A crisp January evening set the scene for a heated and even match that left the Green and Whites thinking what might have been had they taken their chances.
The opening stages belonged to away side, who dominated the ball deep in the Nottingham territory. Nottingham defended resolutely but their discipline let them down as they gave away a series of penalties that led to the first try of the game.
Centre Terrence Hepetema broke through the Nottingham defence off the back of a five metre scrum to touch the ball down. Stephen Myler converted.
Nottingham then found their feet their and ran through the phases in the Irish half. An unstoppable force appeared to have met an immovable object until prop Mike Daniels showed a stunning turn of pace to run forty metres and score under the posts.
The Green and Whites then fended off trouble on their own when full-back Sean Scanlon made a try-saving tackle to force Irish in to touch.
But The Exiles’ power in the pack proved to be too much on the 21st minute when a rolling maul forced Nottingham back 20 metres for the away side to score their second try of the match. Myler converted to restore their 7-point lead.
A moment of inspiration from Canada international Shane O’Leary saw the Championship’s leading scorer dink the ball over the Irish backline to David Williams lurking in behind. Williams still had work to do but his fast feet were too much for the Irish full back and his turn of pace saw him burst through the defence to score under the posts. O’Leary converted and the scores were even once more.
Irish were deep in the home side’s territory, running through the phases and aiming to force a mistake from the Green and Whites. Nottingham survived the pressure to win a penalty on their own try line.
Nottingham halted another try-scoring opportunity when Stephen Meyler attempted emulate a piece of O’Leary magic on the Green and Whites’ try line. The ball was caught by a Nottingham player and they touched it down for an Irish scrum on their 5.
Despite the momentary relief of pressure, The Exiles’ strong scrum powered them over the Nottingham line under the posts. Myler converted and Irish led 14-21 at half time.
Irish picked up where they left off in the second half when Myler scored a try in the early stages. Converting his own try, Irish set up a commanding 14-28 lead. Nottingham had it all to do.
But the Green and Whites were not going down without a fight. A Nottingham turnover just inside the Irish half resulted in a penalty and O’Leary kicked it to the corner for a Green and Whites’ lineout. It was then the hosts turn to set up a driving maul that saw the away side pinned on their own try line. Quick ball from Nottingham saw Luke Peters bundle over the whitewash, O’Leary converted and Fowkes’ side were within seven points once more.
The Exiles continued to pile on the pressure and were rewarded with a try on the 68th minute. Myler kicked his fifth conversion of the day and the game looked to be done.
Nottingham’s tenacious performance saw them secure a bonus point three minutes later as dual registered Devante Onojaife scored in the corner off the back of another rolling maul from the hosts. O’Leary’s missed conversion left the score at 26-35 with nine minutes to play.
Fowkes’ men came tantalisingly close to victory when O’Leary slotted home a penalty with three minutes to play. With the score at 29-35, Nottingham needed a converted try from the final play of the game.
However, the Green and Whites could not break through the Irish line.