A BRACE of Tom Fowlie tries helped London Irish stage a fine comeback to record back-to-back wins for the first time this season as they ended their European Challenge Cup Pool Four campaign with a 24-17 bonus-point victory at Russian side Krasny Yar, writes Richard Ashton.

Things began badly for Exiles as they conceded an early penalty in front of the posts, with the impressive Lasha Malaguradze making no mistake in putting his side 3-0 up.

However, the visitors hit back shortly after, kicking a penalty to the corner before a powerful rolling maul was held up illegally. Another line-out metres from the line set up their opening try, though, second row Will Lloyd halted just short of the line before the ball was spun along the backs for outside centre Matt Williams to cross the whitewash. Jacob Atkins added the extras and Irish were 7-3 to the good.

The game then turned into something of a scrappy affair with both sides making errors when they looked in good positions, but it was the Russians who moved in front on 27 minutes when flanker Viktor Arhup went over following a spell of sustained pressure. Malaguradze made no mistake to put the home side – albeit playing at the Avchala Stadium in Georgia – three points in front.

Both sides had chances to add to their points tally with line-outs in useful attacking positions, yet neither could and Krasny Yar went into the break with a 10-7 lead.

Yet it took just three minutes of the second half for the hosts to move further in front, prop Grigory Tsnobiladze finding a gap in the Irish defence before storming through for his side’s second try, Malaguradze converting to make it 17-7.

A fine team score 10 minutes later gave Exiles the lifeline they needed, though. Replacement wing Joe Cokanasiga began the move with a fine off-load to Williams, and after a fine run, he found David Paice who in turn transferred the ball to Fowlie to score. Atkins failed from from the tee but the gap was cut to five points.

Williams then had a try turned down by the TMO after he was ruled to have been forced into touch before dotting down, but Nick Kennedy’s men moved in front midway through the half when Fowlie – who signed a new deal with Exiles earlier in the week – bagged his second.

A quick line-out put Krasny on the back foot and some slick handling ended with Fowlie collecting the ball and crossing, Atkins’ conversion putting his side 19-17 in front.

The Russians responded and it took some excellent Irish defence to repel them, and the visitors secured the try bonus-point in the 71st minute when more fine work from their backs ended with wing Ben Loader grabbing a second try in as many games. Although Atkins was unsuccessful with the conversion attempt, Irish were 24-17 up.

Krasny Yar continued to battle bravely, but they were unable to find a way through and Exiles held on for a gritty but welcome victory.

The result means Irish finish in third place with three wins and three defeats, knowing if they had not conceded a try with the last play of the home game against Stade Francais they would have qualified for the last eight.

London Irish turn their attentions back to Anglo-Welsh Cup action this coming Saturday, with Wasps the visitors at Madejski Stadium (3pm).