LONDON Irish suffered last-minute agony as an injury-time try from Stade Francais full back Tony Ensor gave his side a dramatic 26-20 victory at Madejski Stadium, writes Richard Ashton.

Nick Kennedy’s men began brightly and could have taken an early lead when impressive young wing Ben Loader scorched down the left-hand touchline, only to be bundled into touch five metres short of the line.

The Parisians hit back, though, and dominated the remainder of the opening 20 minutes territorially, without really threatening the Irish line.

However, that all changed when former Exile Shane Geraghty put up a beautiful cross-field kick, Romain Martial out-leaping Loader on the right-hand flank before dotting down. Geraghty’s well-struck conversion hit the right-hand post and went wide, but his side led 5-0.

Going behind seemed to inspire the hosts, though, and they turned down a kickable penalty to go for the corner, only for Tom Fowlie to spill the ball when it was sent down the backline.

Irish went in front shortly after, however, when a sustained spell of territory and possession ended with prop Gordon Reid punching a hole near to the line before a fine off-load found Scott Steele to dive over. Greig Tonks added a regulation conversion from in front of the uprights to put his side 7-5 up.

Exiles nearly added another immediately when Loader collected a clever chip ahead by Steele, only to be halted just short of the line. Irish recycled the ball well, only for Johnny Williams to suffer the same fate on the opposite touchline.

The hosts were then robbed off what looked a fantastic score. Tonks carved through the Stade defence before releasing a stunning back-of-the-hand off-load to Brophy Clews on the right flank, with the ex-Academy star finding Williams to cross under the uprights. However, referee Ben Whitehouse deemed Tonks’ pass to have gone forward, much to the surprise and disappointment of the home faithful.

Yet Irish did have the final word at the end of a relatively tepid opening 40 minutes, Tonks striking a penalty to put Exiles 10-5 up at the break.

The hosts began the second half well and Fowlie cut a beautiful line to race into the Stade 22, only for Irish to be penalised shortly after for not releasing.

They did move further in front just four minutes later, though, as a powerful driving maul was halted illegally by the Frenchmen, Whitehouse awarding Irish a penalty try.

At 17-5 up, things looked good for Exiles,but Stade fired a warning shot when they too were harshly denied a try. Ensor weaved his way through before finding Theo Millet in almost exactly the same spot as Williams in the first half, but after he touched down under the posts, Whitehouse brought play back for another alleged forward pass.

Yet Stade kept Irish pinned in their own half and began their comeback when replacement prop Giorgi Melikidze burrowed over from close range following wave after wave of attack.

Irish rallied, though, and should have given themselves daylight only for Tonks to miss a relatively straight-forward 35-metre penalty.

That proved costly as Stade went down the other end almost immediately, electing to kick a penalty to touch rather than taking three points. It proved a wise decision, as after a solid maul sucked the Irish defence in, a couple of clever off-loads ended with replacement No. 8 Waisea Vuidarvuwalu going over under the posts. Geraghty’s last act before being replaced by French international Jules Plisson was to add the conversion and give his side a 19-17 advantage.

As the tension rose around Madejski Stadium, Plission turned down a shot at goal to go to the corner, only for Irish to repel their foes.

And with two minutes to go, Exiles went back in front as Vuidarvuwalu gave away a needless penalty in front of his own posts, going off side at a ruck and allowing Tonks to slot home from 15 metres out.

Yet Irish’s confidence is fragile – this was an eighth consecutive defeat in all competitions – and the visitors snatched glory right at the death. After hammering away at the line, they spread the ball right, and a wonderful flick-pass from Plisson was collected by Ensor to go over. Plisson added the extras and it was another day of misery for Kennedy’s men.

London Irish will have to rebound quickly, as they face a critical Aviva Premiership relegation battle at Worcester Warriors on Friday night (7.45pm). They then return to Madejski Stadium against Newcastle Falcons on Saturday, December 30.