LONDON IRISH earned a crucial bonus point in a remarkable game which saw 10 tries scored at the Madejski Stadium as league leaders Exeter Chiefs earned the victory.
The clinical visitors showed their class with three quickfire tries at the end of the first half to earn a bonus point before half time, but Irish hit back with two tries in the second half including a stunning solo effort from Ollie Hassell-Collins.
An entertaining second half saw Irish determinedly come back into the match after Exeter were reduced to 13 players as they earned a bonus point try despite losing the match.
The table toppers Exeter made a fast start to the match as they went through the phases and Sam Hill got under the posts to score the first try of the match. Gareth Steenson added the extras with his first successful conversion of the match to put them 7-0 in front.
Irish pushed hard to get themselves on the score-sheet as Stephen Myler kicked smartly into the corner. A wave of Irish pressure looked to have got themselves their first try of the match as Steve Mafi tried to get over the line, but after a review from the TMO the try was not given with the ball held up on the line.
But just two minutes later, Irish were successful as they drew out the Chiefs forwards and worked the ball out wide to new signing Belgium Tuatagloa who got over the line in the corner. Myler added the conversion to level the score at 7-7.
The Exiles were forced into a change in the 24th minute as Adam Coleman was forced off with an injury and replaced by Barney Maddison.
The visitors then enjoyed a clinical spell at the end of the half as they showed their superiority by scoring three tries in just over six minutes.
Dave Dennis went over from close range before Cowan-Dickie touched down after a rolling maul and Ollie Devoto broke quickly on the outside to give Chiefs a bonus point try before the half-time break.
With a healthy lead going into the second half, Chiefs didn’t take their foot off the gas as they added a fifth try of the game just a minute into the half. A brilliantly worked try saw Sam Hill go over for his second of the match as he exploited a gap in the defence. A successful conversion put Exeter 35-7 in front.
The points continued to tumble at the Madejski Stadium, with Irish reducing the deficit as Albert Tuisue finished off a well worked try, before Myler added the extras to make it 14-35.
The Exiles showed great resilience as another try put pressure on the visitors as Ollie Hassell-Collins scored a stunning solo try as he breezed past four players before touching the ball down to put Irish back in the game at 21-35.
The remarkably high scoring contest continued to produce tries as Chiefs hit back after two consecutive tries from the hosts with their sixth of the afternoon. Hill turned creator to set up Stu Townsend who placed the ball underneath the posts.
Irish were given a lifeline with 20 minutes left on the clock as Exeter’s Olly Woodburn was sin binned for a deliberate knock on to prevent an Irish attack.
The incredible second half continued as Exeter were reduced to 13 men to make their task even more tricky as Devoto was shown a yellow card.
Irish made full use of their two-man advantage to get over for a bonus point try with Mafi getting over the whitewash to score a tenth try of the game. Myler scored his fourth conversion to maintain his perfect record and put the hosts back into the game at 28-42.
Steenson added three vital points for the away side with an impressive score to lead 45-28 despite having two less players temporarily.
Having bee restored to a full 15 players, the Gallagher Premiership’s leading side held out to complete a hard fought victory in a thoroughly entertaining spectacle at the Madejski.
Irish have now lost five of their eight Gallagher Premiership fixtures and face another difficult test next with an away trip to second placed Northampton Saints on Friday, January 24.
London Irish: Dell, Fainga’a, Hoskins, Van der Merwe (c), Coleman, Mafi, Cowan, Tuisue, Meehan, Myler, Stephenson, Rona, Hassell-Collins, Tuatagloa, Veitokani.
Replacements: Porecki, Elrington, Chawatama, Maddison, Rogerson, Phipps, Atkins, Campbell.
Exeter Chiefs: Hogg, Nowell, Devoto, Hill, Woodburn, Steenson, White, Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Pieretto, Kirsten, Dennis, Ewers, Armand, Simmonds
Replacements: Taione, Moon, Street, Lonsdale, Kvesic, Townsend, Simmonds, Dollman