Leicester edge out Irish for Premiership glory
May 16, 2009
Leicester celebrate their Guinness Premiership Final victory over London Irish
© Getty Images
Delon Armitage Steffon Armitage Mike Catt Richard Cockerill Martin Corry Lawrence Dallaglio Nick Kennedy Geordan Murphy Sam Vesty
Leicester Tigers clinched the Guinness Premiership crown with a hard-fought 10-9 victory over London Irish in the season finale at Twickenham.
A second-half try from Tigers No.8 Jordan Crane proved the crucial score as the perennial title challengers claimed a record-breaking eighth English title against a brave Irish side who were left to rue a string of missed chances. The Tigers' victory, built on a superb defensive display, completes the first half of what could be a notable double with next weekend's Heineken Cup Final clash with Leinster their next target.
A sublime drop goal from Irish fullback Peter Hewat and a penalty from Leicester scrum-half Julien Dupuy were the only scores in a refreshingly open first half played out in front of a capacity crowd. Delon Armitage kicked the Exiles into a narrow lead after the break but Crane's try and Dupuy's conversion saw the game swing back in the Tigers' favour. Another long-range effort from Armitage reduced the arrears but they were unable to derail Leicester's bid for double glory.
London Irish raced into an early lead less than a minute on the clock. A poor clearance from Vesty only found Hewat on half way who sent the ball back over the posts to give his side the best possible start. The Tigers' hunger for possession saw them penalised for handling in a ruck soon after and Irish, perhaps anticipating a narrow encounter, immediately opted for the shot at goal. But Delon Armitage, playing at outside centre, pushed his effort wide of the posts.
Leicester exerted much of the early pressure and the Exiles were forced into desperate measures to stop the Tigers' flow with Tigers hooker George Chuter taken out off the ball. Dupuy stepped up to level the scores from the subsequent penalty and it was due reward for his side's endeavour.
Centre Dan Hipkiss and Johne Murphy conjured a sweeping move moments later before a good tackle from Hewat stopped the Tigers' winger in his tracks but Irish No.8 Chris Hala'ufia was penalised at the next ruck as he went off his feet. Dupuy was handed another chance for three - but this time his effort was wide of the mark.
A quick tap from Paul Hodgson sparked an exciting break for Irish midway through the half with Seilala Mapusua surging into space and although the scrambling defence snuffed out the move an earlier offside infringement allowed Hewat an easy shot at three - but he could only hit the post.
Irish dominated the remainder of the half with lock James Hudson and Hala'ufia both driving deep into the Tigers' 22 but they were unable to unlock the committed Tigers defence. Armitage's off-day with the boot continued later in the half when another long-range effort sailed wide of the posts as Leicester once again escaped with some indiscipline.
Sensing momentum was well and truly with his side, Exiles skipper Bob Casey opted for the scrum when Leicester infringed again close to their own line. The Tigers held them out at the set-piece but Irish were not deterred and packed down again soon after with a final warning from referee Wayne Barnes ringing in Leicester's ears.
Leicester's defence continued to frustrate the Exiles but they were at least handed a numerical advantage before the break when Crane was yellow carded for coming in from the side at a ruck.
With the one-man advantage the Exiles pressed early in the second half and although the Tigers rallied well under pressure, prop Marcus Ayerza undid some of that hard work by coming in from the side at a ruck. Armitage finally found his range with the kick from 45m but that was the only score they registered in Crane's absence with the Tigers' excellent game management limiting their opportunities.
Back to full strength, Leicester raised their game again and winger Scott Hamilton split the Irish defence on a great line only to be tap tackled by Mike Catt. Hipkiss then took up the attack before he was hauled down just short of the line with the Tigers this time frustrated by their opponent's defence.
However they would not be denied. A strong run from Ayoola Erinle on the hour mark took Leicester into the Irish 22 and their persistence eventually led to Crane forcing his way over for what would be the only try of the game with Dupuy adding the extras.
As the game clock ticked down, Armitage lined up another long-range penalty after the Tigers had wheeled the scrum and his effort had just enough on it to bring Irish to within a point with eight minutes of the game left.
But they were unable to find another score against a Leicester defence that had offered little all day. Defeat was perhaps cruel for Irish having more than held their own at the lineout, scrum and the all-important breakdown but in the end they were made to pay for not taking the opportunities that came their way.
Far from their best, the Tigers had just enough to edge out Irish and underline their regular season position as the country's best club side.
Leicester: G Murphy (capt); Hamilton, Erinle, Hipkiss, J Murphy; Vesty, Dupuy; Ayerza, Chuter, White, Croft, Kay, Newby, Woods, Crane.
Replacements: Smith (for J Murphy, 21), Kayser (for Chuter, 57), Moody (for Woods, 59), Cole (for White, 74). Not used: L Deacon, Ellis, Varndell.
Sin-Bin: Crane (40)
London Irish: Hewat; Thompstone, D Armitage, Mapusua, Tagicakibau; Catt, Hodgson; Dermody, Coetzee, Skuse, Hudson, Casey (capt), Danaher, S Armitage, Hala'ufia.
Replacements: Thorpe (for Danaher, 41), Homer (for Thompstone, 41), Corbisero (for Skuse, 62), Seveali'i (for Hewat, 62), Buckland (for Coetzee, 72), Johnson (for Dermody, 72). Not used: Richards.
Man of the Match: Geordan Murphy (Leicester)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).