Leicester (3) 10 Try: Crane Con: Dupuy Pen: Dupuy London Irish (3) 9 Pens: D Armitage 2 Drop-goal: Hewat
By Bryn Palmer
Jordan Crane stretches over for the only try of the game
Leicester took the first step towards a possible trophy double by overcoming a pugnacious London Irish to claim their sixth Premiership title in 11 years.
Julien Dupuy's penalty cancelled out Peter Hewat's early drop-goal to leave the sides level at 3-3 at half-time.
Delon Armitage landed a penalty for Irish on the resumption but Jordan Crane's converted try grabbed the lead.
Another Armitage penalty from halfway made it 10-9 with eight minutes left, but the Tigers held out to triumph.
It provided head coach Richard Cockerill with his first trophy since succeeding Heyneke Meyer in mid-season, and the former England hooker now takes his side to Murrayfield next Saturday for a Heineken Cup final against Leinster.
Victory there would complete a remarkable campaign for the Tigers, who converted their first-place finish in the regular season into final triumph at Twickenham in front of 81,601 fans.
In truth neither side found their best form in a slow-burner which failed to sparkle but remained tense throughout.
Crane, who sealed Leicester's dramatic Heineken semi-final shoot-out win against Cardiff Blues a fortnight ago, again rose to the occasion, his decisive try more than compensating for an earlier yellow card.
The Exiles, in their first Premiership final, made a dream start, Hewat sizing up a weak Leicester clearance from Mike Catt's kick-off and sending over a 35m drop-goal after just 22 seconds.
Leicester made most of the early running, with the Tigers back three of Geordan Murphy, namesake Johne and Scott Hamilton sparking several counter-attacks from deep.
None of them came to anything however until Irish centre Armitage, who had just missed a long-range penalty attempt, took out George Chuter with an early tackle.
Scrum-half Dupuy slotted the penalty, but missed with his second effort after Dan Hipkiss had stepped around Armitage to release Geordan Murphy.
London Irish started to threaten themselves once scrum-half Paul Hodgson had injected some pace into their attack with a quickly-taken tap penalty in the 23rd minute.
Catt, Seilala Mapasua, Sailosi Tagicakibau and Steffon Armitage continued the move, but when Leicester strayed offside, Hewat horribly pulled what should have been a straightforward penalty and it bounced back off the left upright.
Leicester wing Scott Hamilton was a constant danger in attack, here escaping Exiles fly-half Mike Catt
Hewat's kicking may have been awry, but his sweet pass sent James Hudson, a late replacement for the unfit Nick Kennedy, into space, only for the move to end when Steffon Armitage knocked on.
Armitage and the powerful number eight Chris Hala'ufia were starting to make inroads into the Tigers defence, and Geordan Murphy had to race back to get to a deft chip from Mapasua ahead of Tagicakibau.
The half ended with the Exiles opting for three scrums from penalties awarded inside Leicester's 22, but each time they were repelled by a belligerent Tigers defence.
The favourites did lose number eight Crane to the sin-bin after the third offence, but breathed a sigh of relief as referee Wayne Barnes blew for the interval with no damage on the scoreboard.
The underdogs made two changes at the interval, bringing on Richard Thorpe for Declan Danaher in the back row and Tom Homer, a 19-year-old goalkicker, for Adam Thompstone on the wing.
Their man advantage was eventually rewarded when Delon Armitage stroked over a superb penalty from halfway in the 49th minute, just before Crane returned to the fray.
It might have been worse but for Hamilton, who was forced to carry the ball over his own line after a kick ahead from Armitage.
The Exiles in turn were grateful for Catt's tap tackle on Hamilton as the Kiwi threatened to break through.
London Irish might have extended their lead when Steffon Armitage powered up the left touchline from Hala'ufia's superb offload, only for Hewat's poor kick to gift Leicester possession.
The Tigers quickly seized on the opportunity, a deft offload from replacement Lewis Moody and powerful thrusts from Ayoola Erinle and another replacement, Matt Smith, creating the platform for Crane to stretch over from close range.
Dupuy's conversion made it 10-6, but another brilliant long-range penalty from Armitage reduced the Exiles' deficit to a point with eight minutes left.
The underdogs had chances in the frantic finale, but Leicester held on to claim their second title in three years, and a record eighth in all.
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