LONDON Irish were forced to battle hard before securing a seventh straight Greene King IPA Championship victory with a hard-fought 26-17 victory at Doncaster Knights on Saturday.

Exiles almost opened the scoring in just the fourth minute when Conor Gilsenan freed young wing Ben Loader, only for a slight knock-on to rule out his chance of putting the visitors in front.

However, it was not long after Declan Kidney’s men did take the lead, their powerful pack again using the rolling maul to brutal effect, Scottish international flanker Blair Cowan (pictured) the beneficiary as he dotted down on eight minutes.

Ben Meehan added the extras, but the home side trimmed the deficit shortly after when Kurt Morath landed a penalty.

Yet Irish pulled further ahead courtesy of a stunning individual try from Loader, the former England Under 20s star bursting through the Doncaster defence before showing his strength to battle his way to the line. Meehan inexplicably struck the post with what should have been a straight-forward conversion, but the visitors appeared to be in control at 12-3 up.

Knights struck back at the start of the second quarter, though, scrum-half Tom James spotting a gap in the Exiles defence from Josh Tyrell’s neat pass to cross the whitewash for a score converted by Morath.

However, it was the away side who put their foot down as the half went on, Fergus Mulchrone grabbing their third try on 27 minutes when he collected a clever Meehan inside pass before sprinting clear to score.

Meehan made no mistake this time and Irish’s lead was restored to a healthy nine points.

The bonus-point was secured on just after the half-hour mark, as once again the Exiles pack showed their power and technique with the driving maul, Motu Matu’u the man to claim the try at the back of a ferocious drive. Meehan converted to push his side 26-10 clear.

Doncaster continued to show heart, though, and could have scored a second try right on the stroke of half-time, wing Tyson Lewis only denied by a fantastic cover tackle from full back Tom Parton.

Exiles made two changes at the break with American centre Bryce Campbell and prop Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi replacing Mulchrone and Gordon Reid respectively, and they gradually began to dominate possession and territory without managing to add to their tally.

Campbell and fellow centre Brendan Macken continued to punch holes in the Doncaster defence, but the home side continued to frustrate Irish.

Indeed, it was Knights who cut the gap with a little more than five minutes remaining, a stunning length-of-the-field break from Curtis Wilson setting up the chance. While he was halted short of the line, the ball was quickly recycled allowing Richard Hayes to go over for the score.

Fiji international Henry Seniloli stepped up to add the extras and give Doncaster a sniff of a rousing fightback.

Irish could have put the game to bed following a fine break from substitute Barney Maddison, only for a forward pass to bring play back, and they were hanging on in the final stages as Knights battered away at the visitors’ defence.

However, Exiles held firm to secure another victory and set them up for two crucial weeks before a break in the league season.

Firstly they welcome Cornish Pirates to Madejski Stadium on Saturday (3pm), the visitors having started brightly before back-to-back defeats against Jersey and Bedford Blues.

Irish then face perhaps their most challenging game of the season to date, a trip to Jersey on Saturday, November 3, the hosts being the only side to beat Exiles when they were in the Championship two seasons ago.

Reflecting on the Doncaster win, Australian scrum-half Brendan McKibbin, who made his 50th appearance for Irish, admitted it had been a tough day at the office.

He said: “The first and second half were tough. They kept coming at us and we probably weren’t clinical enough especially in our attack zone – we coughed up the ball and then our discipline was poor. We gave them good field position through our ill-discipline, but to come away with five points is very pleasing.”

He also paid tribute to the Irish fans, adding: “Regardless of where we play our supporters are turning out and they’re quite vocal. Doncaster had the wind in their sails at the back end of the second half, but when we got the turnovers we could really hear the London Irish support.”

Doncaster Knights: Cowell, Wilson, Hayes, Creed, Lewis (McColl, 62), Morath (Foley, 48), James (Seniloli, 60), Hislop (List, 58), Malcolm, Quigley (Mullen, 45, Sproston, 75), Eames, Challinor, Ryan (Booth, 66), Hills, Tyrell .

London Irish: Parton (Atkins, 71), Loader, Macken, Mulchrone (Campbell, 40), McLean, Meehan, McKibbin, Reid (Hobbs-Awoyemi, 40), Matu’u (Porecki, 55), Cilliers (Hoskins, 55), McNally (c), Paulo, Gilsenan, Cowan (Rogerson, 61), Schatz (Maddison, 71).

Referee: Neil Chivers

Attendance: 1,279