London Irish sealed their return to the Aviva Premiership and a place in next season’s European Rugby Challenge Cup by seeing off a plucky Yorkshire Carnegie side.
The Exiles, who took an 11-point lead into Wednesday’s Championship second leg, triumphed 55-48 on the night and 84-66 on aggregate at the Madjeski Stadium.
Alex Lewington and Brendan McKibbin both scored braces to add to first-half tries from coupled Ciaran Hearn and Fergus Mulchrone to put Irish in control. Yorkshire fought back with a double from Seb Stegmann, to add to a second-half penalty try and scores from Ben West and Sione Faletau.
Irish's All Black prop Ben Franks and Carnegie's Charlie Beech were sent off for punching late on, but the 2015 quarter-finalists returned to the Challenge Cup at the first time of asking. And director of rugby Nick Kennedy believes the club is back where they belong.
He said: “It’s the players’ hard work that’s testament to this achievement. We’ve asked them to do an awful lot this season and they’ve been incredible. I have so much respect for them. We made it hard for ourselves, but credit to Yorkshire. They came out swinging and have played some incredible rugby all year.
“We’re just delighted to be back in the Premiership where I believe this club belongs. We’ve rotated the squad all year and all the players fully deserve to be up there celebrating. The Play-off Final was a big occasion and the pressure is always going to take its toll on certain aspects, but we ultimately got the result that we wanted.
“The crowd were amazing and they really played their part over the two legs with their magnificent support, which has been evident throughout the season and I’m very pleased for them.”