Leicester Tigers claimed a fourth successive win in the Aviva Premiership with three tries in a 28-27 verdict at London Irish on Saturday.
Nick Malouf provided the opening score after just three minutes, but Tigers were made to work hard by an Irish side with just one win in the previous five rounds of the season and the hosts claimed a consolation point with a converted try in the final minute of the game.
Tigers led 14-3 at half-time at the Madejski Stadium and tries from Will Evans and Jonny May stretched that advantage to 28-13 midway through the second period but they were unable to completely kill off Irish resistance or find their way to a bonus-point score in a frantic final 20 minutes.
They did, though, make it just one defeat in the last 16 meetings of the teams in all competitions in the final round of league fixtures before the start of the European Cup campaign in Paris next Saturday.
Head coach Matt O’Connor handed debuts to Gareth Owen and on-loan Dan Tuohy, and called Valentino Mapapalangi, George McGuigan, Will Evans and Sam Harrison into the starting line-up for the first time this season. He also had to make late changes when Ben Youngs and Telusa Veainu pulled out due to illness. Ben White stepped up to the bench as cover for Harrison, with Mathew Tait promoted to full-back and Matt Smith coming into the matchday 23.
Sebastian De Chaves, Tommy Bell and Tigers academy graduates Greig Tonks, Alex Lewington and Scott Steele were all included an Irish squad who went into the game with just one win from the opening five rounds.
After Irish had kicked off, Tigers retained ball for the opening three minutes, with Tait involved twice and the forwards providing quick recycled ball which led to the opening try for Malouf, his third of the season.
Scrum-half Harrison looked like he was going to jink his way all the way to the tryline but, after being dragged down fractionally short, Ford stepped in to pass to his right where Matt Toomua picked out his countryman to score in the corner.
After Ford had missed with the conversion attempt, Irish enjoyed a spell of possession outside the Tigers 22 without threatening the line and Tigers were able to add to the lead with a penalty from the fly-half with eight minutes gone.
Owen enjoyed plenty of opportunities to get his hands on the ball as Tigers built in attack and his break from halfway almost led to a second score, only for the Irish defence to close in as he looked for support 30 metres out. The knock-on gave Tigers scrum ball, but this time Ford’s chip in behind was too far in front of Malouf.
A break from Tait then threatened the Irish defence, making 30 metres on the right before the door was finally closed.
Ford added to the score again on 17 minutes when Irish were whistled for a high tackle on McGuigan in another promising position and the kick from 25 metres made it 11-0 to the visitors.
Another break from Owen had the away fans on their feet moments later, with Evans in support. Even when the ball fell loose, it was Tigers who reacted first, with Ford looking for space on the left, but Irish were this time able to force the error just as a try looked on the cards.
May was looking busy, talking a lot of ball in broken field as he searched for the gaps in midfield, and Owen provided a threat every time he took possession as Tigers played the entire opening quarter on the front foot.
A crosskick from Ford gave May some space and, after gathering superbly on the run, his pass inside was picked up by Tuohy in another dangerous position. McGuigan offered support but, as Tigers opened up play centrally, Irish forced a knock-on and the opportunity was gone.
The scrum, though, brought a penalty, and Ford was able extend the lead to 14 points with less than half an hour gone.
The Tigers defence was tested for the first time soon afterward as Irish built phases through the forwards but the line stayed intact when David Paice was held up by a combination of defenders as he reached for the tryline.
Sione Kalamafoni was on the ground as Irish built the attack before leaving for a head injury assessment, with Luke Hamilton replacing him in the back row. Harrison, too, suffered a knock and carried on after treatment for a cut.
Toomua made a big hit on fly-half James Marshall as Irish looked to open up the play, but the whistle brought play back for a knock-on in the tackle by the Tigers centre. In the break before the scrum could be set, however, the TMO brought referee JP Doyle’s attention to a tackle from Owen off the ball and the Welsh centre received a yellow card. Bell tok the opportunity to kick Irish’s opening points of the afternoon.
