Leicester Tigers 10-9 London Irish, Guinnes Premiership final
Street-wise Tigers just too good for Irish
Graham Jenkins
May 16, 2009

There is no doubt that Leicester's narrow victory over London Irish failed to live up to the occasion in terms of spectacle but there can be equally no question that the best side in the country lifted the Premiership crown.

Make no mistake that Irish had the arsenal to see off the Tigers but failed to capitalise on their opportunities and that lack of a ruthless streak that was their undoing.

The scoreboard at the end of the game underlined how costly the missed kicks at goal were but it was their decision to go for the kill instead of the posts just before half-time that will cause the most sleepless nights.

The Exiles had the Tigers on the rack, firmly on the back foot and camped deep inside their 22. As they have shown in their recent high profile clashes, Leicester were happy to concede the penalty rather than allow their opponents to breach their line but the Exiles were not interested in the easy three - opting instead for the jugular.

Irish surprisingly had the nudge on the Tigers' pack and backed themselves to out-muscle their rivals for the opening try. But in a series of four scrums they were continually frustrated and more importantly denied a score.

Leicester's Jordan Crane may well have been sent to the sin-bin but as referee Wayne Barnes - who had a superb game - brought an end to a gruelling half it would have been the Tigers celebrating a minor victory.

Exiles boss Toby Booth refused to point the finger after the game - backing his players' decision-making in the heat of the battle but the old adage of taking the points when they are available will haunt them for some time to come.

In a game of limited space and narrow margins such decision are magnified and especially when just one of those opportunities could have brought them the much-prized silverware.

Veteran Irish fly-half Mike Catt did his best to stretch the well-regimented Tigers defence but what rare breaks their formidable backline did conjure were snuffed out.

Crane returned from the sin-bin to notch the only try of the game - it was only the second time in this season's Premiership that the Exiles failed to cross for a score.

Leicester skipper Geordan Murphy rightfully claimed the man of the match honour with a superb display from fullback - offering a solid defensive platform and a cutting edge in attack.

As predicted this match went down to the wire - there was only two points between the sides in September and three points in March - and Irish's famous stamina ensured the Tigers were kept busy until the last.

But in the end it was Leicester who once again wrote their name into the history books as Premiership champions. Huge credit must go to head coach Richard Cockerill for steadying the ship following the departure of Heyneke Meyer mid-season and giving his side a new lease of life and an added dimension. They timed their run to final with perfection - no side won more games in the regular season - and injuries and suspensions to key players like Toby Flood, Aaron Mauger and Alesana Tuilagi did little to break their stride, such is the strength in depth available to them.

London Irish will be a stronger side for this experience I have no doubt and do not be surprised if they are back on this stage in 12 months time.

However, they may well find Leicester in their way again with the Tigers' hunger for success showing no signs of waning. Next up - the Heineken Cup Final clash with Leinster as they go in search of another famous double.

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