Leicester Tigers’ Premiership Rugby Cup run ended with a semi-final loss to London Irish on Tuesday night.
In the teams’ fourth meeting of the season, the Exiles scored five tries in the first half to lead 31-6 at the break and laid the groundwork for victory at Brentford Community Stadium.
Scrum-half Sam Edwards, who was among 13 players aged 21 or under in the Tigers squad, came off the bench to score his first try for the club in the final quarter-hour and Hosea Saumaki provided a remarkable finish for his 10th of the season before a last-minute interception try completed the score for the hosts.
The Tigers were led by Jack van Poortvliet and included 18 of the 23 players who made their club debuts this season, including veterans Juan Pablo Socino and Bryce Hegarty.
Declan Kidney named former Tigers duo Ben White and Noel Reid to the Exiles roster and made a late switch, bringing another former Leicester man, Facundo Gigena, to the top tier.
After missing a chance on an early free-kick into the left corner, the Tigers secured the first points on the board with a penalty from Hegarty after Samauki bounced off tackle Chunya Munga from 35 yards out.
After flanker Emeka Ilione picked up the ball on the ground to earn another penalty, Hegarty pushed play towards the 22nd, but Irish covered the defense when Dan Lancaster went to play in the corner.
The hosts claimed the opening try at 15 minutes, keeping the ball alive to their right until full-back Henry Arundell took over, advancing and using the rebound to run past the posts. Reid added the conversion to make it 7-3.
The Tigers responded with a clean attack down the left, with Joe Browning and then Saumaki in promising positions, but van Poortvliet just couldn’t keep control as he reached for the try line.
After Hegarty fired a penalty following Tom Cowan-Dickie’s work on the breakdown, Irish immediately burst out, with Mike Willemse overtaking the Tigers defense and, despite Lancaster coming back to drop him short of the try line, the hooker managed to pick up ball back for Albert Tuisue to pick up and point down. Reid’s conversion gave him a 14-3 lead in 22 minutes.
Tomiwa Agbongbon, in place of the injured Ilione, led the chase on the left of the Exiles 22 and the Tigers were rewarded with a penalty which Hegarty netted.
But the Irish quickly claimed their third try, mounting the pressure after a practice run from the forwards. Willemse was stopped just before by a tackle from van Poortvliet then White was tackled on the try line but the Exiles kept possession and Reid eventually managed to get past the posts and added the spot kick for a 21-6 lead.
They quickly extended that margin with two tries in three minutes at the end of half-time, with Tuisue resuming to score from close range after another carry from Willemse, then flanker Ben Donnell completed a break on James’ left. Stokes for their fifth down and a 31-6 halftime lead.
Will Hurd replaced James Whitcombe in the front row as the Tigers returned for the second half and he was quickly in action with a tackle halfway before van Poortvliet showed nimble footwork as he beat the Irish halfway, only for visitors to be penalized. to the next failure.
The Irish continued to dominate territory and, although the Tigers made their tackles on their 22, the ball was kept alive until Arundell found its way to the try line on the right and Reid added the kick.
Moments later, White’s front kick beat substitute Phil Cokanasiga, but his forward kick was enough for Stokes to slip and score his seventh try, Reid’s conversion making it 45-6 in 50 minutes.
Another try followed for winger Lucio Cinti, hanging onto White’s break after a half-time scrum to take his side past the half-century and the conversion made it 52-6 just before time.
Socino cleverly linked up with Murimurivalu as the Fijian broke through midfield and then Saumaki beat three defenders near the touchline as he came out of his own half, only for the referee to blow in favor of the sidelines. Irish as he touched down on the opposition 22.
Lewis Chessum stopped a Cokanasiga break with a tackle around the ankles, then Hegarty had to react quickly to the ball near his own try line.
Scrum-half Edwards was sent to the bench and, within 60 seconds, he scored as he followed a 50-yard break from Hegarty to slide down the right. Fullback Hegarty added the conversion.
It was a good spell for the Tigers, going through possession phases midway before the Lancaster chip backed Irish back, then winning a penalty in a lineout to play in the left corner.
From there they pressed down the line through the attackers until Saumaki took the game into his own hands, fending off two defenders to dive into the corner and Hegarty’s touchline conversion took the score to 52 -20.
The Tigers again moved forward through the middle and then recovered the ball from the Irish halfway but, trying to play wide, saw Will Joseph intercept and clear for the final try, converted by substitute Jacob Atkins as the stopwatch reached 80 minutes.