Premiership: Champions Leicester Tigers up to fifth after tense victory over London Irish

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Leicester Tigers and London Irish showed that English outfits can produce entertaining rugby as the defending champions edged past their opponents 33-31 in a thriller at Welford Road.

A day after the national team were embarrassed by the Springboks at Twickenham, these two sides showed that there is still plenty of talent in the country.

Steve Borthwick’s men were dominant in the first half, going 26-7 ahead via Julian Montoya, Richard Wigglesworth, Harry Potter and Tommy Reffell scores, but the Exiles hit back.

Irish had initially levelled matters early on before the Tigers took command, but a penalty try at the end of the opening period gave the visitors hope.

With the momentum switched, Declan Kidney’s charges took advantage in the early stages of the second half as quick-fire tries from Matt Rogerson and Ollie Hassell-Collins got them back into the game.

Leicester regained their composure to go back ahead through Jasper Wiese before Tom Pearson responded moments later for the away side. However, unlike the Tigers’ Freddie Burns, Paddy Jackson was off target with the conversion and the hosts held on for a crucial Premiership win.

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It took Leicester less than three minutes to score the opening try. They declined a kickable penalty in favour of more attacking options and were rewarded when Montoya drove over after a period of sustained pressure.

It was not the best of starts for Irish, who had lost their last six away games in the Premiership, but they responded quickly with a try from lock Ratuniyarawa, who proved unstoppable from close range.

Back came Tigers to score their second when Wigglesworth darted over from a maul, five metres from the visitors’ line.

Burns made a hash of the touchline conversion, but his side still led 12-7 at the end of a lively first quarter.

The hosts extended that advantage when they capitalised on an Irish handling error. Matt Scott was on hand to secure possession before launching a well-judged kick for co-centre Potter to win the race to collect and touch down.

The successful conversion from Burns took him past 1,500 Premiership points and he soon added another after Reffell had powered over for the bonus-point try.

Irish looked in danger of being overrun, but they struck back with a penalty try, awarded for collapsing, with home number eight Olly Cracknell yellow-carded for the offence.

After the restart, Cracknell returned from the sin-bin in time to see Irish score their third try when Rogerson burst away from a maul.

Hassell-Collins stars for Irish

Minutes later, Irish stunned their opponents by drawing level when Hassell-Collins scored the try of game by racing 70 metres along the left-hand touchline for a superb individual score.

Tigers introduced Wiese and Ollie Chessum to add some muscle to the pack and it paid dividends when the Springbok number eight crashed over.

However, Irish would not lie down and more enterprising play from Hassell-Collins created their fifth try scored by Pearson.

An upset was on the cards and Leicester could not settle their nerves as Burns first missed a drop-goal and then a long-distance penalty attempt, but they just held on for a valuable five points.

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