As the game restarted, White ran on to replace Harrison and Irish threatened a second score with possession close to the line before the Tigers defence closed in and were rewarded with a penalty as the half came to a close with the visitors 14-3 in front.
Harrison and Kalamafoni were both absent as the second half started with Tigers kicking off.
The second half was barely 90 seconds old when Evans provided some breathing space for Tigers, taking a simple pass from White on the right and running through a gap to score. Ford added the extras as Tigers led 21-3.
Owen returned from his yellow card as Irish were awarded a penalty wide on the left in the phases after the restart and Bell made no mistake with the kick, though his side still trailed by more than two scores.
Ellis Genge and Pat CIlliers joined the contest on 50 minutes as the packs came together for a scrum on halfway before Hamilton showed his strength in defence, ripping possession off Teofilo Paulo just as Irish looked to build an attack.
The hosts, however, did build some momentum on possession after the introduction of scrum-half Steele and were rewarded with a try from flanker Blair Cowan in the left-hand corner. Bell’s conversion brought the score to 21-13 and provided hope for the home support in a 6,188-strong crowd.
The third try for Tigers came with 18 minutes remaining, a strong drive from a close-range lineout allowing White to spread the play to left and a long pass from Toomua gave May a run-in for his sixth try in six games from the start of the season. Ford’s conversion made it 28-13.
Tuohy’s debut ended as Ford landed the kick, Harry Wells joining the pack, and Smith replacing Toomua.
A second Irish try followed, though, as a quick break by replacement prop Ollie Hoskins left the defence outnumbered and Steele threw the pass for hooker David Paice to score unopposed to the left of the posts. Bell added another kick as they trailed 28-20 with 10 minutes still to play.
Tom Youngs replaced McGuigan after 73 minutes with T8igers still looking to close out the game and find a bonus-point score.
Evans was still right at the heart of the action as Tigers had to defend an attack on the Irish left but needed treatment after contesting ball on the floor.
The action continued at a frantic pace, with Tait making a 50-metre break up to the Irish 22, only to be pulled down by Steele. It was the full-back’s final contribution before being replaced by Joe Ford as the clock reached 77 minutes.
The game concluded with Irish claiming their third try from Lewington, cutting on to a pass from Marshall 10 metres out and forcing his way to the line. The conversion brought them to within a point but time was already up as Tigers made it four wins from six games at the start of the season.
HOPE IT WAS HAPPY READING FROM READING
That's it from us at Reading, we hope it was happy reading as Tigers managed another Aviva Premiership victory despite the efforts of a much improved London Irish outfit.
We'll be back - and LIVE - for all the action in Paris next weekend in the opening fixture of the 2017/18 Champions Cup when Tigers travel to face Racing 92.
TODAY'S TIGERS POINT-SCORERS
Tigers point-scorers today were...
Tries: Nick Malouf, Will Evans, Jonny May
Conversions: George Ford 2/3
Penalties: George Ford 3/3
MAN OF THE MATCH - JONNY MAY
TIGERS MAKE IT FOUR IN A ROW
The full time whistle is blown at the Madejski as Tigers make it four wins in a row, despite a late comeback from an inspired London Irish team, with a one-point 28-27 victory at Madejski Stadium.
Tommy Bell adds another two points and closes the gap to just one point in the final play of the game, seeing the scoreboard read 27-28.
TRY - IRISH
The home side cross through Alex Lewington under the posts after a strong lead up through the midfield sees them close enough for the wing to crash over.
FOURTH ATTEMPT FOR A RE-SET SCRUM
The dying stages doesn't seem to worry the players as we look to re-set a fourth, hotly contested scrum on halfway.
IN TO THE FINAL MINUTE
The final sixty seconds is upon us at the Madejski as Tigers lead by eight over an inspired Irish side.
