Saints suffer semi-final frustration as they are beaten at London Irish

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Saints suffered more frustration at the Gtech Community Stadium as London Irish booked their place in the Premiership Rugby Cup final.

The black, green and gold, who lost to a last-gasp penalty try at Irish in the pool stages back in September, ended up on the end of another defeat in Brentford, losing 30-18 on Friday night.

It was a largely scrappy game containing the odd moment of class, with James Grayson impressing with try assists for Ollie Sleightholme and Tom Litchfield.

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But Irish had the upper hand up front, winning several scrum penalties and putting the pressure on at lineout time at both ends of the field.

Callum Braley tried to get hold of the ball for Saints against London IrishCallum Braley tried to get hold of the ball for Saints against London Irish
Callum Braley tried to get hold of the ball for Saints against London Irish

Eventually the hosts opened up some breathing space as Matt Cornish sent Eddie Poolman in to make sure of the win, meaning Irish will face either Exeter or Sale in the final next month.

For Saints, who return to league action at home to Sale next Saturday, it was a disappointing way to end a cup campaign that had provided plenty of positives.

The black, green and gold had initially been dominant against Irish, and after winning a couple of penalties in the Irish half, the away side pounced.

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Grayson sent over a crossfield kick and Sleightholme did superbly to beat Michael Dykes to the ball in the air, gathering and scoring.

Grayson sent the conversion wide and Saints soon passed their first defensive test, earning a penalty as Irish failed to get into the 22.

Irish did well to repel a Saints lineout deep in home territory soon after and after another set piece chance was squandered, the hosts pounced.

Litchfield saw his attempted clearance charged down and Irish worked the ball to Lucio Cinti for the score.

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Rory Jennings converted from the touchline, and Irish led for the first time in the game.

The game was a largely scrappy affair, and Saints' lack of ball security was stopping them from getting any sort of momentum.

Tom Collins had to do some sharp defensive work to race back and stop James Stokes from latching on to a Ben Loader grubber kick as Irish threatened.

Irish won a penalty at a Saints scrum six minutes before half-time, allowing Jennings to extend his side's lead to five points.

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But Saints hit back in fine fashion as Grayson opened the door with a lovely inside pass, allowing the onrushing Litchfield to race in for the score.

Grayson converted but there was still time for Irish to go in ahead at the break as Jennings slotted a penalty with the final kick of the half.

Sleightholme had to go off for a HIA just before the interval, and he did not return for the second half, dealing Saints a big blow.

Things got worse six minutes into the second half as Irish kicked a penalty to the corner before forcing their way over from the lineout drive, with Josh Basham the scorer.

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Jennings again converted well to give his side an eight-point lead but Saints cut the gap with a Grayson penalty two minutes later.

Saints were under real pressure at scrum time, and they called for their replacement props 13 minutes into the second half.

The away side soon had a couple of big lineout chances five metres from the Irish line, but the hosts did well to smother the situation and escape without any damage.

Grayson almost grabbed an acrobatic try soon after, but he just ran out of space to ground the ball.

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The fly-half did grab some points with another penalty though, after Aaron Hinkley, who was producing another all-action performance, caused more disruption for Irish.

Jennings cancelled out that effort to restore Irish's five-point lead after Joel Matavesi was penalised.

And Irish made sure of the victory after a superb show and go from replacement hooker Cornish opened the door for Poolman to score.

Jennings put the icing on the cake with the conversion and the Irish fans celebrated as the final whistle was blown.

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London Irish: Loader; Cinti, Williams (Poolman 61), Jennings, Dykes (Stokes 16); Atkins, Englefield (O'Sullivan 65); Gigena (Haffar 72), Ruiz (Cornish 65), Chawatama (Parker 61); Caulfield, Munga; Cooke (c), Basham, Fa’aso’o (Donnell 65).

Saints: Collins; O Sleightholme (Hendy 39), Hutchinson, Litchfield (J Matavesi 65), Skosan; J Grayson, Braley (c) (James 53); E Waller (Hobbs-Awoyemi 53), Cruse (Burns 71), Petch (Painter 53); Nansen (Lockett 69), Coles; Wilkins (Sylvester 71), Hinkley, Graham.

Referee: Sara Cox