LONDON Irish’s winning run was halted at 18 games as they threw away a 17-point lead in a dramatic 26-24 British & Irish Cup defeat at home to Ospreys Premiership Select.

The hosts made a dreadful start as slack defending allowed the Welsh side to open the scoring inside the opening minute, the ball worked through the hands before full back Phil Jones went over in the left-hand corner. The outstanding Luke Price added the extras to make it 7-0.

Yet Irish hit back as their forwards began to dominate, and they were held up over the line three times in rapid order – Matt Williams, Ollie Hoskins and Josh McNally the unfortunate Exiles denied a score. Eventually the hosts elected to get points on the board and Greig Tonks smashed over a penalty.

Ospreys were reduced to 14 men at the end of the first quarter as prop Rowan Jenkins was sin-binned for foul play, and shortly after Irish opened their try-scoring account for the afternoon when they pushed the visitors off their own ball at a scrum. Scott Steele off-loaded to Conor Gilsenan who found Johnny Williams, the inside centre powering over before Tonks converted.

More forwards pressure led to Irish’s second try, some brave Ospreys defence eventually coming to nothing as Ciaran Hearn picked up at the base of a ruck before dotting down. Tonks again added the extras to make it 17-7 and that score line stayed the same at the interval.

Ospreys looked lively at the start of the second period before the Irish pack again took control, a succession of driving mauls taking them up the field. Eventually replacement No. 8 Lee Purnell was yellow carded for infringing as he tried to stop a try, and Hoskins went over from the next attempt to put Exiles well in control. Another fine Tonks conversion seemed to have put the game to bed at 24-7.

Yet a high tackle by Sentiki Nayolo – resulting in a yellow card for the Irish No. 8 – proved a gamechanger.

Ospreys scored their second try shortly after when they used the rolling maul to full effect, Kieran Williams the beneficiary before Price added the extras.

Nerves began to be frayed around the Madejski and it got even worse for Exiles when Gilsenan spilled a ball from his own scrum, allowing Ospreys to move the ball slickly down the back line for outside centre Joe Thomas to cross. Price’s kick cut the gap to three.

With Irish under pressure they elected to have a long-range shot at goal which Tonks missed, and the visitors hit the front when Thomas handed off Topsy Ojo and scorched into the left-hand corner. Price finally missed a kick, but his side led 26-24.

And try as they might, Irish began to make mistakes as they battled to preserve their unbeaten run, the final nail in the coffin coming when Hearn failed to release and was penalised. Matt Aubrey booted the ball to touch and Ospreys had a famous win.

London Irish return to Greene King IPA Championship action at Ealing Trailfinders on Saturday (3pm).