Leicester Tigers came from behind in the final quarter to beat London Irish 21-16 at the Brentford Community Stadium on Saturday and extend their unbeaten start to the season.
Irish, noted as a second-half team in the opening matches of the season, actually led 6-5 at half-time despite falling behind to Nic Dolly’s fourth try of the season on the 20-minute mark.
Going into the weekend top of the table, Tigers were then 9-5 down early in the second half after a third penalty from Paddy Jackson but went in front again when Hanro Liebenberg finished some strong work from the forwards with the second try.
Irish, though, replied soon afterwards when hooker Agustin Creevy powered over from a lineout and it remained tight, even more so when Ford’s penalty made it 16-15 approaching the last quarter of an hour.
Ford, though, was back on the mark on 72 minutes as Tigers built on some possession in the Exiles 22 and then the visitors coolly ticked down time at that end of the field, with the fly-half adding his third kick in the final minutes to ensure a successful trip south.
After successive wins over Exeter Chiefs, Gloucester and Saracens, Tigers were looking to make it four in a row from the start of the season for the first time since 2000/01 against an Irish side without a win despite being the top tryscorers in the league so far.
Club captain Ellis Genge led out the Tigers with Matt Scott, Harry Potter and Nemani Nadolo also recalled to the starting line-up and boosted by the presence of Argentina captain Julián Montoya in the squad for the first time this season. Marco van Staden, a new arrival from international duty with the Springboks, was given his debut as a second-half replacement.
Former Tigers duo Steve Mafi and Terrence Hepetema started for Irish on a sunny afternoon in the capital.
Tigers started with aggressive defence which kept Irish inside their own half for decent spells before making a breakthrough following a scrum penalty which allowed Dolly to steer a lineout drive over the line in the right-hand corner.
Ben Youngs needed to be alert at the other end moments later when Irish wing Ben Loader kicked in behind the defence. But, after resisting two attacking lineouts in the corner, Tigers were penalised and Paddy Jackson kicked his team’s opening points of the afternoon on 26 minutes.
Tigers were guilty of missing a couple of opportunities after phases of possession in Irish territory, knocking-on in front of the posts, being tackled into touch on the left and then when Ford pushed a penalty wide just after the half-hour mark.
Jackson, though, made the most of his next sight of goal, putting Irish in front just before half-time though Tigers could count themselves unfortunate as Harry Potter slipped in possession and colleague Juan Pablo Socino was whistled at the breakdown.
There was still time for a reply, with Tigers putting a penalty into the left-hand corner. But when lineout ball was lost, referee Adam Leal blew against the visitors and then marched them back in an untidy end to the opening period with the Exiles 6-5 in front.
Another Jackson kick extended that lead in the opening stages of the second period before Liebenberg’s try, converted by Ford, saw the lead revert to the visitors.
But Jackson turned down a shot at goal to go to the corner soon afterwards and got his rewards when Creevy got the Irish try, which the fly-half converted from wide on the left.
That set up an interesting close and, with Julian Montoya and van Staden adding fresh impetus up front for Tigers, three penalties from Ford and a controlled finish secured another four points for Steve Borthwick’s men.