Eoghan Hickey produced an immaculate display of goal kicking to ensure victory for London Irish over second-place Leicester in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP.
The 26-year-old fly-half, signed from Irish side Munster last summer, enjoyed a 100 per cent strike rate with four penalties – two of them from long range – and a conversion following Richard Thorpe’s early try.
Leicester, who started the match one point behind leaders Gloucester, replied with a try from centre Ayoola Erinle and two penalties and a conversion from Andy Goode, the fly-half England discarded before last summer’s World Cup.
England’s current RBS 6 Nations squad suffered a potential blow when Shane Geraghty went off with a knee injury in the 34th minute after playing in influential role in the early stages.
But veteran Mark Catt, who retired from international rugby following the World Cup final, slotted in as his replacement following a seven-week injury absence.
And it was Catt, who hammered the final nail into Leicester’s hopes, restoring his side’s nine-point lead with a 40-metre drop goal, which flew long and low to just clear the bar, in the 71st minute.
After being subjected to early pressure, the visitors struggled to impose themselves in a match which only went ahead after the scheduled 1.15pm kick off was delayed by half an hour because of a frost-affected pitch.
Brian Smith, Irish’s director of rugby, said that the undersoil heating at Reading’s Madejski Stadium had "tripped" during the night and it was six hours before it was switched on again.
The Exiles- attacking the affected end of the ground – were too hot for Leicester as they opened up a 10-0 lead inside 10 minutes.
Hickey opened the scoring with his first penalty in the seventh minute as Irish, with Geraghty directing operations from inside centre, mounted a wave of attacks.
His pass sent winger Topsy Ojo bursting through to dive for the line.
But, after lengthy consideration, the TV replay official disallowed the try.
Flanker Steffon Armitage was stopped just short of the line following another Geraghty pass but Irish pressure paid off in the ninth minute when number eight Thorpe powered in for his seventh try of the season after Geraghty made the initial surge for the line.
Leicester hit back almost instantly when Goode stepped inside his man on the halfway line to send Erinle racing in for a try between the posts, which Goode converted.
Goode missed a 39th-minute penalty, which would have put Leicester level, but eight minutes into the second half he made amends when Irish were penalised after their second row Nick Kennedy and opposite number Ben Kay were lectured by referee Andrew Small after grappling on the floor.
But Irish reasserted their authority and punished Leicester for their indiscipline as Hickey landed three further penalties midway through the second period.