LONDON Irish were given a Friday night fright at Nottingham, but ultimately came away with a vital 35-29 Greene King IPA Championship victory, writes Richard Ashton.

Exiles went into the contest knowing their nearest title rivals Ealing Trailfinders had already been beaten at the Lady Bay Sportsground, and they showed their intent from the outset as they dominated both possession and territory in the early exchanges.

They came close to scoring in the fifth minute, only for Terence Hepetema to be held up over the line, but the New Zealand-born centre made amends shortly after when he cut a beautiful line before shrugging off a couple of defenders to cross the whitewash. The ever-consistent Stephen Myler added the extras and Exiles were 7-0 to the good.

If Declan Kidney's men thought that was a sign of things to come, they were given a rude awakening within five minutes as Nottingham levelled matters, prop Mike Daniels exploiting a gap before charging 20 metres to the line for his side's opening score. Shane O'Leary knocked over the conversion.

Irish rallied, however, and after Topsy Ojo was just denied in the corner, the visitors returned to one of their most productive routes to the line this season.

An astonishing 25-metre rolling maul had the Nottingham defence and sixes and sevens, and Australian hooker Dave Porecki took advantage to dot down for his 12th try of the campaign before Myler knocked over a testing kick.

Yet the ebb-and-flow nature of the contest continued in the 26th minute as Nottingham hit back again.

This time a beautifully weighted cross-field kick by O'Leary was collected by wing David Williams, and he collected the ball before touching down. An O'Leary conversion levelled matters at 14-14.

Exiles again resorted to their forwards power as they aimed to get back in front before the half-time interval, and they managed to do so four minutes before the break.

Having already won a penalty from a five-metre scrum, the visitors again went to the set-piece and No. 8 Matt Rogerson was the beneficiary as he touched down at the base of a huge surge. Myler's conversion made it 21-14 at half time.

Irish extended their lead six minutes into the second period and in the process wrapped up the try bonus-point, a fine break from Tom Stephenson taking his side to the Nottingham five-metre line before the ball was spun wide for Myler to cross in the corner.

The fly-half stepped up to land his fourth successful conversion from four attempts to give his side a 14-point advantage.

Yet the hosts once again showed they would not give up without a fight, and in the 52nd minute they halved the deficit, Luke Peters finding a good line before crashing over the whitewash. Another successful O'Leary conversion ensured the score was 28-21 to the away side.

Exiles wasted a couple of chances to put the game seemingly to bed – Porecki having a try ruled out for a knock-on after he'd touched down – but they calmed any lingering nerves when another rampant rolling maul ended with replacement prop Ollie Hoskins going over in the 68th minute. Myler added the extras to restore the 14-point lead with time running out.

Yet again Nottingham came back, though, and they wrapped up their try bonus-point with eight minutes remaining when Devante Onojaife went over from close range.

O'Leary at last missed a conversion, and that proved costly when they won a penalty in the Irish 22 with two minutes remaining.

With the deficit nine points, they elected to take a shot at goal, with O'Leary's successful penalty reducing the gap to six points and ensuring a losing bonus-point.

Had the previous conversion gone over, they would have kicked for the corner and could have salvaged a draw, but Exiles survived and took a major step forward in their bid to return to the Gallagher Premiership at the first attempt.

Nottingham Scanlon; Williams, Millett (Lyons, 68), Peters, Varndell; O’Leary, Veenendaal (capt); (McConnell, 50); Hills (Jack, 57), Brownlie (Farnworth, 52), Daniels (Walker, 31), Onojaife (Cox, 80), Lewis, Buckley, Owen (Poullet, 56), Coghlan.

London Irish McLean; Ojo, Stephenson, Hepetema (Macken, 63), Loader; Myler, Meehan; Reid (Cilliers, 75), Porecki (Fainga’a, 58), Hoskins, van der Merwe (capt), Paulo, Tuisue (McNally, 58), Gilsenan (Schatz, 50), Rogerson.

Replacements: Brand, Veitokani.