Leicester 40 London Irish 8: Leicester leave Irish reeling to claim final place

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The Independent Online

This was a triumph of Leicester's pragmatism over London Irish's presumption, as the Tigers, with their greater experience of the big occasion, ran out surprisingly easy winners at Welford Road yesterday.

Leicester prevailed by five tries to one to claim their place in the Premiership final at Twickenham on Saturday week, where they will meet Sale.

If they can reproduce this sort of form against free-running Sale, and continue to play with the imagination and authority they showed here, it could be a classic.

London Irish have the best away record in the league, but their beguiling brand of rugby has not, so far, brought Brian Smith's side anything more tangible than admiration and a Heineken Cup place, though there is always the European Challenge Cup final against Gloucester at The Stoop next Sunday.

Leicester, with the meanest defence in the Premiership, squeezed the life out of Irish and contained their lightning-quick back three, Delon Armitage, Topsy Ojo and Sailosi Tagicakibau.

Riki Flutey and Mike Catt were never able to construct a position from where their strike runners could do any real damage and Leicester smothered Irish in the contact areas and handed them a lesson in clinical finishing.

Pat Howard, Leicester's head coach, was understandably pleased. "It's really positive that we will go to Twickenham on the back of this," he said. "But all 22 of our guys maintained our momentum and we finished superbly."

That qualifies as the understatement of the season, as Leicester ripped Irish apart in the final quarter with three blistering tries.

Leicester came out bristling with intent and surprised Irish with the sheer physicality of the opening exchanges, as the Tigers forwards drove at them in numbers while Irish were unable to gain anything worthwhile at the breakdown. Tigers eventually made their superiority tell with Andy Goode's penalty and then Irish took a step backward when their scrum-half, Paul Hodgson, was sin-binned for stamping on Harry Ellis.

Leicester immediately made the extra man count, when Ellis fed Alesana Tuilagi for a try wide on the left. Goode tagged on the conversion to make it 10-0.

Olivier Magne touched down for Irish, shortly after Ben Kay was yellow carded, and then Ellis claimed Leicester's second try, jinking and stepping his way through a cordon of would-be tacklers. Goode tagged on the goal points and then brought the half to an end with a penalty from fully 55 metres. That made it 20-5 to Leicester, and left Irish with an awful lot of work to do if they were to salvage anything. It proved beyond them as Geordan Murphy got a try, sandwiched between two from Leon Lloyd, who replaced the prolific Tom Varndell.

Leicester: Tries Tuilagi, Ellis, Lloyd 2, G Murphy. Conversions Goode 3; Penalties Goode 3.

London Irish: Try Magne. Penalty Catt.

Leicester: G Murphy; A Tuilagi (S Vesty, 69), O Smith, D Gibson, T Varndell (L Lloyd, 60); A Goode, H Ellis (A Healey 41-53; 72); G Rowntree (M Holford, 70), G Chuter (J Buckland, 63), J White, B Kay, L Cullen (J Hamilton, 68), S Jennings, L Moody, M Corry (capt; W Johnson 42-46; 70).

London Irish: D Armitage; T Ojo, D Feau'nati (G Tiesi, 63), M Catt (capt), S Tagicakibau (B Everitt, 77); R Flutey, P Hodgson (B Willis, 77); N Hatley (T Warren, 72), R Russell (D Paice, 46), R Shuse, B Casey, K Roche, D Danaher, O Magne (N Kennedy, 45), J Leguizamon (P Murphy, 63).

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).