London Irish pushed Leicester Tigers all the way during a nail-biting Aviva Premiership contest at Welford Road, the East Midlands outfit eventually edging to a 19-15 victory.
A display dripping with spirit and desire with some players playing through the pain barrier, Nick Kennedy’s men went close to pulling off a memorable triumph.
A point closer to safety, Irish can take real heart from Saturday’s away day as the business end of the campaign looms large.
Joe Cokanasiga, who was called up to the England squad earlier in the week, had an impressive outing and was in the thick of the action for Irish.
His score on 21 minutes gave Irish first blood just moments after Greig Tonks had missed a penalty, the TMO ruling that the strapping winger had got to the ball ahead of Jonny May. With the ball going loose in the tackle, Cokanasiga hacked the ball into the in-goal area to touch down ahead of May.
Tonks’ conversion cannoned the near post and Irish led 5-0. Leicester threw everything at the Exiles’ try line for the duration of the first-half, Cokanasiga’s try saving tackle on May keeping Irish’s lead intact. Defending well and desperate to go into the break in the ascendancy, Irish were dealt a blow when Matt Toomua crossed for a try after Brendan O’Connor broke clear before feeding the centre. Ford’s conversion gave the hosts a 7-5 interval lead.
Leicester, undoubtedly reeling from a tough talking half-time chat, came out for the second period all guns blazing and were immediately on the front foot with incisive attack play to yield their second try of the afternoon on 41 minutes. Creating an overlap on the near side, the ball was flung wide to May who dotted down in the corner. Ford skewed the conversion wide and Irish trailed 12-5.
The gap was cut to just four points when Tonks knocked over a penalty after Manu Tuilagi was penalised for being off his feet. Tuilagi bounced back moments later, diving over a ruck in front of the posts to score Leicester’s third try.
With Tigers eying the bonus point, it was Irish who hit back with their second try of the game through Alex Lewington. Cokanasiga fended off a series of would be tacklers to offload to Lewington for the score. Tonks converted from wide left to close the gap to 19-15. Irish and Leicester pushed for further points in the closing stages, but the Exiles had to settle for a bonus point as they continue their quest to secure their Aviva Premiership status.
Leicester Tigers: May, Malouf, Tuilagi, Toomua, Thompstone, Ford, Youngs (Harrison, 72), Mulipola, Polota-Nau, Cole, Fitzgerald, Kitchener, Williams (Mapapalangi, 56), O’Connor, Kalamafoni, Thacker (Polota-Nau, 56),
London Irish: Tonks, Cokanasiga, Fowlie, Williams (Brophy Clews, 74), Lewington, Marshall, Steele (McKibbin, 65), Reid (Franks, 48), Fainga’a (Woolstencroft, 63), du Plessis (Hoskins, 48), van der Merwe, Paulo (De Chaves, 63), Coman, Cowan (Northcote-Green, 48), Treviranus