LONDON IRISH have returned to the Premiership at the first time of asking after a high-scoring second leg win over Yorkshire Carnegie at Madejski Stadium.
The aggregate deficit was reduced to just six points during the first half, but Irish stormed clear after the restart to clinch their promotion back to the top table of English rugby.
Yorkshire mounted a late comeback, but Exiles never looked like surrendering their advantage, eventually winning by 18 points across the two legs.
Alex Lewington scored the try of the contest with a superb long distance run, while Brendan McKibbin, Fergus Mulchrone and Ciaran Hearn also all crossed the whitewash for the hosts.
While there were some nervy moments across the two legs of this play-off final, London Irish’s domination throughout the season more than justifies this success for Nick Kennedy and his charges.
Irish could not have wished to get off to a better start, taking the lead with little over a minute on the clock as Hearn, the only change from last week’s first leg, broke through to score, which was greeted with a huge roar from the crowd of almost 8,000.
But Yorkshire quickly hit back, going ahead on the night when Chris Elder intercepted a stray Exiles pass and burst clear before offloading to Seb Stegmann to score.
Joe Ford added the extras and kicked over a penalty soon after to reduce the aggregate deficit to just six points.
Any nerves were calmed again when a lively start produced a third try inside 15 minutes as scrum-half McKibbin collected from Lewington’s offload to dab down.
But Carnegie continued to battle back, again cutting the gap to six and moving ahead on the night when hooker Mike Mayhew dashed through the middle to pick up his second try in as many matches.
However, Irish enjoyed a more comfortable half-time break as they turned the tables to lead again.
A Tommy Bell penalty reduced the arrears before Mulchrone, after lengthy consultation with the television match official (TMO), scored the hosts’ third try of the day.
The lead at the interval was 22-20 following another Ford kick and 51-38 on aggregate to the Exiles.
And within seven minutes of the restart, the tie was as good as won after a magical try from Lewington.
The winger collected possession on the halfway line and danced past five challenges before flying across the line to the delight of the jubilant crowd.
That was followed almost immediately by another try from McKibbin from close range with Bell’s conversions taking the aggregate lead to an unassailable 27 points.
Lewington added his second try of the evening, albeit far from as spectacular as his first, but Yorkshire enjoyed some pressure after Mike Coman was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle.
And they earned another try as replacement Ben West went over, but the hosts kept control of the scoreboard with a string of Bell penalties to move ever closer to the win.
Frustrations boiled over with little under 10 minutes to play when a massive scuffle involving nearly all players and members from both benches led to Ben Franks and Charlie Beech being given their marching orders.
And Carnegie reduced the deficit thanks to a penalty try and scores from Sione Faletau and Stegmann.
But it proved too little, too late as Exiles clinched the win.
LONDON IRISH: Bell, Lewington, Hearn, Mulchrone, Ojo, Marshall, McKibbin, Hobbs-Awoyemi, Paice (c), Franks, De Chaves, Sinclair, Coman, Cowan, Treviranus.
Reps: Porecki, Court, Hoskins, Robson, Narraway, Steele, Tonks.
Tries: Hearn (2), McKibbin x2 (17,47), Mulchrone (37), Lewington x2 (43,52)
Cons: Bell x5
Pens: Bell x5 (26,57,61,64,70)
Yellow cards: Coman, Court
Red card: Franks (72)
YORKSHIRE: Elder, Holmes, Lucock, Casson, Stegmann, Ford, Davies, Beech, Mayhew, Cusack, Smith, Myerscough, Stedman, Mayhew, Burrows (c).
Reps: Graham, Boyce, Faletau, West, Beck, Green, Wright.
Tries: Stegmann x2 (10,78), Mayhew (21), West (54), Penalty (68), Faletau (74)
Cons: Ford x6
Pens: Ford x2 (14,40)
Yellow card: Boyce
Red card: Beech (72)
Referee: Matt Carley