London Irish were unable to follow their opening win over Wasps, the champions, by ruining Leicester's record of never losing their first home league match of the season, but it was close. The Tigers went through the full arsenal of shooting themselves in the foot and only hung on to the win when Irish's full-back, Peter Hewat, failed to convert Delon Armitage's try two minutes before the end.
Armitage's score was the umpteenth example of Leicester lacking the cuteness or cohesion to quell Irish's marvellously combative forwards. Jordan Crane, the Tigers No 8, flung the ball over his own head in Irish's 22 and Irish counterattacked, their scrum-half, Peter Richards, fly-hacking up the left then feeding Seilala Mapusua, who sent Armitage over. The centre might have made more of an effort to get nearer the posts; he appeared more concerned with celebration as he grounded the ball and hoofed it exultantly on to the terraces.
With Martin Corry, the Leicester captain, among five internationals injured (Seru Rabeni, the Fijicentre, is suspended) there was a clear question mark over Tigers' leadership. Midway through the half, Leicester led 7-3 after Geordan Murphy's eighth-minute try, converted by Toby Flood, replied to by a penalty from six metres inside his own half by Irish's fly-half, Eoghan Hickey.
After Hickey's kick, Irish's forwards dealt lazily with the restart and conceded a scrum. Three went down and another was reset as Irish's tight-head prop, Faan Rautenbach, found himself chewing grass. Amazingly, after the referee, Chris White, had called Paul Hodgson, the London Irish captain, across for a dire warning – a penalty try and yellow card could not have been far off – Leicester chose to kick for goal rather than scrummage again. Flood, from a shallow angle right of the posts, went wide left. Bizarre. To add injury to insult, Richard Blaze, the Tigers lock, had twisted a knee. He limped off.
"I always back the captain," said Heyneke Meyer, Leicester's head coach, which was reassuring for the centre Aaron Mauger, but you could not imagine certain former skippers – Martin Johnson, say – spurning such a chance.
Irish had arrived without Nick Kennedy, Bob Casey, James Hudson and Kieran Roche (plus Mike Catt), and sure enough their normallyspecialist line-out turned into a nightmare. But with the other Armitage brother,Steffon, scrapping mag-nificently on the deck,they worried Leicester in other ways.
"People talked about how poor Wasps were against us," said Toby Booth, Irish's head coach, "but you've got to make a side look poor."
At the last knockings of the first half, Leicester trailed 10-7. Hewat had converted a try by Steffon Armitage at the left corner following Sailosi Tagicakibau's run. Again Irish were in trouble at the scrum, but from a penalty awarded at the seventh put-in the Tigers scrum-half, Harry Ellis, chose to tap and go. He drew Hickey into a tackle for which the Irish No 10 was sent to the sin-bin and, fearing time might count them out, Leicester's choice of the goal kicked by Flood was probably correct.
Another calamity was not long coming, though. Four minutes into the second half Tom Varndell took a quick line-out, Murphy was charged down by Danie Coetzee and Mapusua scored for Irish, who were still down to 14 men. Hewat converted. It needed Ben Herring's left-footed chip and a superb gather off the floor by his fellow flanker, Tom Croft, to level things again on 53 minutes.
Hewat sent a drop-goal attempt wide and then Leic-ester fashioned a fine try. Croft tapped a line-out to Marcos Ayerza, who charged through and handed on for Herring to score at the posts, Flood converting. Hewat and Flood each missed another penalty and the result remained in the balance to the final whistle.
Leicester: G Murphy; T Varndell, D Hipkiss (J Murphy, 7-13; 51), A Mauger (capt), M Smith; T Flood, H Ellis (J Dupuy, 59); M Ayerza, G Chuter (B Kayser, 49), J White (D Cole, 54), R Blaze (M Wentzel, 22), B Kay, T Croft, J Crane, B Herring (B Woods, 75).
London Irish: P Hewat; T Ojo, D Armitage, S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau; E Hickey, P Hodgson (capt; P Richards, 51); T Lea'aetoa (A Corbisiero, 40), D Coetzee (D Paice, 57), F Rautenbach (Lea'aetoa, 42; D Murphy, 63), N Rouse (J Fisher, 51), G Johnson, R Thorpe, C Hala'Ufia (D Danaher, 64), S Armitage.
Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).Reuse content