Warriors won the Premiership Rugby Cup, first major trophy in the club’s history, in the most dramatic fashion in front of a raucous travelling support at the Brentford Community Stadium.
A try from Kyle Hatherell in the final minute of normal time and Fin Smith’s nerveless conversion levelled the scores at 25-25 and sent the game into 20 minutes of extra-time.
There was still nothing to split the teams at the end of that period but Warriors claimed the trophy having outscored Irish three tries to one after an outstanding team performance.
It was a nerve-shredding evening for supporters and Warriors put them through the wringer by frequently falling foul of referee Wayne Barnes in the second half of normal time.
That gave Paddy Jackson the chance to kick Irish to victory but the normally dependable place kicker missed four consecutive shots at goal as the pressure told on the fly-half.
Hatherell’s try and Smith’s conversion showed great resilience from Warriors and the extra-time gave them a welcome opportunity to regroup and collect their thoughts.
Warriors manned the barricades in defence in a frenetic finale but were deserved winners having restricted one of the Premiership’s most potent attacking sides to just one try and scored three themselves.
Jackson gave Irish the lead when he slotted a fourth minute penalty but Smith levelled three minutes later and Warriors took the lead with an opportunist try from Matt Kvesic.
Experience told as the former England flanker spotted that a ruck had not formed when he picked up the ball and galloped through a gaping hole in the home defence for a try that Smith improved.
Smith and Jackson then traded penalties before scrum-half Ben White found a hole in Warriors’ defence and nipped in for a try that Jackson converted to level the scores.
Another Jackson penalty edged Irish back in front with two minutes remaining of the first half but Warriors turned round ahead after a sustained period of pressure wore down the Irish defence and lovely long miss-pass from Smith found Perry Humphreys who popped up on the left wing to supply the finish.
Warriors thought they had extended the lead three minutes into the second half when skippier Ted Hill gathered a loose ball and galloped over from halfway. But before Smith could take the conversion, the TMO stepped in a drew the referee’s attention to an knock-on by Francois Venter in a tackle back on Warriors’ 22.
Irish applied the pressure and Warriors gifted Jackson three more penalties by conceding ten metres for backchat after penalties had already been given away.
But Jackson’s radar went on the blink thereafter and, after landing his first seven kicks at goal with little trouble, he then shanked a penalty six minutes from time which left the door open for Warriors.
Heavy pressure in the dying minutes of normal time won a succession of penalties to the corner and when Irish infringed again closer to their posts, Warriors tapped and ran, retained possession superbly and Hatherell capped a superb performance with a try close enough to the posts to leave Smith with a manageable conversion.
Smith was unable to land a penalty from long range early in the first period of extra-time but Jackson’s kicking went to pieces as he missed acute as he missed three more further kicks.
Irish huffed and puffed but could not break down Warriors’ superb defence and when Hill won an important scrum turnover with the final play of the match, the ball was passed back to Smith who booted it into the crowd to start a night of joyous celebrations.
The win completed a rare double for Warriors’ Lead Rugby Consultant who was Director of Rugby of Sale Sharks when they won the cup the last time the competition was played two years ago.
It was also a family success for Graham and Andrew Kitchener who became only the third set of brothers to play together in winning teams in the competition’s finals after Louis and Brett Deacon with Leicester in 2007 and Ben and Tom Curry and Robert, Dan and Jean-Luc du Preez with Sale two years ago.
The Kitcheners were among 57 players used by Warriors in their six matches in a memorable campaign, among them four loan players, a trialist plus two more loan players, two Academy players and England Under-18s lock Harvey Cuckson who were unused replacements.
Much credit for the success must also go to Academy Coaches Jonny Goodridge and Chris Morgan who headed up the coaching team for the competition, with excellent support from the senior coaching staff.
Warriors | 15 Jamie Shillcock, 14 Perry Humphreys (Hearle 66), 13 Francois Venter (Lawrence 53), 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Gareth Simpson (Chudley 66), 1 Ethan Waller (Sutherland 48) (Judge 93), 2 Niall Annett (Miller 66), 3 Christian Judge (McCallum 48), 4 Joe Batley, 5 Graham Kitchener (A Kitchener 63), 6 Kyle Hatherell, 7 Matt Kvesic (Lewis 65), 8 Ted Hill (C).
Replacements | 16 Isaac Miller, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Sam Lewis, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Ollie Lawrence, 23 Alex Hearle.
4m | Jackson pen 3-0
7m | Smith pen 3-3
12m | Kvesic try 3-8
13m | Smith con 3-10
20m | Smith pen 3-13
29m | Jackson pen 6-13
33m | White try 11-13
34m |Jackson con 13-13
38m | Jackson pen 16-13
40m | Humphreys try 16-18
48m | Jackson pen 19-18
57m | Jackson pen 22-18
66m | Jackson pen 25-18
80m | Hatherell try 25-23
80m | Smith con 25-25