Fixture: London Irish v Leicester Tigers
Competition: Premiership Rugby Cup, semi-final
Date: Tuesday 26th April 2022
Stadium: Brentford Community Stadium
A new chapter dawns in an historic cup run for London Irish at the Brentford Community Stadium this Tuesday upon the visit of Steve Borthwick’s Leicester Tigers.
20 years on from tasting silverware for the first time in the Powergen Cup final, the Exiles are on the cusp of Club eminence having amassed three consecutive wins in a domestic cup as a Premiership side for the first time since 2002.
The last time Irish had reached a cup semi-final in the first tier was the 2004/05 Powergen Cup, defeating both Worcester Warriors and Saracens before falling short to eventual victors Leeds Tykes.
Their semi-final opposition in Leicester Tigers are nonetheless a resolute team Irish are yet to get the better of this term, having faced off twice in the league and once in the cup where a vital try-bonus point was accrued for Declan Kidney and co. at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
Bryce Hegarty is the visitors’ highest-scoring player in this year’s edition of the cup with 33 points in two games, trailing only Northampton Saints’ James Grayson and Worcester Warriors’ Billy Searle overall.
With Leicester being Irish’s first outing at the BCS back in 2020, the Exiles have lost once in three previous home outings to the East Midlands side.
The second of Tigers’ eight domestic cup trophies came against London Irish in the final of the 1979/80 John Player Cup, winning 21-9 on the day at Twickenham despite a converted Mike Smythe try and a Clive Meanwell penalty.
The boss- Steve Borthwick:
The former Bath and Saracens lock took the mantle at Mattioli Woods Welford Road back in 2020 after a number of years working under Eddie Jones with the England national side.
Borthwick had previously matured his coaching chops under Jones with Japan, moving alongside the Head Coach to Twickenham after the success of the 2015 World Cup for the Cherry Blossoms.
In what is his second full season with Leicester, Borthwick has mounted the Club to perhaps more customary table positionings relative to their trophy cabinet- sitting aplomb at the top of the Gallagher Premiership, fighting in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup as well as preparing for a Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final.
In his time with Bath, Borthwick and his side were runners up to Leicester in the 1999/00 Premiership season whilst repeating the same fate at Saracens, going on to win the Club’s first title in 2011.
One to Watch- Hosea Saumaki:
Boasting an exceptional try-scoring résumé in what is his first season in a Leicester Tigers shirt, Saumaki has scored in each of his last four starts to add to his overall haul of nine.
Five tries alone in the Premiership Rugby Cup, a tournament high this year, started off with a hat-trick against fellow Midlanders Wasps, building on his collection in a loss against Newcastle Falcons and then against Irish in Round 5.
Saumaki played throughout Japan in different levels of the game; first with Daito Bunka University, Top League club Canon Eagles and then Super Rugby team Sunwolves.
The Tongan has represented his country three times last year, making his debut against the All Blacks after being blooded through their under-20s side.
Classic Encounter: London Irish 47-7 Leicester Tigers - 29th January 2000 - Tetley’s Bitter Cup
London Irish inflicted Leicester Tigers’ biggest cup defeat ever when Dean Richards' side visited The Stoop 22 years ago in the Tetley’s Bitter Cup.
The reigning Premiership champions and Pilkington Cup victors three seasons before faced a difficult time up front on an afternoon where they endured their heaviest cup defeat in the previous 28 years.
Amongst the four try-scorers, Jarrod Cunningham also put in a stellar display with 22 points as number eight Rob Gallacher registered the opening five points of the game.
Kieran Campbell would go on to touch down twice with teammates and front-row combination Neal Hatley and Richard Kirke inflicting more misery on Tigers in a cup run that progressed to the semi-finals, but ultimately came unstuck against Northampton Saints.
Tries: Kieran Campbell (2), Rob Gallacher, Neal Hatley, Richard Kirke
Conversions: Jarrod Cunningham (5)
Penalties: Jarrod Cunningham (4)
Try: Craig Joiner
Conversion: Austin Healey
Steve Borthwick has underlined the enormity of a Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final match-up with London Irish this week in wake of just a fourth league defeat of the season to Harlequins.
“It’s exciting to be fighting on three fronts, exciting to be playing in big games,” Borthwick declared.
“It was not too long ago that Leicester Tigers were not playing in big games and the players, supporters, everyone at the club were crying out to be involved in big games again.”
The loss at The Stoop ended a four-match win streak in all competitions for the Welford Road side but will look forward to their first knockout appearance in a domestic cup since their 2016/17 Anglo-Welsh Cup win.
“Here we are, playing against the current English champions at their home ground in front of a sold out stadium, fighting until the final whistle, then we have a semi-final in a few days.
“We want to be playing in big games- it is exciting.”