25 February 2023
A run of four wins in the Gallagher Premiership came to an end in Round 18 for London Irish, succumbing to a 22-25 loss to Leicester Tigers at the Gtech Community Stadium.
An end-to-end opening 40 minutes began with former Exile Olly Cracknell dotting down, with further tries from Tom Pearson, Joe Powell and then Jasper Wiese seeing Irish lead 17-14 at the interval.
Harry Potter and Chandler Cunningham-South would exchange scores in the tight second half, but it was Handré Pollard’s boot that proved crucial with two converted penalty kicks as Irish took a losing bonus point.
Leicester made an impressive start, working off a scrum from an incomplete collection of the kick-off and charging over through Olly Cracknell, Handré Pollard adding the extras.
Irish was almost as swift in their retort, Tigers’ poor handling their undoing as the hosts worked through the phases and, reminiscent of his score against Harlequins at the Gtech, Tom Pearson dummied and dived over the whitewash.
Paddy Jackson levelled the scores, with the Boys in Green’s next try was sumptuous.
Showing great handling whilst playing out the back from just inside the opposing half, Irish found the gap through a brilliant Rory Jennings offload and bustling Benhard Janse van Rensburg linebreak.
The South African centre delayed a pass to Joe Powell long enough to draw in defenders and set the scrum-half free to score, half-back partner Jackson making no mistake from the tee.
A frantic game saw the visitors endeavour to level the scores accelerate towards the end of the first quarter, and despite initial repelling from Janse van Rensburg and Ben Loader on the left edge, Jasper Wiese would dot down with another Pollard conversion.
Leicester’s Harry Potter was given a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on soon after however as Irish looked to build, but it wouldn’t stunt their pursuit of points as Jackson added three more after a Tigers breakdown infringement.
Irish applied great pressure in defence, forcing a handling error on Ben Youngs with some chasing aggression from Lucio Cinti in the next few moments, but the Puma was pinged for hands on the floor in an otherwise excellent counter ruck.
James Stokes’ 50:22 kick built a platform for his side for more red zone entries, careless handling failing the Exiles within a sniff of the whitewash but the attacking impetus remained.
Quick thinking from Jackson with loop passes and a nifty grubbers kept Irish within reach of more scores, but a reversal of possession was won by Richard Wigglesworth’s men at the put-in.
Mike Brown looked to have scored a runaway try in the final five minutes of the opening half, but play was called back for a knock-on earlier in the sequence.
Tigers’ frustration would grow as Cracknell was denied a brace to close the opening forty for a double movement, followed swiftly by a mishandling of a short lineout as Irish entered the break ahead by three points.
The East Midlands side felt the pressure from Irish’s action from the boot upon return, two poor exits from Youngs and Pollard rooting them firmly in their own half to open up the second period.
Declan Kidney’s boys were seeking a third score, Pearson’s smart snipe and Joe Powell’s quick tap coming up just short but persistent offside penalties from Leicester ensured Irish maintained possession.
Tigers fell afoul of referee Jack Makepeace’s whistle again for not rolling away, but Irish were then cautioned for obstructing in a surge to the line.
A spill in an attempt to exit from the west Londoners elevated their need to stay wary, but after consistent offside penalties, Harry Potter was found in an overlap on the left edge to score and lift Tigers to a two-point lead.
Irish’s explosive power combined in the form of replacement Chandler Cunningham-South’s tackling and Janse van Rensburg’s jackalling to take back control in due time.
Jackson’s smart kick from hand into the back field led to Mike Brown taking the ball dead, allowing for a five-metre scrum for the Exiles, where Cunningham-South picked and went from the base to finish in contact – instant impact!
It was never going to be easy in the closing stages, a Pollard place kick levelling the cores after Irish didn’t roll away, but Irish weren’t far away from another red zone entry via Oliver Hoskins.
Jackalling threat from Tigers at opposite ends of the pitch, courtesy of Harry Wells and Emeka Ilione, allowed for Leicester to exit and then have another shot a goal, which Pollard converted.
Pollard would have another chance from just inside of halfway from Wells’ over the ball industry, but this attempt went wide and their advantage in the game’s closing minutes remained at three points.
A high tackle on Lucio Cinti gave Irish a lifeline when looking for the points and with another infringement at a subsequent rolling maul, Irish went again but a strip broke the home faithful’s hearts to end the game.
Score sequence (London Irish first): 0-5, 0-7, 5-7, 7-7, 12-7, 14-7, 14-12, 14-14, 17-14, 17-19, 22-19, 22-22, 22-25
London Irish: Tries: Pearson (6), Powell (8), Cunningham-South (63); Conversions: Jackson (7) (9); Penalties: Jackson (24).
Leicester Tigers: Tries: Cracknell (3), Wiese (19), Potter (57); Conversions: Pollard (4) (20); Penalties: Pollard (67) (72); Yellow Cards: Potter (21).
15 James Stokes, 14 Lucio Cinti, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Rory Jennings (Joseph 61), 11 Ben Loader, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Joe Powell (O’Sullivan 57); 1 Facundo Gigena (Haffar 51), 2 Mike Willemse (Creevy 51), 3 Lovejoy Chawatama (Hoskins 60), 4 Api Ratuniyarawa (Munga 59), 5 Rob Simmons, 6 Juan Martín González (Caulfield 76), 7 Tom Pearson, 8 Matt Rogerson (c) (Cunningham-South 57).
16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Tarek Haffar, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Chunya Munga, 20 Josh Caulfield, 21 Chandler Cunningham-South, 22 Hugh O’Sullivan, 23 Will Joseph.
15 Mike Brown, 14 Chris Ashton (Simmons 70), 13 Matt Scott, 12 Jimmy Gopperth (Atkinson 58), 11 Harry Potter, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Tom West (van Wyk 60), 2 Julián Montoya (c) (Clare 76), 3 Joe Heyes (Hurd 74), 4 George Martin, 5 Cameron Henderson (Wells 70), 6 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Olly Cracknell (Ilione 67), 8 Jasper Wiese.
16 Charlie Clare, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Will Hurd, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Emeka Ilione, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Charlie Atkinson, 23 Harry Simmons.
Referee: Mr Jack Makepeace