The form line pointing towards a ninth successive Premiership final appearance for Leicester Tigers later this month has just one obvious blip in it: their semi-final opponents at Welford Road next Saturday afternoon, Harlequins, have been winners here in the league both last season and this, not to mention the Twickenham trophy decider also won by Quins in between. "If we'd been drawn against Northampton we might have been complacent, given our good record against them," Richard Cockerill, the Leicester director of rugby, said. "It's Quins and we'll have to be dead, dead right."
By scoring five tries to three against London Irish, and keeping all six of their British & Irish Lions named last Tuesday fit and well, Leicester finished the regular season in better fettle than when they lost 22-9 to Harlequins here last September. "We were missing a lot of players then," Cockerill recalled. "These are one-off games now, it's showtime. Being at home is massive. Historically, if you're at home you tend to win."
London Irish kept going, but finished ninth in the table, two down from a year ago and face a familiar bout of rebuilding. "Leicester have an embarrassment of riches and a squad 50-deep," said Brian Smith, Cockerill's counterpart. "We made them work but they'll be happy."
The six Leicester Lions – Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi – all played and match the club's number named in the series-winning squad in 1997. Leicester had eight Lions in 2005, but that was in an original squad of 44 compared with this year's 37. It is a notable contrast to Bath, Harlequins and Wasps, for instance, each of whom are without a Lion in the initial selection this year for the first time since 1983.
More prosaically neither Cockerill nor Smith was impressed with the 24-year-old referee Luke Pearce's performance; there was also an incident of Irish's scrum-half Darren Allinson appearing to kick Geordan Murphy in the back of the head when the Leicester captain was on the ground that all the officials either missed or left for the citing system.
Jamie Gibson, the flanker soon to join Leicester, snuffed out a few Ben Youngs box kicks – one would have brought an Irish try if Gibson had passed to Bryn Evans. After a penalty apiece by Ian Humphreys and Toby Flood, Leicester's Tom Croft and Ben Youngs scored tries.
The bonus point duly followed in the third quarter with tries by Mat Tait and Niki Goneva either side of a driving forwards' effort for Irish's England prop Alex Corbisiero in his last game before joining Northampton. The score for Tait, who was on at centre for Anthony Allen (withdrawn after a bang), highlighted how Tuilagi lights up with the ball-playing Murphy and Tait around him. A lesson for the Lions there? Goneva was on the end of a batted-on pass by Flood, who then jinked off a scrum for Leicester's fifth try and a 32-10 lead on 66 minutes.
With both benches emptying, and Tigers sated, Irish had a couple of skilful tries of their own. Shane Geraghty's well placed kick was seized on by Topsy Ojo in the corner and Marland Yarde, the highly thought-of 21-year-old, stood Tait up and went over so well the home crowd applauded. Their mood was good and the message clear: bring on the champions.
Leicester G Murphy (capt); N Morris, M Tuilagi, A Allen (M Tait, 40), V Goneva; T Flood (G Ford, 68), B Youngs (S Harrison, 62); L Mulipola (F Balmain, 66), T Youngs (R Hawkins, 66), M Castrogiovanni (D Cole, 55), G Kitchener, G Parling, T Croft (S Mafi, 60), J Crane, J Salvi (T Waldrom 68).
London Irish T Homer; T Ojo, J Joseph, G Armitage, M Yarde; I Humphreys (S Geraghty, 68), D Allinson (J Moates, 66); A Corbisiero (J Yanuyanutawa, 68), S Lawson (D Paice, 49), H Aulika (L Halavatu, 62), G Skivington (capt), B Evans (K Low 68), M Garvey (D Danaher, 62), O Treviranus (J Sinclair, 68), J Gibson.
Referee L Pearce (Devon).
Tries: Croft, Youngs, Tait, Goneva, Flood
Cons: Flood 2
Tries: Corbisiero, Ojo, Yarde
Pen: HumphreysReuse content