Leicester Tigers bounced back in style from defeat to Bath Rugby last time out to see off London Irish 32-20 in an entertaining encounter to secure a home Aviva Premiership semi-final.
Two tries in the space of three first-half minutes gave the Tigers the initiative at the break, but despite Mathew Tait’s score early in the second half, the Exiles stayed in contention until the hour-mark.
Vereniki Goneva’s bonus-point try on 60 minutes appeared to finally kill off the Irish charge, with Toby Flood scoring Leicester’s fifth, although Topsy Ojo and Marland Yarde went over late on.
Irish made the quicker start with an early penalty from Ian Humphreys as Leicester were penalised but the Tigers responded immediately with three points from the boot of Flood to make it 3-3 after five minutes.
Up against an Irish team who have picked up fewer points on their travels than any other Aviva Premiership side, Leicester seized control after 13 minutes as Tom Croft took advantage of some great handling to score the first try.
Croft, named on Tuesday as part of Warren Gatland’s British & Irish Lions squad to tour Australia, was the beneficiary of some great work between forwards and backs by the Tigers, diving over in the corner.
The flanker is one of six Tigers in Gatland’s squad and it was another of the Lions contingent, scrum-half Ben Youngs, who grabbed the next try, showing all his sniping talents as he darted over, Flood missed both conversions as the hosts led 13-3 at the break.
Tait replaced Anthony Allen at half-time to form a centre partnership with Manu Tuilagi, and it was after some good work between Tuilagi and Flood that Tait was released for the home side’s third try.
Flood’s conversion gave Leicester a 17-point lead but Irish hit back with some good work from their pack, and eventually it was Alex Corbisiero, in his final appearance for the Exiles before a summer move to Northampton Saints, who emerged as the try-scorer. Humphreys converted to make it 20-10.
On the hour Fijian winger Goneva’s score sealed the bonus point for the home side and all-but sealed the win, and that was followed six minutes later by a fine individual try from Flood.
The England fly-half shimmied his way through the Irish defence, going left then right before diving over, and he converted to make it 32-10 to Tigers.
London Irish replied though, finishing their season on a high as Ojo was on the end of a clever cross-kick to dot down, although Shane Geraghty missed the conversion.
And as the Tigers let up there was time for Yarde to score a final individual effort, showing his pace and elusiveness to go over in the corner for the visitors’ third try.