Nevertheless, Bryan Redpath’s team – Irish’s nearest challengers – continue to frustrate.
They were poor for large periods of this table-topping game at Headingley yet still arguably had enough opportunities to ruin their rivals’ record and give themselves a massive confidence booster ahead of the play-offs.
Granted, there was no clear-cut chances as such but they had enough ball, especially in the second half, to cause some damage. However, whether through a lack of creativity, bad execution or Irish’s spirited defence, they failed to make the crucial breakthrough.
There was a brief chance of a shock when Carnegie scored a penalty try in the 58th minute to trail just 13-7 with Irish also having winger Aseli Tikoirotuma yellow carded for dragging down a maul. However, criminally, they conceded a try to their 14-men visitors just four minutes later to immediately undo all their hard work.
Then, when they next went to the corner, they were forced into touch, too, all the sort of mistakes they cannot afford against opponents of such calibre. Jonah Holmes’ well-crafted injury-time try was, therefore, too little too late.
Admittedly, Redpath had a whole raft of selection problems to contend with both before and during this contest.
He was forced into making three changes to the team originally named on Friday; Alex Davies, Tom Casson and Lewis Boyce all deemed unfit. Prop Matt Beesley, who joined on loan a few days earlier from Northampton, came in while the coach had already seen Joe Ford, their ever-present fly-half, withdrawn due to a knee injury meaning a debut for Tom Catterick on loan from Newcastle. However, the latter endured a torrid first appearance, limping off after just 31 minutes having also missed two penalty goals including one from right in front of the posts just 25 metres out.
There was too many basic errors for a game of this magnitude and, in the first half, with territory in such short supply; Chris Elder missed touch with a penalty, one line-out was too easily stolen, Tom Arscott badly skewed one kick straight into touch after and so on and so on.
Arscott then fumbled one passing movement but that was not his fault; the ball was so slow coming to him Aseli Tikoirotuma had time to put up an umbrella and do a Gene Kelly impression before smashing the former Sale winger with a fearsome tackle.
There were bright sparks amid it all; England Under 20s scrum-half Max Green looked to pep things up at every opportunity, Ryan Burrows forced turnovers and floored prop Tom Court with one fine tackle while Charlie Beech was great around the loose.
But, still, they needed Ollie Stedman to charge down James Marshall’s drop-goal with the last play of the first period and went in 10-0 down.
Marshall tagged on a penalty at the start of the second period to make the hill steeper and, frustratingly, even when Carnegie went to the corner, their usually slick line-out drive was cancelled out when they were caught offside. However, they had enough confidence to try it again just before the hour mark, turning down the three points and being handsomely rewarded with that penalty try. Stevie McColl converted but Green’s box kick was soon charged down in his own 22 and, a few phases later, replacement prop Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi burrowed over for Marshall to make it 20-7. Game over.
They kept at it, to their credit, but it was not until deep into injury-time that winger Holmes swept over for that second try.
Irish’s first had come on 10 minutes from former All Blacks prop Ben Franks after a fine break from Fergus Mulchrone.
Yorkshire Carnegie: Elder; Holmes, Forsyth, Lucock, Arscott (Goss 67); Catterick (McColl 31), Green; Beech, M Mayhew (Nilsen 55), Cusack (Faletau 52), Myerscough, West (Smith 66), Stedman (Bainbridge 63), R Mayhew, Burrows.
London Irish: Tonks (Ranson 25); Lewington, Mulchrone, Williams (McKibbin 78), Tikoirotuma; Marshall, Steele; Court (Hobbs-Awoyemi 57), Paice (Porecki 62), Franks (Chawatama 43), Robson (McNally 57), De Chaves, Coman, Cowan, Treviranus (Narraway 72).
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU).