Leicester Tigers’ run in the Premiership Rugby Cup ended with semi-final defeat at London Irish on Tuesday evening.
In the teams’ fourth meeting of the season, the Exiles scored five first-half tries to lead 31-6 at the break and set the platform for their victory at Brentford Community Stadium.
Scrum-half Sam Edwards, who was among 13 players aged 21 or under in the Tigers matchday squad, came off the bench to score his first try for the club in the last quarter of an hour and Hosea Saumaki provided a remarkable finish for his 10th of the season before a last-minute interception try rounded off the scoring for the hosts.
Tigers were led out by Jack van Poortvliet and included 18 players in the 23 who have made their club debut this season, including the experienced Juan Pablo Socino and Bryce Hegarty.
Declan Kidney named former Tigers duo Ben White and Noel Reid in the Exiles’ line-up and made a late change, bringing another former Leicester man, Facundo Gigena, into the front row.
After missing an opportunity from an early set-piece in the left-hand corner, Tigers did get first points on the board with a penalty from Hegarty after Samauki had bounced off tackler Chunya Munga 35 metres out.
After flanker Emeka Ilione got over the ball on the floor to win another penalty, Hegarty prodded play on to the 22, but Irish covered in defence when Dan Lancaster went to chip to the corner.
The hosts claimed the opening try on 15 minutes, keeping ball alive on their right until full-back Henry Arundell took over, chipped ahead and got the benefit of the bounce to run in next to the posts. Reid added the conversion to make it 7-3.
Tigers responded with a crisp attack on the left, with Joe Browning and then Saumaki carrying in promising positions, but van Poortvliet was just unable to retain control as he reached out towards the tryline.
After Hegarty pulled a penalty kick wide following Tom Cowan-Dickie's work at the breakdown, Irish immediately broke out, with Mike Willemse bursting past the Tigers defence and, despite Lancaster getting back to bring him down short of the tryline, the hooker managed to scoop ball back for Albert Tuisue to pick up and dot down. Reid’s conversion made it 14-3 lead on 22 minutes.
Tomiwa Agbongbon, on for the injured Ilione, led the chase for ball on the left of the Exiles’ 22 and Tigers were rewarded with a penalty which Hegarty slotted.
But Irish quickly claimed their third try, building pressure after a drive from the forwards. Willemse was stopped just short by a tackle from van Poortvliet, then White was tackled on the tryline but the Exiles retained ball and Reid eventually got through next to the posts and added the kick for a 21-6 lead.
They quickly extended that margin with two tries inside three minutes at the end of the half, with Tuisue picking up to score from close range after another Willemse carry, then flanker Ben Donnell finished a break down the left by James Stokes for their fifth try and a 31-6 lead at half-time.
Will Hurd replaced James Whitcombe in the front row as Tigers came back out for the second half and he was quickly in the action with a tackle on halfway before van Poortvliet showed nimble footwork in beating the Irish around halfway, only for the visitors to be penalised at the next breakdown.
Irish continued to dominate territory and, although Tigers were making their tackles on their 22, the ball was kept alive until Arundell found his way to the tryline again on the right and Reid added the kick.
Moments later, White’s kick forward just beat replacement Phil Cokanasiga but his nudge forward was enough for Stokes to slide in and score their seventh try, with the conversion from Reid making it 45-6 on 50 minutes.
Another try followed for wing Lucio Cinti, latching on to White’s break from a scrum on halfweay to take his team beyond to the half-century and the conversion made it 52-6 just short of the hour.
Socino linked cleverly with Murimurivalu as the Fijian broke through the middle of the pitch and then Saumaki beat three defenders close to the touchline as he burst out of his own half, only for the referee to blow in Irish favour as he hit the floor on the opposition 22.
Lewis Chessum stopped a break from Cokanasiga with a tackle around the ankles and then Hegarty had to react quickly to field ball close to his own tryline.
Scrum-half Edwards was sent on from the bench and, within 60 seconds, he scored as he followed a 50-metre break from Hegarty to slide in on the right. Full-back Hegarty added the conversion.
It was a good spell for Tigers, getting through phases of possession on halfway before Lancaster’s chip had Irish backtracking, then winning a penalty at a lineout to take play into the left-hand corner.
From there, they pressured the line through the forwards until Saumaki took play into his own hands, brushing off two defenders to dive into the corner and Hegarty’s touchline conversion took the score to 52-20.
Tigers came forward again through the middle, then won ball back from Irish on halfway but, in attempting to play wide, saw Will Joseph intercept and run clear for the final try, converted by replacement Jacob Atkins as the clock reached 80 minutes.
CUP CAMPAIGN ENDS IN SEMI-FINAL
London Irish 59-20 Leicester Tigers in the Premiership Cup semi-final this evening.
Sam Edwards and Hosea Saumaki are the tryscorers for Tigers.
Jacob Atkins adds the conversion for Irish to take their lead to 59-20 in the final minute of the game.
Interception try from Will Joseph, picking up ball on halfway as Tigers play out wide.
Hegarty adds the conversion from the left touchline, Tigers trail 52-20 on 77min.
