Full-time: London Irish 9 Leicester Tigers 31By Alan Manicom
December 22, 2012
Three penalties from Ian Humphreys were all relegation-haunted Irish had to show for their efforts as they slipped to a sixth consecutive defeat.
Niall Morris scored a try in each half for Leicester, referee Luke Pearce also awarded the visitors a couple of penalty tries, while impressive fly-half Toby Flood kicked all four conversions and a penalty for an 11-point haul.
Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill conceded, though, that Exiles were unlucky not to take anything from a rain-lashed Madejski Stadium.
And Irish's director of rugby Brian Smith said: "I thought our effort was deserving of at least a losing bonus point.
"We let Leicester get away to a 14-0 lead and it required a big effort to peg them back."
Morris opened the scoring when he pounced on Flood's clever crossfield kick which sat up nicely for him after taking a wicked bounce to deceive Jonathan Joseph completely.
The Leicester winger stepped inside a defender and was able to reach out with his right arm to dot down on the line despite being tackled by Tom Homer.
There was no disputing Irish's defensive resolve in the opening 40 minutes, although in that time they rarely ventured out of their own half.
They conceded a penalty try after being penalised for a second time at a scrum five metres from their own line.
Smith said: "Whenever you are playing against Leicester referees are going to lean towards Leicester at scrum time just because of their reputation.
"I think the referee had his mind made up quite early that Leicester had a dominant scrum, but in the second half we might have edged them at scrum time."
The first of Humphreys' penalties saw Exiles trim the deficit to 14-3 before half-time.
And Irish enjoyed their best spell of the game early in the second half after Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs was sinbinned for deliberately impeding his opposite number Darren Allinson as he tried to take a quick tap penalty.
And Smith felt that Leicester should have lost hooker Tom Youngs four minutes before half-time for a dangerous tackle on Irish captain Declan Danaher.
Exiles' boss said: "Leicester are quite lucky to have Tom Youngs play that whole contest because there was one incident in the first half where there are no arms involved.
"He's come from a long way to shoulder charge on the side of the ruck.
"If it was another player in the league perhaps that bloke would have been red-carded.
"Youngsy is quite lucky to have played the full match today.
"Dec Danaher nearly lost his head. The shoulder charge came in from the side of the ruck.
"The flag went out and the referee said he saw it as well, so the ball is in the referee's court as to what he thinks.
"From my point of view I think he was lucky to stay on the pitch.
"The citing commissioner is here and he will have a look at it."
Smith continued: "We set the players a target at half-time to get within seven points initially - and we thought if we did that we could give ourselves a shot of winning the game.
"We gobbled their lead up pretty quickly which was very pleasing. We made a lot of line breaks and got in behind them."
Leicester, however, pulled away with another penalty try when Jamie Gibson earned a yellow card for tackling Morris without the ball as the winger attempted to touch down his grubber-kick.
Smith, though, was unhappy with the referee's failure to spot an infringement moments earlier, while Marland Yarde was counter-attacking.
He said: "The way the tackle area was officiated was a massive concern - and it had a massive bearing on the outcome of the game.
"Their third try was the gamebreaker and my main complaint is about the turnover in the tackle.
"We gave ourselves a chance to strike and were well in behind them when there were hands in the ruck.
"It is quite clear. It happened in front of the touch judge.
"All of a sudden there is a penalty try against us at the other end of the pitch.
"That was game set and match.
"We copped another tough call in my opinion. It is tough times at the moment."
Down to 14 men and showing serious signs of fatigue, Irish were powerless to stop Leicester scoring a bonus-point try in the final minute.
It was textbook stuff as Morris took a pass from Flood off good lineout ball on the halfway line before slicing through the Irish defence to score under posts.
Smith praised his players' effort but is well aware it is points his team need to escape relegation.
He said: "Our guys rallied and came back. It was a gutsy and spirited fightback, but we have come up short again.
"To exert so much energy and leave without a bonus point is really disappointing.
"The good thing about this game is that you have a chance to get back on the horse within seven days and we will head off to Twickenham and chance our arm against Harlequins next Saturday.
"Clearly we want to get a much better start than we did today."