Irish snatch a share of the spoils
November 5, 2011
Irish snatch a share of the spoils%]
London Irish produced a stunning comeback to claim a 24-24 draw with Leicester Tigers in a thrilling Aviva Premiership clash at Welford Road.
Trailing 24-7 midway through the second half having been battered in every aspect of the game except on the scoreboard, the Exiles rallied with tries from replacements Adam Thompstone and Matt Garvey and some superb kicking from a fearless Tom Homer ensuring a share of the spoils.
A penalty try and the boot of fly-half Toby Flood had given the hosts a deserved half-time lead with centre Shontayne Hape crossing to keep Irish in touch. But the game appeared to slip away from them after the break with a try from replacement Horacio Agulla and Flood putting the Tigers on course for their first home win of the campaign only for Irish to rescue the game and climb into the play-off places.
Good early pressure from Leicester, who had only secured one point from their previous three Premiership home games, soon had Irish on the back foot and they struggled to shackle a Tigers pack determined to make an early mark. Sensing their rivals were there for the taking, a penalty was kicked to the corner but an accidental offside following the lineout served as a let-off for the Exiles.
But the Irish scrum was no match for a fired up Leicester pack who laid the foundation for a series of phases that resulted in an offside penalty that Flood pulled horribly wide. But the warning signs were there and another raid soon brought reward. Flood spearheaded the attack that had Irish scrambling and another offside penalty allowed the Tigers fly-half to atone for his previous miss.
But their lead did not last long with Irish striking back on the quarter hour. A good step from winger Sailosi Tagicakibau created the initial opening on a rare foray into the Leicester 22 before fellow speedster Topsy Ojo and No.8 Jebb Sinclair combined to put Hape over for the opening try of the game that was converted by Homer.
Irish's indiscipline continued to draw the wrath of referee Dave Pearson and his patience finally ran out midway through the half with fly-half Dan Bowden shown yellow for a cynical infringement in the shadow of his own posts. The Tigers' pack looked to turn the screw at a scrum and heaped further woe on the visitors by winning a penalty try that Flood had no trouble in converting.
Leicester's Toby Flood is wrapped up by the London Irish defence © Getty Images
A long-range penalty from Homer fell just short of the cross bar on the half hour mark while their lineout also struggled against a dominant Leicester set-piece but an admirable work rate managed to keep the Tigers at bay until a second Flood penalty gave his side a six point lead on the stroke of half time.
Irish were soon under the cosh again at the start of the second half with a clearance from Ojo charged down and although the ball was cleared, Leicester were soon knocking on the door again with Flood slotting a simple penalty to edge his side further ahead.
Irish rallied well with Leicester flanker Tom Croft robbed at a lineout before Irish hooker David Paice powered forward. Support came in the form of Sinclair before the ball was bundled into touch inside the 22 only for the Exiles' lineout and scrum woes to scupper their hopes of capitalising further.
Leicester's superior invention soon carried them back into the Irish 22 where Irish rode their luck but their good fortune did not extend to their creaking scrum with a penalty against replacement loose-head Max Lahiff allowing Flood to add to his tally and there was better to come. Another powerful Leicester scrum allowed scrum-half Sam Harrison to snipe through half a gap before Croft appeared to lose the ball as he stretched for the line. Agulla pounced on the loose ball and dotted down for the try that was confirmed by the Television Match Official who was asked to rule on the grounding and unable to highlight the knock on in the build up.
The conversion was wayward before a gusty Irish breathed life back into the match. Bowden was central to the move and carved the scoring opportunity with a beautifully delayed pass to replacement Thompstone who dived over in the corner for his side's second try. Homer conversion was good and another penalty with ten minutes of the game remaining brought Irish back into bonus point range.
A penalty inside the Tigers' 22 allowed the Exiles exert further pressure only for Leicester lock Geoff Parling to claim the ball at the lineout. But the clearance kick from replacement Jeremy Staunton was charged down by impressive flanker Jamie Gibson and Garvey won the battle for the loose ball before falling to the ground for the try. Homer landed the conversion from out wide to tie the game.
Flood took Leicester deep into Irish territory with the clock running down and they peppered the Irish defence with the forwards earning the hard yards only for Flood to push his drop goal attempt wide of the posts in the final act of the game.
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