|London Irish (13) 41|
|Tries: Loader, Hassell-Collins 2, Hepetema, Rona Cons: Jackson 5 Pens: Jackson 2|
|Cardiff Blues (17) 35|
|Tries: Dacey, Adams, Harries, Williams Cons: Evans 3 Pens: Evans 2 Drop-goal: Evans|
Fourteen-man London Irish pulled off a stunning late comeback to beat Cardiff Blues and book a place in the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals.
Trailing 32-20 after prop Will Goodrick-Clarke was sent off, converted tries from Terrence Hepetema and Ollie Hassell-Collins put the Exiles ahead.
A drop-goal from Cardiff’s Jarrod Evans then gave the Welsh side a one-point lead with three minutes left.
But Curtis Rona crossed from the last play to secure a dramatic Irish win.
Blues stunned twice by late turnaround
Cardiff will be scratching their heads as to how they failed to progress, having led the 14 men by 12 points heading into the final 10 minutes at the Brentford Community Stadium.
Even after two scores in the space of three minutes had edged Irish in front, Evans’ drop goal restored the Blues’ advantage.
But the visitors were unable to see the game out, as Hassell-Collins burst from his own half and into the Cardiff 22 to set the platform for Rona to score under the sticks.
Irish will now face fellow Premiership side Bath, who beat Italian outfit Zebre, in the last eight over the weekend of 9-11 April.
Irish progress despite ill discipline
London Irish opened the scoring through Paddy Jackson’s penalty before quickfire converted tries from Kristian Dacey and Josh Adams and an Evans penalty helped Cardiff into a 17-3 lead after half an hour.
However, Ben Loader replied for the hosts and Jackson added a second penalty to put the Exiles four points adrift at the break.
The upper hand seemed to be with the Blues once an Evans penalty stretched their lead after Goodrick-Clarke was sent off for a high tackle, yet Hassell-Collins touched down in the corner and Jackson converted to make it 20-20.
Loader was then sent to the sin-bin for leading with the arm in a tackle on Tomos Williams, and Irish looked to be paying for their ill discipline as Jason Harries and Lloyd Williams crossed for the Blues.
But the final 10 minutes provided a turnaround which the Welsh side will want to forget as quickly as possible.
Cardiff Blues director of rugby Dai Young said:
“It’s hugely disappointing and frustrating. We knew they were a good side and good with ball in hand, but we got ourselves in pretty strong positions… and let them come back in again.
“When you get to periods in games where you’ve got a bit of a commanding lead, a bit of a cushion with only a few minutes to go, you’ve got to close out those games.
“Josh Navidi has got a shoulder injury, he’s put it in a sling but to be honest I don’t know how bad it is. Obviously it’s precautionary first to look after it but he doesn’t go in a sling very lightly. He’s taken a bang but hopefully it’s not too serious.”
London Irish: Parton; Loader, Rona, Brophy-Clews, Hassell-Collins; Jackson, Phipps; Goodrick-Clarke, Creevy, Chawatama, Nott, Simmons, Rogerson (capt), Cowan, Tuisue.
Replacements: Cornish, Gigena, Hoskins, Munga, Donnell, O’Brien, Meehan, Hepetema.
Sin-bin: Loader (54).
Sent off: Goodrick-Clarke (47).
Cardiff Blues: Morgan; Adams, Lee-Lo, Halaholo, Amos; Evans, T Williams; Domachowski, Dacey, Lewis, Davies, Hill, Navidi, Botham, Turnbull (capt).
Replacements: Belcher, Carre, Arhip, Thornton, Robinson, L Williams, Thomas, Harries.
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia).