By Paul Stephens
A try by Luke Abraham hauled Leicester off the ropes at Welford Road last night, when it seemed as if they might just succumb to a period of relentless London Irish pressure.
The match-winning score came as Michael Horak's clearance was charged down by Alesana Tuilagi following Ross Broadfoot's speculative kick ahead. Abraham was at hand to cross by the posts. Broadfoot converted and Irish did not even have the consolation of a bonus point.
Premiership rugby can be an unforgiving game as Irish's head coach, Gary Gold, acknowledged. "We played with a lot of passion," said Gold. "But you don't get many chances here. We created three and didn't score from any of them. Leicester made two and scored both times."
Leicester are now 12 points clear at the top of the table and, as their head coach John Wells, said: "I'm pretty chuffed by that. It says a lot for our squad with so many senior guys missing. Had a few things gone for us, we could have been chasing a bonus point, having been hanging on for a long time."
Irish made five changes from the side that lost so dispiritingly to Leeds in last Sunday's Powergen Cup semi-final. Out went Mark Mapletoft, with a leg injury and his half-back partner, Darren Edwards, plus the concussed Scott Staniforth, Robbie Russell and the influential Bob Casey. Though Irish's selection problems were nothing compared to Leicester's who were without Ireland full-back Geordan Murphy and seven others on England duty. Leicester were anticipating a prolonged forward battle. They got what they expected.
The Tigers took much longer than they would have wished to get the better of Irish, who initially looked jaded after their cup defeat. Martin Johnson was robbed of so many experienced enforcers that the Leicester pack was creaking badly at times. The loss of the dependable Neil Back after 35 minutes was a major blow. By then, Sam Vesty had taken the Tigers into the lead with a penalty when Irish were offside, though the full-back fell short with his next effort from 45 metres, when Keiron Dawson entered a ruck illegally.
Rodd Penny, the Irish centre, then bought a brilliant dummy sold by Austin Healey, which made the space for Tuilagi to cross in the left corner. With Leicester 8-3 ahead at the break, Penny had a golden opportunity to make amends within a minute of the restart. Leicester failed to secure the kick-off, Irish worked Penny over the line but the television replay revealed a knock-on and the try was not given. Everitt nailed a second penalty to take Irish to within two points but Abraham had the final say.
Leicester: Tries A Tuilagi, Abraham
Conversion Broadfoot Penalty Vesty
London Irish: Penalties Everitt 2
Leicester: S Vesty; D Hipkiss (R Broadfoot 61), L Lloyd, D Gibson, A Tuilagi; A Healey, S Bemand; M Holford, J Buckland (G Chuter 58), D Morris, M Johnson (capt), L Deacon, H Tuilagi (B Deacon 61), N Back (L Abraham 35), W Johnson.
London Irish: M Horak; D Shabbo, R Penney (N Mordt 72), M Catt, J Bishop; B Everitt, P Hodgson; N Hatley, A Flavin ( Paice 80), R Hardwick (D Wheatley 48), R Strudwick (capt), N Kennedy, P Gustard (D Danaher 60), K Dawson, R Reid (K Roche 54-60; 76)
Referee: C White (Gloucestershire)Reuse content