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Fixture Type: Aviva Premiership
Match Date: Sat 04 Dec 2010
Kick Off: 14:30
Venue: Madejski Stadium
Referee: Dave Pearson
Assistant Referee: Kevin Stewart
Assistant Referee: Andrew Pearce
TV Match Official: Graham Hughes
Paddy Lennon reports from Madejski Stadium.
Since the Exiles returned to Aviva Premiership action against neighbours London Wasps three weeks ago their normally reliable set pieces – the scrum and lineout, have come under the most serious examination. The unravelling began at Adams Park, continued at Franklin’s Gardens last weekend and at Madejski Stadium again today.
Leicester Tigers have always based their game on a strong set of forwards and with the return of their international players, a formidable, well prepared unit was the key to undoing London Irish this afternoon. From early on it was clear that Leicester had done their homework during the week on Irish’s performance against Saints, in particular how to disrupt the Exiles’ pack.
The Exiles’ front row was deliberately targeted in the scrum as was the second and back rows at lineout time. Deprived of quality possession from the set pieces and with quick ball almost impossible to secure from the breakdown, such is the Tigers’ expertise in that area, Paul Hodgson and Ryan Lamb had little quality possession with which to bring their backs into play. On the few occasions that they did, Irish showed what a lethal threat they pose with ball in hand and playing at pace as Topsy Ojo’s second half try proved.
The moments of magic that led to that try were all too rare from the home team’s point of view as Leicester set about imposing themselves on the game from the outset.
The Trojan efforts of the Reading Stadium’s ground staff, in particular Head Groundsman Bruce Elliott, ensured a near perfect playing surface given the dreadful weather conditions of the past week. And how the Tigers enjoyed playing on it.
The opening exchanges were played in the Exiles’ half and it was clear that the Tigers forwards were going to have a big say in the outcome of the match. The early penalties were going the way of the visitors although it took their out half, Billy Twelvetrees until the ninth minute to find his range and register his team’s first points.
His opposite number, Ryan Lamb was most unlucky with his first penalty kick at goal which veered left of the left upright at the final seconds of the ball’s flight.
Irish received another set back four minutes later when David Paice had to leave the pitch with a suspected broken bone in his foot. He was replaced by Brian Blaney, who was making his Premiership debut.
The visitors used their powerful forwards to the full and ensured that the majority of the play stayed in the Irish half. Inevitably, the home team conceded penalties and were duly punished by the accurate place kicking of Twelvetrees who extended his team’s lead with two successful kicks in the 18th and 23rd minutes.
The much anticipated clash between the current England scrum half, Ben Youngs and one of his able predecessors, Paul Hodgson, never developed. The former had a relatively comfortable ride at the back of his dominant pack whereas Hodgson was forced to work off the back foot for much of the game.
As the half unfolded it was the big ball carriers on both sides that were making the difference – Tom Waldrom, Craig Newby and Jordan Crane for Tigers and George Stowers, Richard Thorpe and Chris Hala’Ufia for the Exiles. While the efforts of the Irish players lacked nothing in determination and effort, their opposite numbers were more effective in creating a platform for their team-mates to exploit.
This effectively meant that the momentum of the match was mostly with the visitors and it was to the credit of the uncompromising efforts of the Irish defence that no tries were scored.
With half-time only minutes away, Irish finally secured a kickable penalty when Tigers were penalised at the breakdown. Lamb’s kick from 49 metres out near the right touchline sailed between the uprights to give his team their first points of the match and left the score 3-9 at the interval.
The Exiles emerged for the second half with renewed confidence and took the game to Leicester. Lamb had the better of a tactical kicking duel with Geordan Murphy with the result that Irish secured attacking field position.
It was from one such position in the 45th minute that Jonathan Joseph broke up the left. The move was carried on by Hala’Ufia and Hodgson who passed to Lamb and his perfectly flighted cross-field kick found Topsy Ojo. The winger had the pace and power to beat the covering defenders and touchdown in the right corner. Lamb’s conversion attempt failed but Irish were within a point.
The score lifted the Exiles who went on to have their best spell of the match in terms of possession and threat. Leicester were content to absorb the pressure and capitalise on their dominance of the set pieces where they secured regular turnovers.
Their patience was rewarded in the 54th minute. Irish were forced to defend on their 22 as the Tigers moved the ball left then right before switching it back left again where man-of-the-match Waldrom was waiting on the final pass before running in to touch down. Twelvetrees added the extras with a great kick from the touchline to stretch his team’s lead to 8-16.
Irish made a series of replacements in the next ten minutes but continued to struggle in the set piece. As the game turned into the final quarter a pick-and-go sequence by the Exiles’ pack brought them to within five metres of the Tigers’ try line. The visitors were content to concede a penalty which Lamb kicked to get his team to within five points.
A rousing finale looked on the cards as Irish threatened when playing with ball in hand. A second pick-and-go sequence resulted in another penalty which Lamb coolly kicked to take the score to 14-16.
Then came what proved to be a questionable turn of the screw from an Exile’s perspective. Twelvetrees kicked the restart direct into touch to give Irish a scrum on half-way. Referee Pearson penalised Irish for a scrum offence, not binding was his signal. Unfortunately for Irish and Mr Pearson, the television replay clearly showed that it was the Tigers player that offended.
With six minutes remaining, a moment of indecision from the restart resulted in a fumble that meant Irish conceded a scrum, 15 metres from their try line on their right. The Exiles’ scrum was clearly under pressure and conceded two penalties before Mr Pearson awarded a penalty try which Twelvetrees converted to kill the match as a contest.
The Exiles battled to the final whistle to little effect. The victory sees Leicester leapfrog London Irish into second place in the league table.
Scorers. London Irish: Try: Ojo (45). Penalty goals: Lamb 3 (39, 63, 71). Leicester Tigers: Tries: Waldrom (54), Penalty Try (74) ; Conversions: Twelvetrees 2. Penalty goals: Twelvetrees 3 (9, 18, 23).
Scoring sequence (London Irish first): 0-3, 0-6, 0-9, 3-9 (half-time)8-9, 8-16, 11-16, 14-16, 14-23.
London Irish: 15. D Armitage, 14. T Ojo, 13. E Seveali’i, 12. D Bowden, 11. J Joseph, 10. R Lamb, 9. P Hodgson, 1. C Dermody (captain), 2. D Paice (rep: B Blaney, 18), 3. F Rautenbach, 4.N Kennedy, 5. K Roche, 6. G Stowers, 7.R Thorpe, 8. C Hala’Ufia
Leicester Tigers: 15. G Murphy, 14. S Hamilton, 13. M Smith, 12. A Allen, 11. A Tuilagi, 10. B Twelvetrees; 9. B Youngs, 1. M Ayerza, 2. G Chuter, 3. D Cole, 4. L Deacon, 5. G Skivington, 6. T Waldrom, 7. C Newby, 8. J Crane.
Referee: D Pearson (RFU)