THIS final game, which brought an 84-66 aggregate defeat, was a microcosm of their entire season – at some points Yorkshire Carnegie looked like a side capable of winning promotion to the Premiership yet, when it mattered most, they were so far off the pace.
As has been the case so often this campaign, moments of indecision, poor errors and some wretched defence plagued their game last night; it was naive to think all those wrongs would come right against a side of London Irish’s calibre.
Already trailing by 11 points from last week’s first leg, Bryan Redpath’s side knew they would have to make history by coming from behind and winning this Championship final.
Granted, when they led 10-5 early in the first period, Irish were clearly rattled, as they were later when Carnegie added a second try via former Exiles hooker Mike Mayhew.
However, they were 22-20 down by the break – admittedly after a debatable Fergus Mulchrone try – and their hosts’ class eventually told with the prolific winger Alex Lewington coming to the fore in the second period.
So, there was no glorious ending for Redpath, the former Scotland captain who now quits after an illustrious career for life in the financial sector, nor their inspirational captain Ryan Burrows who, after six years at Headingley, gets his move to the Premiership with Newcastle Falcons.
Tempers frayed towards the end as Carnegie prop Charlie Beech and Irish’s Ben Franks, the former All Blacks front-row, were both sent off after unsavoury fighting broke out near the touchlines.
However, the real damage had been done long before. Carnegie, for their part, could perhaps point to referee JP Doyle failing to brandish a card to Aseli Tikoirotuma for a swinging arm on Jonah Holmes in the first leg when they led the tie.
He was subsequently banned for four weeks. Yet Doyle, having failed to review with the television match official, was bizarrely handed the Premiership final this week.
However, Redpath was magnanimous in defeat and conceded it was his own side’s indiscretions that ultimately cost them. He was right.
They got off to the worst possible start when they fumbled trying to take the kick-off and, with alarming ease, Ciaran Hearn – in for Tikoirotuma – scored from the resulting scrum, easing past Tom Casson.
Tommy Bell slotted the conversion and with an 18-point aggregate deficit it would have been easy for Carnegie to quickly capitulate.
However, they responded almost immediately when Chris Elder picked up a wayward Irish pass near halfway to advance and feed Seb Stegmann, the winger who did well to finish.
Joe Ford, who kicked immaculately, converted and when James Marshall spilled the fly-half’s downfield kick soon after, Carnegie applied enough pressure to force a penalty from the scrum for Ford to suddenly put his side 10-5 ahead.
However, maddeningly – a word used far too frequently with Redpath’s side this term – they conceded another try immediately.
Alex Davies’ box-kick sailed straight into touch and, from the line-out, an intricate move saw scrum-half Brendan McKibbin sneak over from an inside pass but again far too easily.
Nevertheless, Alex Lewington was bundled into touch from the restart and Mike Mayhew – who also scored last week – suddenly emerged sprinting clear through a ruck from 22m out to claim Carnegie’s second try, Ford improving for a 17-12 lead.
It was no surprise Bell accepted three to ease home nerves but then Carnegie scrambled valiantly – Richard Mayhew and Beech in particular – before they were finally undone just before the break by Mulchrone.
Still, Ford’s penalty saw them trail just 22-2o at the break but they needed a positive start to the second period and it did not materialise.
There was some woeful defence as Lewington slalomed his way past five would-be defenders to score and when McKibbin dummied over soon after the slim chance was gone.
Lewington added his second as he capitalised on another error so it meant even when Irish flanker Mike Coman was yellow-carded for taking out Jonah Holmes in the air and Ben West crossed for the visitors, it mattered little.
Two more Bell penalties kept Irish in charge and he added another when Lewis Boyce – who now heads to Harlequins – was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on James Marshall which, again, was debatable.
Redpath’s side managed a penalty try which saw Irish’s British Lion Tom Court become the latest player yellow carded but Bell tagged on another penalty before the unsavoury blow-up between Beech and Franks.
It became 13 v 13 at that point and Sione Faletau scored another try for Carnegie but Irish fans had already long started celebrating, more so when Stegmann added his second at the death.
Irish go up but the real test, of course, is can they stay there?
London Irish: Bell; Lewington, Hearn, Mulchrone, Ojo (Tonks 68); Marshall, McKibbin; Hobbs-Awoyemi (Court , Paice (Porecki 65), Franks, De Chaves, Sinclair (Robson 65), Coman, Cowan, Treviranus (Narraway 47)
Yorkshire Carnegie: Elder (Beech 65); Holmes, Lucock, Casson (Wright 54), Stegmann; Ford, Davies; Beech (Boyce 50), M Mayhew, Cusack (Faletau 40), Myerscough, Smith (West 51) Stedman (Beck 46), R Mayhew, Burrows.
Referee: Matt Carley (RFU).