Good things come to those who wait.. The I's have it!
Hull Ionians are N2N Champions.
A 48 – 30 win over Leicester Lions ensured that Ionians earned the five points needed to give them an unassailable lead at the top of the table and an immediate return to N1.
Nothing in the opening half hour of the match suggested the hosts had it within their capabilities to overcome a rampant Lions side and achieve any sort of a victory, but a second half revival, in which Ionians scored four tries to one from the Lions, was enough to see I’s home safely and for the celebrations to begin.
Ionians hadn’t touched the ball before the lions opened the scoring, with good handling and support play allowing Laurence Warren- West to squeeze over close to the corner flag.
Ionians finally gained some possession and successive penalties had Ionians move to within 5m of the visitor’s line; clean ball was delivered and the drive went on. As the pack got close to the line James Newman broke loose and dived over to score. Lewis Minikin added the conversion to put I’s narrowly in front.
The Lions, showing a refreshing desire to run the ball, hit back immediately. Benefiting from a slice of good fortune when Key retrieved a wild pass, he caught Ionians flat footed and the visitors again ran past some slack defending to cut through to the line for a try for Devon Constant. Key was on target with the goal attempt and Lions restored their advantage at 7 – 12. James Sanderson, having another terrific game, broke clear and with the option of the clubs’ top try scorer on one side and a worthy but ancient prop forward on the other made the bewildering choice of passing to Steve Johnson. “Jonno” sensibly decided that a 40m dash was 38m too far so Ionians spurned a chance to re-take the lead.
Leicester took hold of the ball and came again at Ionians. Good support play and a powerful break down the wing from Constant created space in midfield for Warren – West to cross for his second try.
Lions gained the try bonus point in the 24th minute when the back-line again combined to run Ionians ragged, Key the beneficiary this time to dot down. Unfortunately for the lions he wasn’t having a great day from the tee and the ball came back off the up-rights to keep the score to 7 – 22.
The tryfest continued, this time it was the hosts who scored. Another catch and drive was successfully executed for Joe Makin to claim the prize and the conversion by Minikin hauled Ionians back to 14- 22.
A long range penalty by Minikin reduced the arrears further and stirred Ionians in to action so that remarkably a second try from Newman tied the scores with five minutes of the half remaining.
On the stroke of half time Leicester were awarded a penalty and Key made no mistake with the routine kick to give the visitors a narrow advantage, 22 – 25.
The Lions made a lively start to the second half but a break from Ben Stephenson put Ed Falkingham away. He bullocked his way to the line but was brought back for a knock-on. The Ionians forwards upped the intensity and Leicester were unable to clear their line. Ionians won the resulting line-out and quick transfer of the ball gave James Tinknell the half a gap he needed to cut through and go over, Minikin goaled and the hosts took a lead that they never relinquished.
Ionians fluked the next try. They made a hash of a line-out and the ball was overthrown but a kind bounce allowed them to re-gain possession and move the ball to mercurial Minikin who glided through the cover to score and add the conversion to give Ionians a 36 -25 lead.
Leicester then erred at a line-out, with another overthrow and Ben Stephenson collected the loose ball to pass out to Tinknell. He pushed off several tacklers to break away and score. The goal from Minikin gave Ionians a comfortable buffer, 43 – 25.
Ionians appeared to be running away with the match when Mark Wigham crashed over with over 10 minutes remaining but the Lions refused to buckle and showed commendable commitment and resolve in the closing stages of the match.
It was the lions who completed the scoring when replacement scrum-half, Alex Smit, took a quick tap and jinked his way through to within 5m of the line before supplying a pass to the hard grafting Matt Sumpter to slide over.
The final minutes were played out without incident with both sides aware the game was up and the ramifications clear. The final whistle led to a slightly muted applause from a reasonable sized crowd, perhaps mindful of what awaits the victors in the coming months.