ALEX LEWINGTON scored a last-minute try to earn London Irish a hard fought losing bonus point against Leicester Tigers.
It was looking bleak for the Exiles as they trailed 28-13 heading into the final 10 minutes, but late tries from David Paice and former Tiger Lewington, added to Blair Cowan’s earlier score pulled the score back to 28-27.
While it is a fifth straight Premiership defeat, the Exiles did earn their first point since the opening day victory over Harlequins.
Nick Kennedy made four changes to the side which lost 29-17 at Newcastle Falcons last time out as more injuries took hold with Greig Tonks and Topsy Ojo recalled while Ben Meehan and Jake Schatz earned their first starts in Irish colours.
However, as has been the case so often this season, Exiles got off to a nightmare start.
Leicester took the lead in just the third minute after Sam Harrison burst through the defence far too easily before the ball was worked out into space on the right for Nick Malouf to dab down.
And Tigers continued to dominate the early stages as the Exiles struggled to get out of their half with George Ford twice kicking over to extend the lead to 11-0.
It could have got worse when a clever Ford kick was collected by Jonny May on the left, but the ball was eventually knocked on to kill any momentum.
Irish finally got off the mark five minutes before the break to reduce the arrears to 14-3 when Tommy Bell kicked over after Gareth Owen had been yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Greig Tonks.
But the late spell of pressure could not yield any further points as the hosts were twice held
up after crossing the line.
And just moments into the second half, Irish were caught napping again as Leicester pulled clear.
Will Evans profited this time, bursting through the entire defence to run clear and score from 20 metres.
There was a brief spell of hope for Kennedy’s men as Bell added three more points before the home fans were treated to a first try of the afternoon when Cowan went over in the corner.
That reduced the deficit to 21-13 with just under half an hour still to play, but Tigers quickly scored again themselves when the ball was spun out to May in acres of space on the wing to add his name to the score-sheet.
But Irish would not crumble and battled back to set up a grandstand finish. A brilliant break from James Marshall set up the chance before the ball was offloaded to Ollie Hoskins.
The replacement forward was stopped just before reaching the line, but plenty of men were on space on the left, including Paice who went over with ease. Bell’s conversion made the score 28-20 with 10 minutes to play.
With 10 seconds to play and a scrum on halfway, Exiles still needed one more score to haul back a bonus point.
But they kept their composure, working the ball out to Topsy Ojo and Tom Fowlie on the left before eventually crossing after some fine footwork by Lewington in the final action of the game.
It was no doubt a sweet moment for the winger, who left Leicester to join Irish in 2013.
The Exiles stay 11th, but are now five points clear of bottom-placed Worcester Warriors.
The league now takes a two-week break with European action taking over.
LONDON IRISH: Bell, Lewington, Tikoirotuma (Fowlie), Tonks (Brophy Clews), Ojo, Marshall, Meehan (Steele), Franks (Elrington), Paice (c), Du Plessis (Hoskins), van der Merwe, De Chaves (Paulo), McNally, Cowan, Schatz (Lomidze).
Tries: Cowan (56), Paice (70), Lewington (80)
Cons: Bell x3 (56,71,80)
Pens: Bell x2 (33,46)
LEICESTER: Tait, Malouf, Owen, Toomua, May, G. Ford (c), Harrison, Bateman, McGuigan, Cole, Tuohy, Barrow, Kalamafoni, Evans, Mapapalangi.
Reps: Youngs, Genge, Cilliers, Wells, Hamilton, White, J. Ford, Smith.
Tries: Malouf (3), Evans (42), May (62)
Cons: Ford x2 (43,63)
Pens: Ford x3 (9,18,27)
Yellow card: Owen (33)
Referee: JP Doyle
Scoring sequence (Irish first): 0-5, 0-8, 0-11, 0-14, 3-14, 3-19, 3-21, 6-21, 11-21, 13-21, 13-26, 13-28, 18-28, 20-28, 25-28, 27-28.