Tigers moved into the Premiership Play Off spots after a hard fought victory away to inform London Irish. The nerve shredding 20-15 win came courtesy of first half tries from Ben Youngs and Logovi’i Mulipola plus a fantasy second half score from magic Fijian Vereniki Goneva. All Irish’s points were from penalties, four from James O’Conner and a singular effort from Ian Humphreys.
Tigers were far from perfect, especially in an error strewn and panicky final quarter, but showed glimpses of the play that could secure an 11th title. Ben Youngs was back to near his best, keeping good tempo in the game and accurate with all bar one kick. Dan Bowden, a late change for Anthony Allen, was superb knowing when to straighten and when to go wide. Owen Williams grew into the game and finished with a glorious side step to beat Geraghty near the end.
But this was not a backs victory. It was forged by the behemoths in the pack.
Irish opened the scoring with the softest of penalties. A bad day was in the offing when no one claimed the opening kickoff with Deacon pinged at the first ruck.
But Tigers were straight into the game at the other end. An inch perfect kick from Ben Youngs gave Tigers territory in the Irish 22. Jamie Gibson blocked the clearance kick and Tigers were through, only for Deacon’s pass to be kicked dead by Skivington.
Now Tigers had a 5m scrum. Would it take the 16 re-sets to gain the try, like it did at Welford Road in November? On the first it went down, on the second Irish went early, on the third Crane should have scored but muffed it as Tigers heaved forward. On the fourth it went down, and on the fifth Tigers again shuddered forwards. Crane controlled this one but was just shy of the line giving Ben Youngs the chance to take the glory and dive in at the corner.
Doyle, an Irishman living in London, gave London Irish a series of inexplicable penalties; James O’Connor screwed the first one wide right but was on target with his next two attempts taking back the lead 9-5. Tigers showed good fluency at times but couldn’t consistently hold onto the ball. Knock ons were aplenty and one good move was pulled back for the game’s solitary attacking in from the side.
Tigers second try came from a lineout drive. The position had been gained when James O’Connor used Keiran Low to evade Rob Hawkins tackle following a Ben Youngs kick through. Deacon claimed the line out ball and Mulipola clamped on at the back to be driven over. George Skivington almost disrupted it but as he was already given as offside a penalty try would have been awarded if he had successfully held it up.
The conversions were difficult, touchline wide right, but Williams will be disappointed to miss both. Tigers led 10-9 at half time.
Then we have Goneva’s fantasy. His magic. His mistake.
Tigers had made a mess of the Irish scrum and Youngs hassled Allinson into a turnover. Once round the corner to Crane and then out, Williams passed poorly and Goneva fumbled over his head. First to clean up his own mistake he shook off the attentions of O’Connor then the merest hint of a dummy had Fenby grasping at thin air. A hand off saw off Humphreys before Treviranus was out paced to the corner.
No other centre in the world would score that try. Probably because most would catch it in the first place.
Irish came back strongly in the final quarter; gaining a series of penalties from Doyle. But O’Connor skewed 2 wide and was replaced with Humphreys for the final kick. These misses let Tigers off but also kept us camped in our own territory for long periods.
Waldrom entered the fray and was dispatched to the sin bin straightaway for a dull headed penalty, there can be no complaints he made no attempt to roll away at all. There was little danger which made it all the poorer decision from the Exeter bound backrow.
The thoughts of the 4th try and bonus slipped from Tigers minds as holding on for the win gained importance. Mele replaced Youngs and kicked any turnover possession away, whilst Marland Yarde came on and looked a handful. Blaine Scully enhanced his reputation again with his careful containment of the confident winger.
Irish had one final chance of seizing victory; Tigers had turned the ball over and Waldrom was due back on, but Mele panicking kicked poorly. The Exiles countered. From their own half they stormed into the 22 and with 79 minutes on the clock were on our line. Yarde was in acres of space with only an injured Rob Hawkins guarding him. Thankfully Treviranus made a right arse of himself; deciding to pick and go instead, knocking on in the process.
A 4th straight win at the Madejski and 6 wins in the last 8 Premiership games show some signs of optimism for the future. Mainly we need to just keep winning and worry about finding our form later.