Leicester Tigers completed a smash and grab job against London Irish at the Madejski Stadium as tries from Miles Benjamin and Robert Barbieri saw Richard Cockerill’s men start their LV= Cup campaign with an unlikely win.
For huge periods of the game Leicester Tigers were penned back in their-own 22 and forced to defend bravely but Cockerill’s men held firm as they returned to winning ways following last weekend’s European reverse against the Scarlets.
Leicester started like an express train and got their noses in front in the early minutes as Tommy Bell, signed from Jersey earlier this month, landed three points for the Tigers after London Irish were penalised at the breakdown.
Despite numerous changes to their starting XV; Leicester seemed intent to move on from a poor European result last time out against the Scarlets as they dominated the set piece in the opening minutes.
The fixture seemed to take on extra significance despite the change in competition, with London Irish having beaten Leicester at Welford Road in the Aviva Premiership earlier this season – their first win on Tigers’ soil since 2003.
Exiles skipper Topsy Ojo turned down a shot at goal inside the opening ten minutes as London Irish started to build the pressure in the Leicester 22. Three consecutive penalties against Leicester saw Tigers skipper Sam Harrison warned.
Leicester refused to learn from their warning though as former Exiles wing Adam Thompstone was sin-binned for foul play on 14 minutes but despite the incessant pressure, the visitors kept London Irish at bay.
After absorbing pressure for much of the game; Leicester scored the game’s first try almost completely against the run of play – experienced wing Benjamin racing in after excellent build-up play for the Tigers; Bell adding the extra two points.
Leicester indiscipline handed Myles Dorrian an almost immediate chance to reply for London Irish and the Exiles No.10 made no mistake as he stroked his penalty over from in front of the posts to make the score 10-3.
Former Rotherham Titans centre Jack Roberts came on for his debut at half-time for Leicester but his introduction did little to stem the London Irish tide.
Dorrian had the opportunity to reduce the deficit in the opening minutes of the second-half but his penalty fell short – despite the missed kick the home side nearly profited anyway as Harrison’s clearance was charged down but Leicester somehow smuggled the ball to safety.
Leicester themselves missed a shot at goal on 49 minutes as Bell, so reliable in the opening half, was unable to capitalise on his penalty kick as momentum swung both ways.
Prop Tom Bristow was yellow carded for Leicester on 57 minutes for an indiscretion at the breakdown and from the resulting penalty – Dorrian reduced the arrears to 10-6 for London Irish with a shot at goal.
With a man advantage it was all London Irish and the home side dragged themselves back to within a point of Leicester on 62 minutes as Dorrian scored his third penalty of the afternoon to set up a tense final quarter after the Tigers were penalised at scrum-time.
The game was turned on its head in the final minutes as flanker Barbieri picked up a loose ball near the halfway line and ran in to score under the posts – it was again against the run of the play – Bell adding the extras to make the score 17-9.
Guy Armitage set up a nervy finish as he bustled his way over for the Exiles first try of the afternoon in the 75th minute, with Dorrian adding the extras to bring London Irish back to within a point of Leicester.
Leicester held firm in the final minutes though, including producing a powerful late scrum, as they sealed a narrow and hard-fought win on the road despite real Exiles pressure.
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