Fixture: Leicester Tigers v London Irish
Competition: Premiership Rugby Cup, Round 5
Date: Tuesday 29th March 2022
Stadium: Mattioli Woods Welford Road
The pool stages of the Premiership Rugby Cup reaches a climax this week with London Irish returning to Mattioli Woods Welford Road to face Leicester Tigers in Round 5.
Irish came unstuck against Steve Borthwick’s side in both league meetings of the Clubs, the most recent of which saw Tigers triumph 47-28 at home, but Irish have since qualified for the Premiership Cup knockouts to introduce a renewed sense of focus.
The Exiles are the only team in this season’s edition of the tournament boasting a 100%, maximum points record, with Sale Sharks the only side to achieve four pool stage wins in the Premiership Rugby Cup back in 2019/20.
Conversely, Leicester are a point adrift of Newcastle Falcons in Pool 2 and are still in the hunt for their first Premiership Cup semi-final after securing their Gallagher Premiership play-off berth with five rounds remaining last weekend.
The imperious form of Borthwick’s Tigers has been tested in 2021, tasting two of their four losses this season in March, but are still playing for their third domestic cup in 10 years.
The last time Irish reached the latter stages of a cup competition as a top-flight team in 2005, they had to narrowly overcome both Worcester Warriors and Saracens, before eventually losing to eventual champions in the semi-final, Leeds Tykes.
Tigers edged out Irish on their travels in a 17-16 win in the last cup tie between the storied outfits in the 2014/15 LV Cup.
The boss- Steve Borthwick:
After deputising under Eddie Jones in the England set-up for five years, Steve Borthwick was awarded his first Director of Rugby position with one of the country’s biggest clubs in 2020.
Tasked with bringing Tigers back from the brink domestically, trailing on from consistent 11th place finishes and Premiership Cup pool stage exits, Borthwick adjusted the focus at Leicester.
Borthwick, accustomed with success in his playing career with Bath and then Saracens, almost brought a first Challenge Cup to Welford Road in his first campaign, only losing out to Montpellier Hérault in the final by a point.
Just in March, the 42-year-old has already confirmed an improvement on his Club’s final league positioning compared to last term, with Tigers entering the post-season in May for the first time in five seasons.
One to Watch- Emeka Ilione:
Ilione, the England U20 captain, is amongst three Tigers debutants set to take on compatriots Chandler Cunningham-South, Michael Dykes and Lucas Brooke in their first appearances for London Irish, respectively.
The highly-celebrated Leicester loose forward will make his long-awaited debut in front of a Welford Road crowd after completing his second U20 Six Nations tour, scoring twice in the latest edition of the tournament.
Head Coach Steve Borthwick recently praised Ilione’s perseverance after returning from a shoulder injury suffered in the 2021 Six Nations, declaring:
"He is a player of an enormous amount of potential, what he's got to do is continue to work hard to maximise that potential."
Joining the Leicester Tigers academy in 2018 from the Tigers’ Developing Player Programme at Newark, he was part of the Tigers squad that shared the 2019/20 Academies Under-18 League title with London Irish with nothing to separate the sides in the final.
Classic Encounter: London Irish 18-12 Leicester Tigers - 24th October 2009 - Guinness Premiership
Ryan Lamb was on electric form for the visit of Leicester Tigers to the Madejski Stadium, kicking all of London Irish’s points on the day to take them to the summit of English rugby.
Lamb was the difference maker on the day, and his efforts meant Irish overtook Tigers’ early advantage by way of a Jeremy Staunton penalty to hand Irish a 9-3 lead at the conclusion of the first-half.
His assist for a Sailosi Tagicakibau try was dubiously ruled out early on, and, having missed an early placed kick, recomposed himself to carry Irish through the stern test.
The 22-year-old continued his fine kicking form into the second stanza, with a late try of his own disallowed later on, as Irish avenged their Premiership final defeat a matter of months earlier.
Penalties: Ryan Lamb (6)
Penalties: Jeremy Staunton (3), Ben Youngs
Leicester Tigers back-row forward Ollie Chessum stated a sense of communal onus aided in their recent win over Exeter Chiefs in the Gallagher Premiership, declaring everyone was “fighting for one another.”
“We know that coming down here is never going to be an easy game, let alone coming away with a win,” Chessum admitted.
“They came back at us, as they do so well, and we just hung in together.
“It was a massive effort from everyone, to keep fighting."
The win over Chiefs was their first at Sandy Park since 2017, and first in the Premiership since 2014, but the grand permutations of such a win will not distract Tigers in the remaining weeks of the season.
“It is pleasing, of course, but we won’t be taking it easy now- we will keep working hard, keep turning up for one another.
“It won’t change our mindset, won’t change our approach to be better next week than we were today.”