Irish set for second bite

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The Independent Online
London Irish 25 Leicester 18

By the time they reach the play-offs, and there is little doubt that London Irish in this sort of mood and form will get a second bite at survival, they will probably be all played out. Physically finished and, if they have to go through last night again, emotionally drained as well.

The forwards, in particular, will be exhausted and the eight Exiles who celebrated their call-up for Ireland's summer tour of New Zealand may well be tempted to cry off at the end of a long and very hard season.

The Irish run-in is not easy. Last night's vital victory over a shadow Leicester side - they had around a dozen first-choice players unavailable through injury - had the advantage of home comforts. But it represented the end of the comfort zone, if a match against any Leicester side can be regarded as comfortable.

Hereafter, they have four matches away, at Bristol, Sale, West Hartlepool and Saracens, before returning to Sunbury for their final game against Orrell. Leicester appear to have given up the ghost and no doubt, in footballspeak, will concentrate on the Cup final.

There was plenty of action to entertain a boisterous crowd on and off the ball. Tony Rossall, the referee, was obliged to speak to players on both sides during the lively match. Conor O'Shea, the Exiles full-back, made frequent incursions into the line and looked dangerous, but generally Leicester were the equal of it.

Even so, the Tigers had to spend the first hour chasing their tail as Irish sneaked into a 17-point lead. At that point, with the alarm bells ringing, they fought back. Substitutions brought their first-choice front together and the game changed. The lock Neil Fletcher's try and Rob Liley's conversion and a penalty reduced the advantage the Exiles had held with their four tries scored by Gabriel Fulcher, the centres Nick Burrows and Justin Bishop and the wing Niall Woods.

London Irish: Tries Fulcher, Burrows, Bishop, O'Connell; Conversion O'Shea; Penalty O'Shea. Leicester: Tries Poole, Fletcher; Conversion Liley; Penalties Liley 2.

London Irish: C O'Shea; R Hennessy, J Bishop, N Burrows, N Woods; S Burns, N Hogan; L Mooney, R Kellam (T Redmond, 37-40), G Halpin (capt), G Fulcher, B Walsh, K O'Connell, C Bird, K Spicer.

Leicester: N Malone; C Joiner, M Jasnikowski, S Potter (G Austin, 51), N Ezulike; R Liley, A Healey; D Jelley (D Garforth, 51), D West (R Cockerill, 66), G Rowntree (capt), M Poole, N Fletcher, O Wingham, B Drake-Lee, D Addison (L Moody, 51).

Referee: T Rossall (Liverpool).

Newcastle ran in 12 tries at Blackeath to beat the London side 72-10 last night and increased their chances of automatic promotion to National League One after displacing Bedford in second place by a single point with games in hand.

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