Leicester 25 London Irish 17: Crane lifts four-try Leicester over Irish and into fourth spot

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The Independent Online

Leicester did something yesterday that they had not done all season they scored four tries in a Premiership match to earn a bonus point. "The win was important to us after two defeats away," said Marcelo Loffreda, the Leicester head coach, "but the bonus point really made it. We needed that badly."

Leicester, who move up to fourth place in the table albeit ahead of today's fixtures on the strength of this win, were made to work hard by a gutsy London Irish side.

The two teams hammered away at each other throughout an absorbing contest. In the end it took some good, old-fashioned rugby in good, old-fashioned wintry conditions to deny Irish a valuable losing bonus point. Leicester employed their time-honoured method of control the driving maul to great effect and applied immense pressure at the scrum.

The Tigers' No 8, Jordan Crane, had a big match. He did make the odd mistake, but his ball-carrying and his grafting on the floor proved invaluable at critical times. Out in the centre, Dan Hipkiss shone. As tightly as his team-mates played, he was always prepared to cut and thrust his solid frame through the merest chink.

The England player's performance was echoed opposite him by Irish's acting captain, the Samoan centre Seilala Mapusua Bob Casey having been taken ill in the morning who was immense in defence and in attack, marshalling his men with aplomb. That Irish got so close was remarkable, given their record on this ground. Victory at Welford Road was certainly not something they would expect. In 22 visits to the East Midlands they have won just once, in the Premiership in 2003.

The Tigers, playing into the gusting wind, looked a lot more organised than their visitors at the outset, methodically working their way into the Exiles' 22. Crane and the All Black inside centre Aaron Mauger were to the fore, showing strength and guile. Some good work on the floor following a scrum close in led to the Tigers opening their account.

The ball was moved left, with Mauger showing a deft touch, before Hipkiss put in a perfect pass for the full-back, Sam Vesty, to cross the line on the right. The try was converted by the fly-half, Ian Humphreys.

But Irish have been shaping into a side who look to attack at every opportunity and they have the power and experience to achieve their aims. When the No 8, Phil Murphy, broke clear from the back of a scrum in the 25th minute and made good ground, the Exiles' policy was put into practice, Steffon Armitage getting the ball and flinging an overhead pass to the powerful and pacy left wing Sailosi Tagicakibau, who battered through the flimsy cover for an unconverted try.

Delon Armitage, Steffon's brother, made up for that miss by landing his first penalty 10 minutes later to nose Irish ahead. It was a short-lived lead almost immediately the Exiles fly-half, Shane Geraghty, finding himself under pressure, could only tap at the ball and his deliberate knock-on presented Humphreys, brother of the former Ireland fly-half David, with a straightforward penalty to put the Tigers back in front.

Although the Exiles pulled back three points with another Delon Armitage penalty in first-half injury time, the Tigers had pulled further ahead after some great approach work which enabled Vesty to stick through a perfectly placed grubber kick and Seru Rabeni to chase and lunge before scoring his side's second try.

After the interval, Leicester's forwards got their heads down and drove at the Irish. First Martin Castrogiovanni was propelled over, then, late on, the bonus point was clinched when Julian White battered through after a prolonged spell of pressure. It was his first try in more than 60 appearances for the club.

Leicester: S Vesty; J Murphy, D Hipkiss, A Mauger, S Rabeni (T Varndell, 50-55 & 72); I Humphreys, C Laussucq (F Murphy, 78); B Stankovich (J White, 39), M Davies (B Kayser, 62), M Castrogiovanni, L Deacon (capt), M Wentzel, B Deacon, J Crane, T Croft.

London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, G Tiesi, S Mapusua (capt; R Thorpe, 72), S Tagicakibau; S Geraghty, P Hodgson; C Dermody (J Leguizamon, 78), D Paice, R Skuse (T Lea'aetoa, 59), N Kennedy, J Hudson, D Danaher, P Murphy, S Armitage.

Referee: A Spreadbury (Somerset).

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