Irish stage stunning fightback to draw with Bristol

London Irish staged a remarkable comeback to hold league leaders Bristol to a 34-34 draw in an absorbing clash at the Brentford Community Stadium.

Trailing 31-6 just before half-time after a disastrous opening 35 minutes, where they conceded four tries, the hosts battled back to grab a share of the points and continue their solid season.

The Bears looked destined for a comfortable win when they ran in four tries before half-time but should have been reduced to 14 men when centre Sam Bedlow lifted Theo Brophy-Clews above the horizontal in a tackle and dropped him on the back of his head in the third minute of the game.

However, Bedlow controversially escaped with a yellow card and Paddy Jackson booted the hosts in front with penalty.

Despite being a man down the Bears raced into a 17-3 lead, with Irish the masters of their own downfall with two wayward passes intercepted and turned into converted tries for Piers O’Connor and Siva Naulago.

Callum Sheedy then added a penalty to give his side a 17-3 advantage despite being a man down, before Chris Vui and Naulago crossed again to add to the hosts’ misery.

Paddy Jackson kicked 14 points including the all-important conversion to earn a draw (Image: London Irish RFC)

A Steve Mafi try just before the break, after Jackson kicked a second penalty, closed the gap at the break with Sheedy slotting over another penalty to stretch the visitors’ lead after Irish centre Ben Loader was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on early in the second period.

However, the Exiles refused to lie down and the introduction of Australia scrum-half Nick Phipps and former Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien from the bench proved key to the fightback as did the yellow card handed to Mitch Eadie for shoulder-charging Phipps off the ball.

Brophy-Clews touched down in the corner to give the home side some hope 15 minutes from time, with Jackson, who finished with 14 points overall, kicking the extras.

Phipps then added another five points with a smart finish, before Tom Parton finished in the right corner two minutes from time with Jackson holding his nerve to tie the match with testing conversion.

Irish almost stole what would have been a stunning victory when they broke down Bristol’s left flank in the final minute, but Parton was unable to find Phipps or Jackson, who were wide open, with his pass and the ball fell to the ground.