May pushes for autumn inclusion as Tigers hold off battling Irish
A tale of two wingers, as Alex Lewington earned what may prove a valuable point for London Irish, all the while Jonny May continues to make his case to Eddie Jones. It was still a fifth straight defeat for Irish, but Lewington’s last-gasp try, allied to Tommy Bell’s deadeye kicking, at least boosts morale with a two-week break for Europe on the horizon.
Up until then it could have hardly gone closer to script for both sides – May continuing his fine try-scoring record for the Tigers and Irish once more being taught the harsh lesson that slow starts will be punished in the Premiership. May was at his elastic best throughout and he now has six tries in six Tigers appearances, while George Ford’s partnership with Matt Toomua gets better by the week – the Australian particularly impressive here.
“I think [Jonny] is easily the best left winger in England,” said Leicester’s head coach, Matt O’Connor. “I’d certainly pick him. To be fair, I could have scored that try, a little bit of credit needs to go to Matty and George as well. But he’s a threat, defensively he’s good, he’s committed, he finishes and creates opportunities, and that’s what we want. He’ll be really close to Test selection.”
Irish can take solace in the fact that they are getting closer to a second win of the season, having failed to earn anything from their five matches since beating Harlequins on the opening weekend. “I’m proud of the boys; they’ve got massive hearts and they’re all fighters,” said the London Irish director of rugby, Nick Kennedy. “They will fight until the 83rd minute and are ending very strong, but we need to stop giving ourselves these mountains to climb.”
Leicester will, however, wonder how they were not out of sight by half-time. They had their first try after just three minutes and, with a bit more composure in the Exiles’ 22, Leicester might have had the bonus point by the break.
Nick Malouf scored the opener, a simple finish after Sam Harrison had darted up the middle. Ford added two penalties before the break but there were occasions when the England fly-half had so much space he appeared to not know what to do with it.
Gareth Owen impressed on his Leicester debut, while May and Mathew Tait also made good yards with ball in hand, but, in truth, Irish – who missed 14 tackles in the first half – allowed them to. Somewhat tarnishing his excellent start, however, Owen was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle on Greig Tonks, allowing Bell to score Irish’s first points.
Considering Irish have been outscored by their opponents in the six first halves this season by more than 100 points, but are in the black after the interval, there was reason for hope among the home ranks. It seemed all but extinguished, however, when Will Evans, impressive on his first appearance of the season, ghosted past Aseli Tikoirotuma for the Tigers’ second try. Ford converted before a second Bell penalty, but Blair Cowan’s converted try brought Irish back to within eight. There was little subtlety to it, but Malouf ’s poor tackle allowed the Scotland back-row the space to score.
May finally had the try his efforts warranted shortly after the hour, cruising over after Toomua’s delightful long pass, but Irish came again through David Paice after Ollie Hoskins burst up the middle. The deficit was eight points with 10 minutes to go – Irish desperately seeking the losing bonus point, Leicester a fourth try – but it was Lewington who had the final say.
Solo effort: Will Evans is out on his own as he scores Leicester’s second try in their win over London Irish. Henry Browne/ Getty Images