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Match Report: London Irish 16 Leicester Tigers 28

18 Oct 2015
Match Report: London Irish 16 Leicester Tigers 28

Tommy Bell took the game away from London Irish with his boot and Peter Betham made an impact on debut as Leicester Tigers emerged triumphant from the Madejski Stadium.

Bell missed just one kick all day as his seven penalties and a conversion ultimately proved the difference against an Exiles side that wasted several chances to score early in the second half.

Utility back Betham – who swapped the Waratahs for Leicester over the summer – had scored an early intercept try, though the Exiles did find their way over the whitewash in the first half through Jebb Sinclair.

But Bell won his kicking duel against Chris Noakes, who racked up 11 points in total from the tee for Irish.

Both sides were looking forward to a new era after shaking up their backroom staff over the summer, with Tom Coventry taking the reins at Irish and Aaron Mauger being installed as Tigers head coach.

Irish were caught out early on for not rolling away and Bell, who got the nod over injury returnee Owen Williams to start at fly-half, split the posts to score Leicester's first three points of the campaign.

But Coventry's troops responded as Topsy Ojo, Halani Aulika and Eoin Griffin pounded at the gain-line – but Noakes' own shot at goal, following an infringement at the scrum, veered wide.

And disaster struck for the hosts in the tenth minute when Leicester's new man Betham poached the ball and ran in unopposed from 40 metres out. Bell was on target with the extras.

With ball in hand the Exiles were looking dangerous however and after some measured build-up play, Noakes was handed another opportunity from the tee and this time he made no mistake.

That good work was undone when Bell restored Leicester's ten-point lead from 35 metres out following a scrum penalty and the mood at the Madjeski soured further when Topsy Ojo was sin-binned for a high tackle on Adam Thompstone.

But against the odds 14-man Irish eked over the whitewash in the 23rd minute following a catch-and-drive from a line-out, Sinclair the man to successfully ground the ball after consultation with the TMO.

Noakes slotted the conversion though, almost immediately after, indiscipline at the breakdown again cost Irish dearly and Bell punished them with his third penalty.

With Ojo back in the field the hosts enjoyed the better of the exchanges at the end of the first half though it was without reward – as a rolling maul that steamed over the whitewash was called back for an earlier offence.

Bell and Noakes traded penalties to close the half out but the Exiles remained in the ascendency upon the resumption.

New Zealander Noakes clawed back the deficit to within three points after nailing an early penalty and Irish earned a reprieve when Bell missed his own chance albeit from five metres into Leicester's own half.

The home side kept pounding on the door – with centre Griffin providing the impetus – but a killer touch was missing as Tom Fowlie mishandled the ball in a promising position.

You can rarely keep Leicester down and when Bell gave them breathing space with yet another penalty on the hour they began to assert their dominance.

Scrum-half Sam Harrison shot through a gap and it nearly brought a try for another debutant in Opeti Fonua but it was called back after referee Matthew Carley spotted a knock-on.

George Catchpole was next to make a searing break however, following the theme of the game, Leicester couldn't make it count.

But the Tigers weren't made to regret those opportunities as Bell crowned a brilliantly accurate game with a further two penalties in the last ten minutes.

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