Tries from Ben Youngs, Lugovi’i Mulipola and Niki Goneva saw Leicester Tigers grind out a 20-15 victory over London Irish and move into the top four of the Aviva Premiership.
The Tigers have now lost just one of their last eight matches but Irish, who scored five penalties, will rue their inability to cross the try-line in the closing stages.
For Leicester, it was another gritty victory and after Harlequins slipped up at Gloucester Rugby on Saturday, Richard Cockerill’s men leapfrogged the Londoners in the Aviva Premiership table.
London Irish came into the match seeking a fourth straight Aviva Premiership win and they made a perfect start when they were awarded a penalty straight from Shane Geraghty’s deep kick-off.
Australia’s James O’Connor made no mistake from in front of the posts for a 3-0 lead inside the opening minute.
Leicester swiftly grew into the game however and quickly exerted their influence at the scrum, and on seven minutes the Tigers were awarded a penalty deep in Irish territory.
Leicester opted for another scrum, and the decision paid dividends with scrum-half Youngs picking up and darting over in the corner.
Owen Williams, preferred at fly-half to Toby Flood, missed the difficult conversion however and while O’Connor missed one penalty, he quickly made amends with another to give the Exiles a 6-5 lead on 16 minutes.
While the Tigers were dominant at the set-piece, it was Irish who looked more threatening with ball in hand and the hosts extended their advantage on 25 minutes when, after the Exiles went through the phases and then embarked on a driving maul, O’Connor slotted a simple penalty.
Irish’s inability to live with Tigers’ power upfront was to prove costly again however and tighthead prop Mulipola forced his way over from a Leicester maul – referee JP Doyle awarding the try after consulting the TMO.
Williams missed the conversion from also the same place as his first effort but things got worse for London Irish when centre Eamonn Sheridan was sent to the sin bin on 37 minutes for taking out Tigers full-back Mathew Tait in the air.
After the break, Leicester were able to make their extra man pay when Fijian flyer Goneva broke down the right and burst through O’Connor’s tackle for the Tigers’ third try.
Williams nailed the conversion and when he was on target with a penalty, after more problems at the scrum for the Exiles, the Tigers were threatening to run away with it.
London Irish did have the chance to respond immediately after Williams fielded the restart and a fine chase from Sheridan forced Jordan Crane into the infringement but O’Connor’s effort from the tee was not given, even if he thought otherwise.
He made amends on the hour mark however with his fourth penalty of the match and while Leicester tried to keep the play in the Irish half, the hosts continued to carry the fight to their opposition, boosted by the emergence of England winger Marland Yarde from the bench, returning from a lengthy injury lay-off.
With just over ten minutes to go, Irish pressure was rewarded with another penalty when replacement Thomas Waldrom was sent to the sin bin but again O’Connor’s radar was off and the Tigers maintained their eight-point cushion.
Still Irish kept coming however and more indiscipline from the visitors crept in and when they were penalised for not releasing, Ian Humphreys took over the kicking duties and brought the hosts to within five on 71 minutes.
With their extra man, Irish scented blood and a superb flowing move, through numerous phases saw Irish move from one end of the field to the other but Ofisa Treviranus knocked on with the try-line gaping, ensuring replacement Jebb Sinclair’s try was ruled out, letting the Tigers off the hook.