Hosea Saumaki has scored in the corner, somehow. He picked up from a ruck, and beat two defenders to reach out almost on the chalk.
Hegarty converts the try from Edwards, Tigers trail 52-13 on 69mins.
Sam Edwards, who has been on the pitch for 60 seconds, latches on to Hegarty's break to score.
Reid converts the try, Irish lead Tigers 52-6 on 57mins.
Luci Cinti scores for London Irish with a break down the left wing.
Reid converts a 7th try for Irish as they lead Tigers 45-6 on 51mins.
Stokes slides in to score for Irish.
Reid converts the try and Irish lead Tigers 38-6 on 48min.
Henry Arundell scores his second of the game for Irish.
Teams are back out, James Whitcombe replaced by Will Hurd in the Tigers front row.
Five first-half tries for London Irish who lead Tigers 31-6 at half-time in this evening's Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final.
Reid is off target with the conversion but Irish lead 31-6 on 40mins.
Irish play quickly from halfway, Joseph releases play to the left and flanker Ben Donnell is in to score their fifth. 31-6.
A second try for No8 Albert Tuisue puts Irish 26-6 in front just short of half-time. Reid's conversion is out off the post.
Reid converts his own try and it's 21-6 to Irish on 31min.
Noel Reid finds his way to the tryline for Irish after a spell of pressure. It's 19-6 on 30min.
Hegarty penalty for Tigers who trail 14-6 on 27min.
Reid converts the try and Irish lead 14-3 on 22mins.
Albert Tuisue picks up ball from a charge by Willemse and has a second score for Irish.
Penalty miss by Hegarty and Irish have broken upfield...
So close to Jack van Poortvliet after a bright attack from Tigers, but he just loses control on the tryline.
Noel Reid converts the try for Irish and they lead 7-3 on 15mins.
Try for Irish No15 Henry Arundell, chipping over the Tigers defence and getting the bounce of the ball to run in.
Bryce Hegarty penalty gives Tigers a 3-0 lead on 5min.
KICK-OFF | London Irish v Leicester Tigers
Dan Lacnsater kicks off with Tigers playing right to left as we look from the dugouts side.
All calm inside the stadium at Brentford, a bit of cloud cover but looks like a good evening for some rugby.
A late switch of front-row resources for Irish, with Facundo Gigena in at No1, Marcel van der Merwe switching to tighthead and Ciaran Parker now at No17, with Allan Dell dropping out of the matchday squad after a fitness test.
London Irish: 15 Henry Arundell, 14 James Stokes, 13 Will Joseph, 12 Curtis Rona, 11 Lucio Cinti, 10 Noel Reid, 9 Ben White, 1 Facundo Gigena, 2 Mike Willemse, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 4 Chunya Munga, 5 George Nott, 6 Jack Cooke (c), 7 Ben Donnell, 8 Albert Tuisue.
Replacements: 16 Matt Cornish, 17 Ciaran Parker, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Chandler Cunningham-South, 21 Caolan Englefield, 22 Jacob Atkins, 23 Phil Cokanasiga.
HOW TIGERS LINE-UP
15 Bryce Hegarty , 14 Joe Browning , 13 Kini Murimurivalu , 12 Juan Pablo Socino , 11 Hosea Saumaki , 10 Dan Lancaster , 9 Jack van Poortvliet (c) ; 1 James Whitcombe , 2 Tom Cowan-Dickie , 3 Nephi Leatigaga , 4 David Douglas Bridge , 5 Lewis Chessum , 6 Scott Hall , 7 Emeka Ilione , 8 Sean Jansen 
16 Archie Vanes , 17 Dan Richardson , 18 Will Hurd , 19 Tomiwa Agbongbon , 20 Simon Koroiyadi , 21 Sam Edwards , 22 Jacob Cusick , 23 Joseph Woodward 
MATCH PREVIEW | London Irish v Leicester Tigers
Leicester Tigers and London Irish meet for the fourth time this season, this time in the semi-finals of the Premiership Rugby Cup.
Tigers topped Pool 2 in qualifying, while Irish were on top of Pool 3, with both teams registering three wins from four games.
Brett Deacon leads the coaching group in this competition and the matchday squad includes 18 players who made their debut for the club this season, including two members of the Under-18 Academy programme.
Jack van Poortvliet captains the team for a third time in the tournament, with Juan Pablo Socino, Kini Murimurivalu and Bryce Hegarty providing experience in the backline. James Whitcombe and Nephi Leatigaga return in the front row.
Irish boss Declan Kidney includes former Tigers half-backs Ben White and Noel Reid in his starting line-up, with Steve Mafi among the replacements.
This is the team’s third trip to the Brentford Community Stadium, winning 21-16 in the Gallagher Premiership this season after a 22-9 defeat on a first visit in November 2020.
Tigers are wearing change colours of white, black and orange.
WELCOME TO MATCHDAY LIVE!
We’re LIVE as Leicester Tigers face London Irish in the Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final this evening. Kick-off at Brentford is at 7.45pm.
If you are unable to join us at the game, you can keep up to date with all of the action right here with our Matchday Live service on the Tigers App and website at www.leicestertigers.com.