Leicester Tigers returned to winning ways after defeating London Irish in a messy encounter at Welford Road that saw the hosts earn two penalty tries.
Although they were rarely graceful or classy in their play, the Tigers triumphed through attrition again a visiting team whose tenacity in the backline was undone by their mistakes in the pack.
Leicester set a very physical tone for the game almost immediately. After returning captain Toby Flood sliced his first attempt at goal, he opted to kick for the corner for the next few penalties, enabling the ball to be circulated gradually through the forwards.
London Irish struggled to deal with the strength of the Tigers pack, and after repeated infringement for collapsing both the in-play mauls and then a 5m scrum, referee Martin Fox awarded the hosts with a penalty try, which Flood duly converted.
The visitors responded with conviction, hammering deep into the Leicester half. Leading try-scorer Marland Yarde and Australia international James O’Connor linked up well on the right wing to put Irish into a promising position, and although the forwards were held up short of the try-line, O’Connor slotted a penalty to close the deficit.
Irish continued to press for a try unfazed by the early setback, with Yarde and fellow winger Topsy Ojo proving a constant menace as they moved freely amongst the backline, but again, the dogged Tigers defence held firm in their 22.
O’Connor then bisected the posts with another penalty, only for Leicester to match it soon after through Toby Flood’s long-range effort. This allowed the home side walked in at half-time as the leaders, despite having been on the back foot for much of the game.
The start of the second period lacked the intensity of the end of the first, as Toby Flood kicked another penalty after Leicester very slowly progressed into the opposing half.
Moments later, the Tigers appeared to have extended their lead, as Niall Morris charged down James O’Connor’s clearance kick and raced forward for the try. However, the TMO adjudged Morris to have spilled the ball as he was tackled on the line by Marland Yarde, and the score was disallowed.
The match ground to a halt for several minutes following this, as a 5m scrum in the Irish 22 had to be reset again and again. London Irish were penalised numerous times, with John Yapp being sent to the sin-bin for illegal binding, and eventually, the impatient referee gave Leicester their second penalty try of the day.
Flood converted again, placing the Tigers 14 points ahead with 15 minutes to go. London Irish, desperately searching for a way back, rapidly rolled on their substitutes to refresh the team.
They were given a lifeline very late on when Tigers lock Graham Kitchener was yellow carded for two bad fouls in quick succession. Suddenly with a man advantage, the visiting side looked rejuvenated, and Fergus Mulchrone exploited huge space on the left to touch down in the corner. However, the conversion struck the post, leaving Irish unable to rescue a losing bonus point.
With their first victory in three Aviva Premiership fixtures, Leicester move closer to re-entering the play-off spots, drawing level on points with fourth-placed Bath, who have a game in hand. Despite this scrapping performance, though, the Tigers remain far from their best.