Leicester 24 London Irish 22: Meyer unhappy after Leicester make hard work of victory

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The Independent Online

In a league which promotes Utopia as the ability of each team to defeat any of the others, we may anticipate more matches of an unpredictable nature. Specifically, this combination of error-prone Tigers and London Irish's magnificent loose forwards might have ended all-square if Irish's Peter Hewat had converted Delon Armitage's late try.

On the other hand, Leicester might have been seven or more points up at half-time, instead of level at 10-10, if their stand-in captain, Aaron Mauger, had made different choices with Irish spinning and squealing like a Catherine wheel in the scrum. Midway through the first half a penalty try looked odds-on after Irish buckled in four scrums in their 22 but Leicester went for goal and Toby Flood missed.

Irish's openside and Armitage's brother, Steffon, scrapped like an angry bull mastiff and grabbed a try in the 27th minute.

A couple of minutes before the interval, Leicester earned another penalty after a series of seven scrums and Harry Ellis's tap-and-go was impeded by Eoghan Hickey, the Irish fly-half who went to the sin bin. Facing 14 men, including a very harassed front five, Tigers chose again to kick the penalty.

It was a little more understandable with time at a premium, yet overall for Irish to lead twice and never be behind by more than a converted try was extraordinary. They were missing their playmakers in the backs, Mike Catt and Shane Geraghty, plus four of the best line-out operators in the country, never mind the club: Nick Kennedy, Bob Casey, Kieran Roche and James Hudson. They had whistled up Nick Rouse, a lock on loan from Nottingham, at four days' notice. The Tigers had their own personnel problems, and fresh crocks from Saturday included the lock Richard Blaze (knee) and England centre Dan Hipkiss (shoulder).

Tigers' Kiwi openside Ben Herring made a 54th-minute try by Tom Croft with a dinky chip and got a score of his own 13 minutes later. In between Seilala Mapusua went over for Irish with Hewat converting for a 17-10 lead.

Herring's try in support of the prop Marcos Ayerza's gallop from Croft's line-out tap put Leicester 24-17 up but with Flood and Hewat missing five place kicks and a dropped goal between them, uncertainty ruled. Heinously, Leicester lost possession in the Irish 22 and, at length, Delon Armitage scored at the other end, though he could have done more to improve Hewat's angle for the conversion.

"There's still a long way to go but I'm not happy with the performance at all," said Heyneke Meyer, Leicester's head coach, excepting the scrummage from his analysis. Meyer's London Irish counterpart, Toby Booth, said: "We've tried to breed more of a ruthless edge and not just be a great counter-attacking side. The most encouraging thing for me is the mentality the players have shown."

Leicester: Tries G Murphy, Croft, Herring; Conversions Flood 3; Penalty: Flood. London Irish: Tries S Armitage, Mapusua, D Armitage; Conversions Hewat 2; Penalty: Hickey.

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, B Herring (B Woods, 75), J Crane.

London Irish: P Hewat; T Ojo, D Armitage, S Mapusua, S Tagicakibau; E Hickey (E Seveali'i, 73), 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).