Leicester power to bonus point win
March 6, 2010
Leicester's Geordan Murphy takes on London Irish's Paul Hodgson at Welford Road
© Getty Images
Leicester cemented their place at the top of the Guinness Premiership with a 35-19 bonus point victory over London Irish at Welford Road.
Tries from Alesana Tuilagi. Scott Hamilton, Martin Castrogiovanni and George Chuter ensured the Tigers bounced back in emphatic style from their defeat to title rivals Northampton last weekend. The Exiles were blown away by their hosts in the opening period and although they raised their game after the break they could not add to Steffon Armitage's first half try.
Leicester welcomed back international trio Geordan Murphy, Toby Flood and Castrogiovanni as they looked to extend their impressive Welford Road record having given up just one Premiership point at home this season. Murphy slotted in at fullback with Hamilton switching to the wing while Castrogiovanni and Flood returned at tight-head and fly-half respectively. Irish were also bolstered by the return of England scrum-half Paul Hodgson and openside Armitage as they looked to maintain their post-season push while John Rudd replaced injured winger Topsy Ojo and James Buckland started at hooker.
Leicester began strongly and took a deserved lead with the opening try of the game from Tuilagi. After a good spell of pressure, prop Castrogiovanni put Anthony Allen away with a deft pass and the centre straightened before feeding Tuilagi who raced down the line to score. Flood added the conversion and stretched his side's lead with his first penalty after ten minutes as the Tigers' pack continued to dominate proceedings.
The Exiles struck back on the quarter hour through the boot of fullback Tom Homer after prop Marcus Ayerza was penalised for not binding correctly but it offered only a brief respite. An over-thrown lineout from the Tigers deep inside the Irish half failed to halt the home side's momentum and the pressure resulted in another penalty against the visitors - this time for not releasing - that Flood duly slotted.
A stolen lineout by Calum Green laid the platform for the Tigers' next score with the ball worked wide to departing centre Lote Tuqiri who injected an electric burst of pace before feeding Hamilton who had the pace to carry him to the corner for the try. Flood blotted his copybook by missing the conversion but it was soon forgotten as they were soon celebrating again when Castrogiovanni picked off a pass by Seilala Mapusua in midfield before racing away to score his side's third try - this time Flood added the simple conversion.
Homer's attempt at a long range penalty fell short on the half hour but an offside infringement from the Tigers gave him a chance to redeem himself but again he missed the target. Flood failed to capitalise on his rival's misses by shanking his next penalty chance as half-time approached.
Irish ended the half on the front foot after another offside penalty against Leicester allowed Exiles fly-half Ryan Lamb to take the game into the Tigers' 22 for the first time in the game. A good drive off the lineout from Chris Hala'ufia and another from Mapusua took them close to the line before Armitage dived over for the try. That defensive lapse from Leicester and the conversion from Homer offered the visitors hope as the sides headed to the tunnel.
Irish picked up where they left off after the break but Homer continued to struggle with his kicking game and pushed his latest penalty attempt wide of the posts.
A blow to the head for Flood saw him replaced by Jeremy Staunton just five minutes into the second half while Irish chased the game at every opportunity. The Exiles' pack drew a rare penalty against the Tigers and this time Lamb took over the kicking duties to good effect.
But much of their good work was undone by a moment of indiscipline from Hala'ufia who saw yellow for a high and dangerous tackle on Castrogiovanni. Irish defended bravely whilst one man down but a big scrum from Leicester drew another penalty that Staunton slotted just before Hala'ufia's return to the game.
The inspirational Armitage continued to lead by example for the Exiles and a great burst of speed and a jinking run from the flanker took him deep into the Tigers' half where Lamb once again penalised the home side's indiscipline. Leicester's Tom Croft made his long awaited return to front line action soon after as a replacement for Green but he could not prevent Lamb edging his side back into the game with his third penalty.
But a knock on from Homer at the re-start gifted Leicester great field position and when a strong run from Murphy was snuffed out illegally the Tigers kicked to the corner in search of a try-scoring bonus point. And their gamble paid off with Allen dancing through a couple of tackles before feeding replacement hooker George Chuter for the simple score with Murphy adding the extras.
Following the game, Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill played down fears that Flood would not be fit for England's Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland in a week's time. "He was a little dazed but nothing serious. He had it early in the game and we looked at him at half-time, he was a bit hazy in his vision so we decided to bring him off early in the second half. He will be fine (for Murrayfield). It was a physical game in lots of ways, it's a precaution and we are looking after him."
And Cockerill could not hide his delight at the way his side had put the Exiles to the sword. "The performance in the first half was fantastic," he said. "The second half was a bit scrappy and a bit disjointed but obviously losing Toby didn't help that. But I am delighted with the performance, we scored four tries against a good side so you can't ask for anything more than that. The players had a tough week on the training field after last week (a 19-3 defeat at Northampton) and mentally it's been hard for everyone. It was good to bounce back and five points was just what we needed."
London Irish boss Toby Booth applauded his side's second-half effort, but felt they had left themselves with too much to do after their disastrous opening, which he described as a "25-minute suicide". "We gave ourselves a mountain to climb and we probably gambled a bit in our 22 for their fourth try which we probably didn't need to do," he said.
"That was the killer blow in relation to losing bonus points but we have a couple of weeks off now and I said at half-time, amongst other things, we needed positives to take away with us because when we pick the reins up in seven days we need to have things to build on for the final furlong. And I think we saw that in the second half, there was something to build on, on what was a very difficult afternoon."
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