London Irish have won only once at Welford Road since 1923 and that record did not change yesterday. But a remarkable revival in the final quarter earned them a thoroughly deserved draw in a match that was almost a mirror-image of the fixture here in May, when Leicester were the comeback kings.
Leicester should have been out of sight when they were 17 points ahead. They dominated the set pieces, stealing three line-outs and twice pushing Irish off scrum ball and they took the penalty count on a 3-1 ratio which led to a yellow card for Daniel Bowden, the visiting captain, yet they never looked less dangerous than when their backs had the ball.
The Tigers might sill have won when Toby Flood was presented with a 30-metre drop-goal chance in the final seconds, but the kick flew wide. Nor did Irish deserve such a fate, but this game will hearten them, given that it came in the absence of Delon Armitage and their veteran locks, Nick Kennedy and Bob Casey. Armitage, the England full-back who will face two charges of foul play at an RFU disciplinary hearing on Tuesday, could receive a lengthy ban.
"You want a group where everyone can fill the space, regardless of the reputation or position of any individual," said Toby Booth, the London Irish head coach. The invention of his backs more than compensated for inadequacies elsewhere.
That Leicester have the worst home record in the Premiership does nothing for their ambitions in the Heineken Cup. "We have no one else to blame but ourselves," said Richard Cockerill, their director of rugby, bemoaning the decision-making and turnovers which helped Irish back into the game.
The Exiles demonstrated their attacking potential early when Shontayne Hape finished clinically, after good work by Jebb Sinclair and Topsy Ojo. Leicester recovered the lead with a penalty try while Bowden was in the sin-bin; Flood kicked four penalties, most when Irish were offside behind loose scrums.
Horacio Agulla scored a try after Tom Croft was brought down on the Irish line but Flood had cause to regret his missed conversion when Adam Thompstone began the revival with the second Irish try.
Tom Homer, more accurate than Flood, kicked a conversion and a penalty and was then presented with a chance to level the scores. Again it came from poor Leicester play: Geoff Parling stole a line-out, only to watch in horror as Matt Garvey charged down Jeremy Staunton's clearance and scored. Homer, from a decent angle, never looked likely to miss.
Leicester: G Murphy (capt); S Hamilton, H Agulla, M Smith (J Staunton, 57), A Tuilagi; T Flood, S Harrison (J Grindal, 62); M Ayerza, G Chuter (T Youngs, 67), M Castrogiovanni (D Cole, 53), L Deacon (G Skivington, 61), G Parling, T Croft, J Salvi (E Slater, 80), T Waldrom.
London Irish: T Homer; T Ojo (A Jarvis, 70), S Shingler, S Hape, S Tagicakibau (A Thompstone, 43); D Bowden (capt), R Samson; A Corbisiero (M Lahiff, 53), D Paice (J Buckland, 53), P Ion (F Rautenbach, 55), J Sandford (M Garvey, 48), B Evans, D Danaher (R Thorpe, 62), J Gibson, J Sinclair.
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland)