Leicester Tigers grabbed a precious away win at London Irish on Sunday, winning 31-28 at trhe Madejski in a terrific game of rugby.
They had to withstand a tough last five minutes, however, with England reject Steffon Armitage and majestic Samoan centre Seilala Mapusua to the fore for the home side.
Exiles fly-half Shane Geraghty slotted a penalty from 30 metres out in the second minute, while Julien Dupuy responded from similar range shortly afterwards.
Geraghty, who this week pledged to stay at Irish amid rumours of a summer departure to France, showed early glimpses of his talent but it was Leicester who were dominating territory and possession in the first quarter.
Sam Vesty, Geraghty's unsung Leicester counterpart, was pulling the strings, sending full-back Scott Hamilton away on a run to the corner in the 12th minute before the big Kiwi was repelled by a strong Tom Homer tackle close to the line.
Dupuy added a second penalty on 18 minutes to make it 6-3 to the Tigers and soon afterwards the visitors added seven points to their lead. Skipper Aaron Mauger skilfully evaded the Irish defensive line and fed a delightful reverse pass to Alesana Tuilagi. The big Samoan's grubber kick was picked up by hooker Mefin Davies, who instantly fed front-row colleague Marcos Ayerza for a rousing gallop under the posts. Dupuy added the extras.
Irish, without a Premiership win for two months, needed a spark and it was provided by all-action flanker Armitage, who simply bulldozed his way to the corner, through a trio of attempted tackles, to cross the line just before the half-hour. Geraghty missed the conversion but suddenly the Exiles fans were in full voice.
Dupuy dampened their spirits with a penalty in the 33rd minute and from the very next Leicester attack the mood among the Irish faithful was further deflated when Tigers centre Smith exploited more slack defence to slither over, despite a desperate late intervention from home captain Paul Hodgson. Dupuy missed the difficult conversion but coach Richard Cockerill was delighted to see the scoreboard showing his side leading 21-8 at the break.
Cockerill's former England team-mate Mike Catt was thrown into the fray by Irish for the second half in place of the subdued Elvis Seveali'i, but it made little difference as Smith went on another unfettered run to within five metres of the try line. Geraghty gave Irish a foothold in the 49th minute with a long-range penalty, but then Tuilagi and Smith combined exquisitely down the Leicester left wing for the latter to scoot in at the corner.
All the co-ordinated movement was coming from the Tigers and, at 11-28 down, Irish looked shot but a snappy break by Hodgson, and a wonderful cut-out pass by Catt, created space for replacement Sailosi Tagicakibau to slide in. Geraghty missed the conversion.
With 20 minutes to go Irish found belief. Catt spoiled a clear overlap with a rare loose pass and Tagicakibau was bundled into touch after another powerful sprint.
Suddenly it was all Irish but they could not penetrate the Leicester defence and a 74th-minute Dupuy penalty appeared to seal an impressive Tigers victory, but a late Irish rally including tries from man of the match Mapusua and Armitage created a grandstand finish.
For London Irish:
Tries: Armitage, Tagicakibau
Pens: Geraghty 2
Tries: Ayerza, Smith 2
Cons: Dupuy 2
Pens: Dupuy 3
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Seilala Mapusua, 12 Elvis Seveali'i, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Shane Geraghty, 9 Paul Hodgson (captain), 8 Chris Hala'Ufia, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Richard Thorpe, 5 Gary Johnson, 4 James Hudson, 3 Tonga Lea'aetoa, 2 James Buckland, 1 Clarke Dermody,
Replacements: 16 Alex Corbisiero, 17 Danie Coetzee, 18 Gary Johnson, 19 Declan Danaher, 20.Sailosi Tagicakibau, 21 Peter Richards, 22 Mike Catt.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Aaron Mauger (c), 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Sam Vesty, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Ben Woods, 6 Craig Newby, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Mefin Davies, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Santiago Bonorino, 18 Marco Wentzel, 19 Brett Deacon, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Derick Hougaard, 22 Ayoola Erinle.
Referee: Dave Pearson
Touch judges: Ken Stewart, Bob Mullis
Television match official: Roy Marfleet/Geoff Warren