggled in the line-out, held on in midfield instead of kicking. From the line-out in the corner, the prop Hatley was driven over for a try to pull the score back to 16-10. Then Halford was driven over for a try and Mapletoft, who had replaced Everitt, kicked the conversion to seal the Exiles' dramatic victory.
Newcastle: Try May. Conversion Botham. Penalties Botham 3. London Irish: Tries Worsley, Hatley, Halford. Conversion Mapletoft.
Newcastle: Noon; Botham, May, Mayerhofler, Shaw; Godman, Charlton; Peel, Makin, Hurter, Hamilton, Grimes, Taione, Dowson, Vyvyan. Replacements: Grindal, M Wilkinson, Christian, Newby, Ward, Isaacson, Otuvaka.
London Irish: Horak; Bishop, Burrows, Venter, Sackey; Everitt, Edwards; Worsley, Drotske, Hardwick, Strudwick, Kennedy, Gustard, Danaher, Sheasby. Replacements: Martens, Mapletoft, Dawson, Kirke, Delaney, Hatley, Halford.
Referee: S Leyshon (RFU).
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