London’s bright Irish youngsters dazzled in front of onlooker Steve Borthwick to seal a well-deserved win and condemn top-seeded Saracens to a first Premiership loss of the season. Chandler Cunningham-South sealed victory with a late try, thrown by standout performer of the night to Tom Pearson, while it was Ollie Hassell-Collins who got the ball rolling for the Exiles. Borthwick will therefore leave with food for thought.
The Saracens, on the other hand, were against the current. They were frustrated with the London Irish defense and lashed out too often at referee Matthew Carley. Both teams received red cards for high tackles in the first half – Adam Coleman for the Irishman, Ben Earl for Saracens – but for most of the 10 minutes of the second, the Exiles were down to 12 men after two more yellows. Saracens rarely seemed to score during this period – too frantic in the face of the resilience of the Irish – and so lost their nine-game winning streak in the competition.
Don’t take anything away from Irish, though. Pearson was immense, especially in this era when the Saracens had a two-man advantage. He was on the sidelines of Eddie Jones’ squad but could well be one of the beneficiaries under the new regime. Borthwick, meanwhile, needs no introduction to Hassell-Collins, having sought to sign him for Leicester, but the Irish winger from London has reportedly caught the eye of the England head coach throughout. , from the second minute when he scored the first try, exploding through Owen Farrell to note.
Will Joseph also impressed in the opening rallies, with the Irish causing trouble with the ball in hand and the undisciplined and moody Saracens. Joseph was sent off with a foot injury, however, and after Farrell had Saracens on the board with a penalty, Coleman quickly called him. It was a rank, high, powerful and straight tackle to the face of Tom Woolstencroft. The Aussie lock was remorseful but he was sent off twice last season – both times against Saracens – and something is going to have to change for the London Irish captain.
His teammates, however, kept a cool head, not to mention their form and willingness to offload when in possession of the ball. Saracens, meanwhile, couldn’t get to Carley’s right side – so much so that he had to give Farrell a stern talk to argue back, and Paddy Jackson added three more penalties. The third came after Earl was sent off – a tackle not as bad as Coleman’s on the face of it, but worthy of a red as there was no arm wrap.
Saracens recorded what at the time looked like a decisive try just before the interval – Kapeli Pifeleti, for Woolstencroft who left on a stretcher after a long stoppage – from close range. His celebrations were a bit over the top, prompting Carley to award an Irish penalty halfway through, a Jackson duly knocked down for a 19-10 lead at the break.
Saracens started the second half with determination and Sean Maitland scored his second try after Lucio Cinti failed to handle Elliot Daly’s grubber but another Jackson penalty kept the visitors at bay.
Rory Jennings and Rob Simmons were then shown yellow cards for a high tackle and a maul infringement respectively, but the Irish held up well in that period before a penalty from Farrell with seven minutes left led to a tense end. The final say belonged to the hosts, however, with a try by England Under-20 rower Cunningham-South, after a stunning run and a fine offload from Pearson, sealing a momentous win for the Exiles.