The loss of England fly-half Toby Flood to a bang on the head early in the second half did not impede Leicester's consolidation of top spot in the Premiership against a London Irish side whose hitherto confident expectations of a play-off place are beginning to unravel. While Flood was said to be fit for international duty against Scotland on Saturday – he had continued his run of very decent club form before his withdrawal – the four-try Tigers trampled all over the team they defeated by a point in last season's Premiership final.
Leicester were very quickly into their rhythm, making up in urgency what their close passing sometimes lacked. The French referee Christophe Berdos spotted a high tackle on Flood, and was dutifully hanging on for the advantage when Martin Castrogiovanni popped out a sharp pass on the short side, Anthony Allen skipped free down the left and Alesana Tuilagi outside him ran in Leicester's opening try near the posts.
Flood converted for 7-0 and added a penalty for Irish hands in the ruck in the ninth minute.
One of the visitors' formidable Islanders, the No 8 Chris Hala'ufia, was expected to provide the crucial "go-forward" but he found himself slammed back by quality Leicester tackling in his first two forays. There was the lavishly bearded Castrogiovanni, plus Lote Tuqiri – playing the last match of this four-month stint at Leicester – and sundry Samoans with their braids and beads; a hairdresser to the Premiership stars would make a fortune.
Irish lost wing John Rudd for blood treatment which ushered on Mike Catt for a few minutes during which the 38-year-old player coach had to mark a scrum opposite Tuilagi; fortunately, perhaps, for Catt's ageing bones, but to the detriment of his team, the Tigers went wide, earned another penalty at the ruck and Flood put them 13-3 up.
The home side's fans were probably still in shock at the news Lewis Moody will be leaving at season's end for Bath; as one door opens, though... and the young lock, Calum Green, set about making a name for himself against the highly rated Bob Casey and Nick Kennedy, by nicking a line-out which, combined with Tuqiri's leggy break, created Tigers' second try for Scott Hamilton; the New Zealander's sidestep foxed Steffon Armitage, Irish's openside.
Flood missed the conversion but Irish soon handed their hosts another seven points. Paul Hodgson, Ryan Lamb and Seilala Mapusua passed ponderously behind a line-out and Mapusua's delivery was picked off and run home from 25 metres by an exultant Castrogiovanni who had done little more than track the ball and keep his eyes open. The extras from Flood made the score 25-3.
Tom Homer missed two penalties for Irish, Flood did likewise, once from 40 metres, just before the Exiles at last made their muscle count. A penalty for a line-out prompted a series of drives featuring Casey, Hala'ufia and George Stowers, and Armitage – whose brother Delon was one of a handful of absent England players including Moody – dived over for a try converted by Homer a minute before half-time.
A defeat of Harlequins eight days ago had broken a winless run for Irish but their confidence looked low; their body language, in some cases, submissive. The small amount of impetus Irish gained from a penalty goal by Lamb was immediately dissipated when they lost Hala'ufia to the sin bin after 51 minutes for a challenge on Castrogiovanni.
Flood had trotted fairly steadily to the bench three minutes into the second half, leaving Jeremy Staunton to direct matters for the remainder. Staunton kicked a penalty after 61 minutes, Lamb replied in kind two minutes later then Tom Croft reappeared after seven weeks out with a knee injury, having missed England's three Six Nations matches when they sorely needed his all-court athleticism.
Croft replaced Green, who earned a Welford Road ovation; not so Lamb who, having assumed the goal-kicking from Homer, continued his successes with penalties in the 64th and 67th minutes. Leicester regrouped, forced into the Irish 22 and Allen pirouetted through some soft tackles to make the bonus-point try for George Chuter, converted by Geordan Murphy. With no cup interest to distract them, the champions are going to take some stopping.
Leicester G Murphy (capt); S Hamilton (M Smith, 75), L Tuqiri, A Allen, A Tuilagi; T Flood (J Staunton, 43), B Youngs (J Grindal, 75); M Ayerza (B Stankovich, 70), M Davies (G Chuter, 66), M Castrogiovanni (J White, 70), C Green (T Croft, 63), G Parling, C Newby, J Crane, B Woods (B Deacon, 10).
London Irish T Homer (J Lennard, 73); J Rudd (M Catt 12-19), E Seveali'i, S Mapusua, P Hewat; R Lamb, P Hodgson; D Murphy (M Lahiff, 73), J Buckland (D Coetzee, 61), F Rautenbach (P Ion, 61), N Kennedy (K Roche, 56), B Casey (capt), G Stowers, C Hala'ufia (J Gibson, 75), S Armitage.
Referee: C Berdos (France).