Leicester Tigers gained a fifth Gallagher Premiership win of the season with a 13-7 victory over London Irish at Welford Road on Wednesday evening.
Hanro Liebenberg was held up over the tryline in the opening minutes of the second half and debutant Nemani Nadolo denied as the TMO spotted a deflection forward before the Exiles got on the board with a converted try to make it 13-7 with 20 minutes left to play.
Tommy Reffell also had a score disallowed before Tigers closed out the win with some patience on the ball in the closing stages.
The result denied the visitors a seasonal double over Tigers after their win at the Madejski Stadium in the early weeks of the league season had ended a run of six Leicester victories in the meetings of the teams.
With both sets of coaches keen to rotate during a spell of three games in eight days, Tigers recalled internationals Ellis Genge, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Ben Youngs and George Ford while giving a first run-out to recent arrival Nemani Nadolo.
Referee Luke Pearce, reaching a century of Premiership matches, got the game in underway on a bright early evening with Ford launching a kick towards the Robin Hood Stand end.
Within seconds he had turned down a shot at goal from 25 metres to raise the tempo with ball in hand and Tigers stayed on the attack as Jordan Taufua linked with Matt Scott in midfield to create space on the right but Williams was closed out just short of the tryline.
Ford did, though, open the scoring with a 40-metre kick with seven minutes gone.
Nadolo had his first chance on the left as Tigers spread play from a turnover won by Williams and the big Fijian attracted two defenders before offloading for Ben Youngs who was taken into touch 20 metres out.
When Irish did get forward, with a Paddy Jackson kick down the left, Tigers defended solidly and pushed play back up towards halfway where Tommy Reffell’s work at the breakdown gained a penalty.
Carries from Nadolo and Ellis Genge threatened in attack and then a smart kick over his shoulder from Ben Youngs forced the Exiles on to their own line as the drinks break arrived.
Play restarted with an Irish lineout on their five-metre line and, when they missed the throw, Martin capitalised, took play to the line and Tom Youngs drove over. The referee initially awarded the score but was persuaded by TMO Sean Davey that the Tigers skipper had been held up.
The game restarted with a scrum and thus time Ford quickly moved ball from left to right and Freddie Steward’s pass gave Williams the scoring chance on the right, dotting down in the corner for his first Premiership try. Ford added a pinpoint conversion from the touchline for a 10-point lead on 25 minutes.
A penalty against the Tigers scrum finally gave Irish a platform in attack but tackles from Tom Youngs, Reffell, Ford and Dan Cole ushered their rivals into touch. When they had another set of phases on the ball, they were met by even stronger defence, again led by Youngs and Reffell plus a big hit from Taufua.
It was the Exiles’ best spell of the half, though Ford sent them back with a towering 40-metre clearance and then Williams closed out Hassell-Collins as Tigers reached the break 10-0 in front.
Williams was back in the action as the game got back underway, sliding a kick down the touchline which pinned Irish back.
Liebenberg and Cole both went close to providing the final push in possession before the South African was held up over the tryline.
The five-metre scrum collapsed and Ford elected to add the three-pointer to make it 13-0 on 46 minutes while referee Pearce spoke to Irish captain Blair Cowan about discipline at the set-piece.
Nadolo tantalisingly saw space on the left as Tigers played across the backline, but the whistle brought play back for a forward pass.
More disappointment followed when Genge’s pop pass deflected forward off Luke Wallace and Nadolo ran through to dot down, only to have the knock-on confirmed between referee and TMO.
Wallace was alert to the danger as Wallabies cap Curtis Rona threatened to break the defensive line, but Irish still had attacking ball and also an extra man when Calum Green was sin-binned as he failed to retreat and tackled scrum-half Ben Meehan at a tap tackle just metres out from the line.
Nadolo anchored the scrum but Tigers had to withstand a charge for the line from Irish No8 Albert Tuisue, getting bodies under him as he tried to dot down.
Reffell was up smartly to stop Tuisue as he tried again, but the flanker was then whistled for offside as he made a follow-up tackle with Tigers camped back on their line.
The Exiles kept the ball tight and finally got over the line with a score for scrum-half Ben Meehan, fly-half Paddy Jackson adding the conversion entering the final quarter.
A good carry from replacement Nephi Leatigaga gave Tigers attacking ball but Ford pulled a drop kick wide of the posts.
The fly-half made instant amends with a break towards the left corner and Reffell dived in. Again, referee Pearce was inclined to award the score but checked and found a Tigers player offside and blocking the defence.
A scrappy closing period saw Tigers thankful to Leatigaga’s intervention in defence with Irish breaking some determined cover on halfway.