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The Exiles headed to Leicester on a cold November afternoon and to one of the Premierships fortress rugby grounds and came away with two points for their efforts.
A Matt Garvey try which was converted with confidence by full back Tom Homer four minutes from time silenced the home crowd and completed the thrilling comeback.
Leicester were looking to put Irish under pressure right from the off. This was instigated by fly half Toby Flood who nudged a couple of well weighted kicks onto the wing of Topsy Ojo.
Leicester looked to assert some dominance upfront, opting to maul the ball from the early lineouts. The Irish forwards fronted up well and denied the Tigers from a couple of opportunities close out from their line.
Toby Flood opened the scoring for the hosts with a penalty from in front of the Irish posts. The Irish reply was well crafted and finished off by new signing Shontayne Hape. Topsy Ojo put Jebb Sinclair into a hole and then the big Canadian forward offloaded out of the tackle to Shontayne Hape who stepped inside and dived in for the Exiles first try. Tom Homer added the extras to put Irish 7-3 ahead.
The Exiles were on the defensive once again shortly after the try. Dan Bowden was sent to the sin bin and with the extra man advantage Leicester opted for scrummages rather than the kickable points. The pressure was too much for the Exiles to handle and after two resets referee Dave Pearson went under the posts to award a penalty try. Flood kicked the conversion to put Leicester back in the lead by three points.
Tom Homer almost levelled the scores with a huge penalty attempt from inside his own half that fell centimetres short. His opposite number Toby Flood kicked the final point of the half on the stroke of half time to give his side a 13-7 advantage at the break.
Flood kicked the opening points of the second half. Dave Pearson penalised London Irish for being offside in defence.
Moments later from turnover ball Toby Booth’s side made a typical London Irish break led by David Paice. The hooker passed to Jebb Sinclair who passed to Declan Danaher metres out from the Tigers line. The back rower showed good hands to pass to Ross Samson who was tackled into touch. It showcased how dangerous Irish can be on turnover ball.
After showing strong defence the hosts were back on the attack. Toby Flood kicked his side further ahead with another penalty goal and territorially into the right areas making London Irish attack from deep.
Leicester went further ahead when they were awarded a penalty try that was adjudged to be scored by Horacio Agulla by the TMO. It looked very much like Tom Croft had knocked the ball on in the lead up to the try but it was not picked up by the assistant referee and the try was given.
Dan Bowden’s side did what they do best and came back fighting, slowly bringing themselves back into the contest. Adam Thompstone crossed for a try on 66 minutes to give the boys from Sunbury hope. He picked a great line off Dan Bowden before finishing off the try. The Irish forwards and backs combined well, showing composure before the score eventually came. Tom Homer kicked the conversion and a penalty goal minutes later to cut the deficit to 24-17.
Five minutes were left on the clock when Irish were given a penalty just outside Leicester’s 22 metre line. Rather than opting for the posts Dan Bowden put the ball in the corner. The resulting lineout was lost by to good effect. The returning Matt Garvey who had just come on as a substitute charged down the attempted kick and placed the ball over the line to score his first try for the club. Tom Homer kicked another pressure goal to secure the draw.
The Aviva Premiership is on hold for two weeks as the Heineken Cup returns. Edinburgh will visit the Madejski Stadium next Saturday in the opening round.
Score Sequence (Leicester Tigers first): 3-0, 3-7, 10-3, 13-, 16-, 19-7, 24-7, 24-14, 24-17, 24-24
Scorers: Leicester Tigers: Tries: Penalty try (23), Agulla (63); Conversions: Flood; Penalties: Flood (13,40, 43,57); London Irish: Tries: Hape (16), Thompstone (66), Garvey (76); Conversion: Homer 3; Penalties: Homer (70)
Leicester Tigers team
15. Geordan Murphy (Captain); 14. Scott Hamilton; 13. Horacio Agulla; 12. Matt Smith (rep: Jeremy Staunton, 57); 11. Alesana Tuilagi; 10. Toby Flood; 9. Sam Harrison; 1. Marcos Ayerza; 2. George Chuter (rep: Tom Youngs, 66); 3. Martin Castrogiovanni (rep: Dan Cole, 53); 4. Louis Deacon (rep: George Skivington, 61); 5. Geoff Parling; 6. Tom Croft; 7. Julian Salvi (rep: Ed Slater, 78); 8. Thomas Waldrom
Replacements: 16. Tom Youngs; 17. Boris Stankovich; 18. Dan Cole; 19. Ed Slater; 20. George Skivington; 21. James Grindal; 22. Jeremy Staunton; 23. Niall Morris
London Irish team
15. Tom Homer; 14. Topsy Ojo (rep: Adrian Jarvis, 70); 13. Steve Shingler; 12. Shontayne Hape; 11. Sailosi Tagicakibau (rep: Adam Thompstone, 40); 10. Dan Bowden; 9. Ross Samson; 1. Alex Corbisiero (rep: Max Lahiff, 53); 2. David Paice (rep: James Buckland, 53); 3. Paulica Ion (rep: Faan Rautenbach, 55); 4. James Sandford (rep:Matt Garvey, 48); 5. Bryn Evans; 6. Declan Danaher (rep: Richard Thorpe, 63) ; 7. Jamie Gibson; 8. Jebb Sinclair
Replacements: 16. James Buckland; 17. Max Lahiff; 18. Faan Rautenbach; 19. Matt Garvey; 20. Richard Thorpe; 21. Adam Thompstone; 22. Adrian Jarvis; 23. Darren Allinson
Referee: Dave Pearson