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.
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.
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.