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Tuilagi try puts Tigers on top

07 May 2011
Tuilagi try puts Tigers on top

Leicester Tigers produced an astonishing final 10 minutes to steal a dramatic 32-23 victory over London Irish at Welford Road and seal top spot in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table and a home semi-final against local rivals Northampton.

The Tigers came into the match knowing a win and bonus point would ensure top spot, but they made far too many basic errors, gifting London Irish winger Topsy Ojo with two intercept tries while missing countless chances of their own.

Trailing 23-13 with just 10 minutes to go they scored three tries to record a stunning victory and leave London Irish devastated. First, replacement winger Horacio Agulla raced over on the right after a flowing attacking move. That lifted the team and the crowd, and three minutes later a try by impressive inside centre Anthony Allen left his side just three points adrift with Toby Flood's conversion.

And it was Tom Croft who put his side into the lead at 25-23, making amends for being put into touch after crossing the line in the first half. It was left to Alesana Tuilagi, Aviva Premiership Rugby's top try scorer, to wrap up the comeback by outstripping the cover defence on the left to score his 12th try of the campaign, with Flood converting.

It was an unlikely end to a match distinguished by a staggering number of errors from both sides. The perfect conditions offered no excuses, as promising attack after promising attack was confounded by handling mistakes.

The match had started well for the Tigers, Flood slotting an early penalty and the home scrum looked ready to pummel the visitors. But Tom Homer – standing in at full-back for the suspended Delon Armitage – pulled a penalty back for the Exiles and, in the 14th minute Ojo intercepted Flood's hopeful pass and raced 50 metres to score under the posts.

Tom Homer's conversion made it 10-3 after quarter of an hour, and the Welford Road crowd could barely believe their side were trailing. The error-strewn gloom was lifted when Matt Smith scored a marvellous try in the right hand corner for Leicester, but Flood could not convert from such a difficult angle.

London Irish then looked certain to score a second try when Homer led a thrilling break, and Leicester's scrambling defence conceded a penalty which Homer knocked over to extend the lead to 13-8.

But Tigers should have reduced that deficit and even been in the lead at the break. Tuilagi could not hold a difficult short pass from Flood, while Ed Slater and Martin Castrogiovanni both knocked on to thwart good attacking moves. And then Croft failed to dot down and disbelief flowed through the home fans.

With Flood also missing a kickable penalty just before the half hour, it was a deeply frustrating first period for the home side, and London Irish went into the break delighted at their hosts' generosity. The second half began the same way, with Ojo swooping on a dropped pass eight minutes after the restart and racing away to score under the posts, with Homer's conversion making it 20-8.

Tigers looked on the verge of scoring with a series of attacking scrums and rucks but London Irish stood firm, although referee Greg Garner warned the visitors for repeated infringements. Then a Tigers mistake cost them more points, first turning the ball over then messing up the line-out to set Exiles on the attack.

It was the visitors' turn to pound away at the try line, but they came away with points thanks to a Homer penalty when the Tigers were offside.

That seemed like a death blow for the Tigers, but 10 minutes of sublime attacking rugby turned defeat into an astonishing win. The late tries propelled Tigers to the top of the table and into a mouth-watering local derby against Saints.

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