Peter Hewat missed a last-gasp conversion which would have given London Irish a draw at Welford Road as Heyneke Meyer’s perfect start to life as Leicester boss continued.
Ben Herring’s try had given the Tigers a seven-point advantage going into the closing stages but with two minutes remaining Delon Armitage went over to cut the lead, only for Hewat to hook his kick wide.
After turning over GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP champions Wasps last week, Irish showed no signs of being intimidated at Welford Road and twice they went ahead through tries from Steffon Armitage and Seilala Mapusua.
But the Tigers pegged them back in the second half after Tom Croft went over after 56 minutes, and Herring’s try set up a grandstand finish.
Irish director of rugby Toby Booth suffered a blow on Saturday morning as influential lock Nick Kennedy dropped out of the starting XV through illness.
But the Exiles were quick to get into their stride and only some superb defensive work by flanker Herring prevented winger Sailosi Tagicakibau going over.
After wasting one overlap, the Tigers did get open the scoring after 10 minutes when Toby Flood timed his run and pass to Geordan Murphy to perfection, allowing the Irish full-back to bag his second try in two games.
Flood converted but Eoghan Hickey got Irish back to 7-3 with a monster of a penalty from six metres inside his own half after 18 minutes.
Former Newcastle fly-half Flood missed a simple penalty to restore the advantage and the visitors made them pay after 28 minutes.
Mapusua picked out flanker Armitage to score in the corner, Hewat’s touchline conversion giving them a 10-7 lead.
Tigers though were having the better of the game up front but they were once again led down by Flood’s kicking with another simple penalty spurned.
He did draw them level just before the break when Hickey was sin-binned for stopping a quick tap penalty after a period of pressure by the Leicester forwards.
Irish were gifted the lead three minutes into the second half when Murphy’s clearance was charged down by Mapusua who picked up the loose ball and dived over.
Leicester came back to level as Herring’s delightful grubber kick gave England flanker Croft the chance to gather and dive over, Flood’s touchline conversion levelling it up at 17-17.
Tigers had the bit between their teeth and, following a clinical break from captain Aaron Mauger, it took a try-saving tackle from Topsy Ojo to stop Tom Varndell going over in the corner.
As a thrilling game ebbed and flowed at both ends, Leicester regained the lead.
Prop Marcos Ayerza made the initial break and Herring saw off several would-be tacklers before diving in under the posts, Flood adding the extras to put them 24-17 ahead.
Armitage looked like earning his side a draw with a stunning try after 78 minutes but Hewat missed the crucial kick from the touchline and Leicester hung on.