ERROR AT THE BACK
Irish knock on at the back of the ruck following the lineout and advantage goes the way of Tigers, who look to use it as they send it wide fast through the Ford boys and on to Matt Smith out wide.
Smith finds Jonny May, who can't evade the defence this time and steps back in to set it up.
The ball comes to the midfield and is knocked on. Irish scrum on halfway.
IRISH PERSIST IN ATTACK
Tigers hold strong in defence despite consistent pressure in attack from Irish, who bring it wide. It's in to touch but off the visitors and the home side will feed the lineout 22 out.
FORD REPLACES TAIT
Joe Ford joins brother George on field, replacing Mat Tait in the backline.
TAIT GOES THROUGH!
Mat Tait snipes through the Irish chasing defence from their own clearing kick and he's away in space ... but, just pulled down 30 out from the home side's line.
CLEARANCE DOESN'T FIND TOUCH
The penalty clearance doesn't find touch and Irish come back at Tigers from their own half.
TIGERS LINE HOLDS STRONG
Despite pressure from the Irish attack, Tigers end their attack and force a knock on.
Penalty now awarded Tigers way for offside in attack 22 out from their own line
TIGERS ATTACK ENDS WITH IRISH PENALTY
The home side are rewarded for a strong defensive showing as they receive a penalty for Tigers holding on too long at the ruck.
They can't find touch however and Mat Tait sends it back towards them after recovering well at the back with Nick Malouf's assistance.
It too doesn't find touch though and Irish are on the attack on haflway.
TIGERS PRESSURING IRISH
Tigers pressuring the Irish defence off the ruck with replacement scrumhalf Ben White looking dangerous around the fringes.
Tommy Bell adds the extras and closes the Tigers lead to eight points, as Irish trail 20-28 with just over ten minutes remaining.
TRY - IRISH
Irish score through captain David Paice after the hooker finds himself a clear run to the line following the midfield break from his flyhalf.
IRISH PLAY IT QUICKL THROUGH THE MIDDLE
The home side showing their hand in attack from the scrum and find space through the middle with James Marshall making a break.
IRISH CLEAR QUICKLY
The home side clear the ball deep from inside their own half and Nick Malouf can't control it in the air, handing Irish a scrum just inside their half of the 50m line.
IRISH WIN BACK THE BALL
Home side wins back the ball with a strong jump at the lineout.
PENALTY AT THE SCRUM
Tigers force a penalty at the scrum on halfway, allowing George Ford to find touch just 15 out from the Irish try line.
KNOCKED ON BY IRISH
A knock-on in the midfield from the home sides hands Tigers a scrum on the halfway line.
SMITH REPLACES TOOMUA
Matt Smith is in to the action, replacing namesake Matt Toomua
REPLACEMENT MADE BY TIGERS
Dan Tuohy's first shift in Tigers colours ends as he is replaced by Harry Wells in the second row.
George Ford has no troubles with that one and adds the extras, extending the Tigers lead to fifteen points with just over fifteen minutes remaining as the away side lead 28-13.
TRY - TIGERS!
Jonny May makes it six in six after a beautiful ball from Matt Toomua finds him out wide with a clear run to the line, following a well presented ball from a solid rolling maul off the lineout.
PRESSURE PAYS OFF
Tigers pressure in attack pays off as they're awarded a penalty just 22 out from the Irish line and opt to kick for touch.
Lineout 5 out from the home side's line.
FORD ENDS AERIAL BATTLE
The aerial battle between the two teams kickers ends as George Ford ducks and weaves his way out of chasing Irish defenders before clearing more than fifty metres up field.
Irish lineout 35 out from their own try line.
Tommy Bell adds the extras from out wide and closes the Tigers lead to just eight points, as Irish now trail 13-21.
TRY - IRISH
The persistence of the home side pays off as Blair Cowan crashes over out wide after an impressive and patient build up to the try.
IRISH ON THE MARCH
The home side playing cleverly from the ruck base now, working their way in to the red-zone phase by phase and ruck by ruck.
Both teams opting to trade territorial advantage through clearing kicks now.
A brilliant one-on-one strip from Luke Hamilton in defence on Irish replacement Teofilo Paulo ends the Irish attack and starts the Tigers inside their own 22.
WHITE CLEARS WELL
Ben White decides he'll play safe too and clears from scrumhalf with a box kick, finding touch 25 out from his own try line for an Irish lineout.
IRISH PLAY IT SAFE
The home side's Jam Marshall opts to play for territory with a low trajectory kick towards the Tigers try line, finding touch 15 out.
TWO CHANGES FOR TIGERS
Matt O'Connor makes two changes, both in the front row, as Greg Bateman and Dan Cole come to the sideline to be replaced by Ellis Genge and Pat Cilliers.
UNPLAYABALE AT THE RUCK
The ball is ruled unplayable at the ruck by referee JP Doyle but, Irish were moving forward and will remain in possession in feeding the scrum on halfway for a second time in two minutes.
TERRITORIAL BATTLE WON BY IRISH
The home side win the first battle of territory in the second half after George Ford's clearing kick rolls too long and over the dead ball line.
Irish scum on halfway.
PENALTY - IRISH
Tommy Bell with a second penalty goal for the game, from the touchline, closing the gap between the two teams to just 15 at the Madejski.
IRISH GO WIDE
The home side play wide and fast but a grubber at the end of it finds Mat Tait at the back.
Wait, hold on, we're going back for a penalty for a late tackle from Tigers.
Irish will shoot for three.
HAMILTON CAN'T HANDLE THAT ONE
Luke Hamilton goes high to take a bomb from the Irish but can't manage to control the catch and Irish are on the attack inside Tigers 22.
GARETH OWEN BACK IN TO THE ACTION
Gareth Owen returns from his sin-bin.
George Ford adds another two points from the boot, following the try, and extends the Tigers lead to 18 points.
TRY - TIGERS!
Will Evans finds himself in space on the Irish 22 with a clear run to the line after a solid lead up from the Tigers, working their way in to the home side's red zone off the back off strong phase play from the ruck base.
TIGERS LINEOUT EARLY ON
A sliced clearance finds touch just 25 out from the Irish line by their wing Alex Lewington and Tigers will feed the lineout deep inside the home side's half.
SECOND HALF UNDERWAY
George Ford gets us underway for the second half here at the Madejski, sending the re-start deep in to the London Irish half.
IS ELEVEN ENOUGH FOR TIGERS?
Will an eleven-point lead be enough for Tigers to hold on in the second half here at the Madejski Stadium over London Irish?
The visitors look the goods in attack, finding holes in the home side's defence and territory with ease but can they convert it in to more points come the second chapter of this Premiership battle?
WE WENT THERE
FIRST HALF POINTS
The only try of the opening forty went to Leicester Tigers through Nick Malouf, while George Ford has 3/3 from penalty attempts and Irish fullback Tommy Bell 1/1.
TIGERS SURVIVE IRISH SCARE
The home side with a break from the scrum and grubber ahead from Ben Meehan but Jonny May cleans up at the back before Ben White clears from the base.
Irish look to attack wide from the clearance but it's ended as Tigers are awarded a penalty at the ruck.
BATEMAN WITH THE INTERCEPT ATTEMPT
We're not joking, he's at it again!
Greg Bateman nearly pulls off an intercept midfield but the ball hits the floor and hands the Irish a scrum just inside the Tigers side of halfway.
HOME SIDE GIFTED METRES
Irish are awarded a penalty after a trading of territory for over two minutes through the boots of each team as a chasing Jonny May is ruled to have taken the man in the air.
Irish find touch 30 out from the Tigers line.
Both teams trade territory through the boot at the Madejski.
BLOOD - WHITE FOR HARRISON
Ben White is in to the action for the first time this Premiership season, replacing Sam Harrison in a blood bin change.
PENALTY - IRISH
Tommy Bell adds three for the home side from in front through the penalty attempt and cuts Tigers lead to 11.
OWEN SENT TO THE SIN BIN
Gareth Owen is sent to the sin bin after a TMO intervention over a tackle off the ball from the Welshman on Greg Tonks.
TOOMUA ENDS IRISH ATTACK
A big tackle from Matt Toomua on James Marshall forces the ball towards the Irish side of halfway and ends their attack, however we're coming back for a scrum as it was touched by the Australian international.
FREE-KICK TO IRISH
A free-kick at the scrum for the home side but, we're re-setting for another in the same spot after the Irish opt to pack down again.
IRISH SCRUM 5 OUT
Home side feed the scrum 5 out from the Tigers try line.
HIA - HAMILTON FOR KALAMAFONI
Luke Hamilton comes in to the game for Sione Kalamafoni as the Tongan is sent for a Head Injury Assessment in the changing rooms.
IRISH PRESSURE RESULTS IN SCRUM
The Irish pressure can't find the try-line but will hand the home side a scrum just 5 out from the Tigers line after they were held up over the line.
IRISH FIND SPACE
The home side find space with a small break but are chopped down in attack. They continue to look for a hole in the Tigers line 22 out from the visitors line.
IRISH RE-START GOES TO THE RIGHT
The Irish this time opt to kick away from Kalamafoni and find Mat Tait instead.
The following phase sees Ford send it in to touch just short of halfway for an Irish lineout.
PENALTY - TIGERS!
Another penalty attempt sails over from captain George Ford and Tigers lead Irish by 14 at the Madejski.
PENALTY - AGAINST THE AHEAD
The Irish scrum is penalised on their own line and Tigers will have another shot at the uprights for a further three points.
TIGERS BACKS LOOKING SLICK
The Tigers backline move it quickly with a beautifully executed loop from George Ford.
The next phase sees the flyhalf cross kick with perfect placement for a flying Jonny May, who bumps off Topsy Ojo and fires a ball inside to Dan Tuohy in support.
Tuohy pops for George McGuigan who spots a gap but, the next ball drops to the floor and hand Irish a scrum 5 out from their own line.
IRISH ATTACK ENDED
Tigers defence again holds strong as Irish can't find a way through - or any ground from halfway - and knock on.
Leicester will feed the scrum just inside their own half after 20 minutes here at the Madejski.
The visitors are penalised, putting an end to their attack deep in the Irish half and the home side find touch on halfway.
IRISH CLEAR FROM THE SCRUM
Irish clear deep again, chasing territory, and hand Jonny May a chance to take on their defence with another side-stepping run in attack.
The following phase sees Gareth Owen again slide through and May in support to follow.
TIGERS SHOW THEIR STRIPES
The Tigers with some inventive play for the Madejski crowd as they look to play wide and fast, first through the right hand side of the field with Gareth Owen finding space before switching back to try their hand down the left.
The play however comes to an end with a fumble from Sione Kalamafoni 20 out, handing the Irish the scrum feed deep in their own half.
ANOTHER ATTACK FOR SIONE
Kalamafoni with his fourth hit-up from a re-start for the day as he charges in to the Irish defence.
PENALTY - TIGERS!
A second three-pointer from George Ford for the afternoon stretches the Tigers lead to 11 points at the Madejski.
BALL GOES TO GROUND
The ball goes to ground after some inventive play at the ruck from Sam Harrison but, we're going back as no advantage is played and Tigers have another penalty just 25 out.
FORD GOES THROUGH
George Ford spots a gap after switching playmaking duties with Matt Toomua and Tigers are on the march inside the Irish half, looking good this afternoon.
IRISH LINEOUT 5 FROM HALFWAY
Irish clear to set up a lineout just five in from the halfway line before clearing down field looking for territory.
TAIT GOES THROUGH
Mat Tait spots a gap after a great ball out the back from George Ford and he's through ... before popping the ball for a supporting Jonny May.
The next phase sees Dom Barrow take on the Irish defence strongly before the third sees Tigers penalised for holding on at the ruck.
It's a case of battling for territory from both sides through the air before Jonny May spots a hole and heads for it.
TOO MANY WEET-A-BIX THIS MORNING
George Ford spots some space in behind the Irish defensive line and chips for a chasing Nick Malouf ... however it has too much on it and lands out on the full.
OWEN BREAKS THROUGH
Gareth Owen breaks through the Irish defence but his pass finds an Irish defender chasing the Welshman, however there's a knock-on to follow and Tigers will feed the scrum 30 out from the home side's try line.
Dan Tuohy steals the Irish lineout mid-air and starts the Tigers attack inside the home side's half.
DEEP AGAIN FROM THE RE-START
Another deep re-start from Irish lands for Sione Kalamafoni to take on the defence, before the next phase sees George Ford clear well - and long - for an Irish lineout 5 inside their own half.
PENALTY - TIGERS!
George Ford adds the extra three points from the penalty attempt and stretches Tigers lead to eight points after as many minutes here at the Madejski.
A penalty is blown the way of Tigers by referee JP Doyle for offside at the ruck and George Ford points to uprights from 22 out in front of the posts.
KNOCK-ON FROM IRISH
Irish are forced in to an error again through Tigers defensive pressure and the visitors start their attack inside the opposition half.
Again Tigers opt to clear the ball from the opening phase after the re-start and hand Irish possession on halfway, where they continue to try their hand in breaking the Leicester defence.
TIGERS LEAD BY 11 AT HALF TIME
The Tigers head in to the changing rooms with an eleven-point lead over London Irish at the Madejski.
The kick just falls by the side of the uprights at Madejski and Tigers lead remains just five after four minutes over Irish.
MALOUF GOES OVER
TRY - TIGERS!
The visitors cross for the first of the afternoon through Nick Malouf out wide, after a mid field break from Sam Harrison set up quick ball from the ruck for Matt Toomua to cut two and find his fellow Aussie on the touchline in space.
TIGERS TRUCKING IT UP
The visitors are shifting the ball wide, from side to side, off the lineout and it's Sam Harrison who finds space around the ruck.
IRISH TRY THEIR HAND EARLY
The home side look to play wide early but knock on a few phases in to the attack and Tigers are on the attack from halfway.
The ball is shifted to Jonny May but he's in touch ... however, it's Irish who knock it over the line. Tigers lineout 40 out.
SIONE SETS UP A CLEARANCE
Sione Kalamafoni takes the first run of the game before the ball is cleared deep in to Irish's half from the opening play.
WE'RE UNDERWAY AT THE MADEJSKI
Irish flyhalf James Marshall gets us underway with a deep kick off.
TIGERS TAKE TO THE FIELD
George Ford leads the Tigers on to the Madejski Stadium pitch to a rousing reception from the travelling #tigersfamily here today.
Setting the scene
The two teams are starting their warm-ups on a mild afternoon in Reading. Plenty of cloud around but there is no forecast for rain. The pitch looks in great nick
Changes to Tigers squad
Team news from the Madesjki Stadium. Veainu and Ben Youngs out for Tigers through illness. Mathew Tait starts at full-back. Matt Smith and Ben White come onto the bench.
MATCHDAY AT THE MADEJSKI
The stage is set at Madejski Stadium for today's match and we are now just 90 minutes away from kick off in the Round 6 Aviva Premiership fixture between Leicester Tigers and London Irish.
Welcome back to Matchday LIVE ... stay tuned for confirmation of today's Teams at 2.00pm and any other updates before we kick off at 3.00pm!