Premiership: Leicester Tigers 19-15 London Irish
|Leicester (7) 19|
|Tries: Toomua, May, Tuiulagi Cons: Ford 2|
|London Irish (5) 15|
|Tries: Cokanasiga, Lewington Cons: Tonks Pens: Tonks|
Leicester Tigers ended their untimely four-match Premiership losing run by coming from behind to beat bottom club London Irish at Welford Road.
Joe Cokanasiga hacked through to score in the right corner to put Irish ahead.
But two tries in quick succession either side of the break from Australian centre Matt Toomua and England’s Jonny May turned it around.
Manu Tuilagi’s converted try all but sealed it, only for Alex Lewington’s converted try to earn a bonus point.
It was a 12th successive Premiership defeat for Irish, who have not won since the opening round of the season in September.
But the Exiles’ losing bonus point edges them a point closer to 11th-placed Worcester, who were well beaten at home by Bath on Friday and now only have a nine-point advantage.
Another defeat for Leicester would have equalled their worst run in the 20-year history of the competition – and it looked ominous when Irish enjoyed the benefit of a TMO to score through Cokanasiga.
The winger won a race with full-back May to touch down, Greig Tonks’ conversion hitting the post. And, when Toomua cashed in on sustained Leicester pressure to score his first try for the Tigers and George Ford successfully converted, Leicester were in front and were never headed.
Two minutes into the second half, Tigers top scorer May crossed for his eighth try of the season but Ford missed the kick, to which Tonks responded with a penalty to close it up again at 12-8.
After a TMO decision went against Tigers, England centre Tuilagi then hurdled a pile of bodies to apparently settle it on his 100th appearance eight minutes from time, Ford converting for a 19-8 lead.
But, just two minutes later, winger Lewington went in for his sixth try of the season. And both sides had chances to score in a frenetic finale before Leicester ended their overall run of six successive defeats, six of which have come at their one-time fortress, Welford Road..
Leicester head coach Matt O’Connor:
“What we have demonstrated, in bits and pieces, is that we can compete. We will be back there again. You’d think, if we can get it right for 80 minutes, we’re as good as anyone.
“There are a lot of teams that get bullied at Exeter but we were good for 50 minutes. And we pushed Saracens and Wasps.
“Eddie Jones knows better than anyone that Manu Tuilagi has missed a lot of rugby and needs to train and play.
“He will see how he progresses and see what his squad is like injury-wise and he will make an assessment towards the end of the Six Nations.”
London Irish director of rugby Nick Kennedy told BBC Radio Berkshire:
“I’m proud of the effort. Again it’s a game we could have won and we’re fighting right to the end. It’s similar to last week. A couple of mistakes at crucial times cost us.
“Execution let us down at times and we didn’t get a chance to build pressure. It was quite a scrappy game, but we went into half-time confident.
“The boys put a huge amount of effort and work-rate out there, but it’s a couple of little switch-offs that let us down.
“We’re chipping away with a little rock hammer, picking up losing bonus points, but we must start winning games. We need to change that rock hammer for a sledgehammer and get some wins.”
Leicester: May; Malouf, Tuilagi, Toomua, Thompstone; G Ford (capt), B Youngs; Mulipola, Polota-Nau, Cole, Fitzgerald, Kitchener, Williams, O’Connor, Kalamafoni.
Replacements: Thacker, Traynor, Bateman, Wells, Mapapalangi, Harrison, J Ford, Tait.
London Irish: Tonks; Cokanasiga, Fowlie, Williams, Lewington; Marshall, Steele; Reid, Fainga’a, Du Plessis, Van der Merwe, Paulo, Coman (capt), Northcote-Green, Treviranus.
Replacements: Woolstencroft, Franks, Hoskins, De Chaves, Cowan, McKibbin, Brophy Clews, Tikoirotuma.
Referee: Karl Dickson.