Leicester Tigers lead for 75 minutes of an engrossing contest with Gloucester-Hartpury, the Champions showing their mettle and experience to secure a late lead and the victory.
Meg Jones receives the ball from kick off and Tigers get off to a strong start. An initial tight couple of carries sucks in defenders before flat hands sees Roisin McBrien punch through a hole early, sprinting up to halfway. She offloads well to a supporting Meg Jones, who feeds Amelia Tutt sprinting through, Tigers making it up to the 22 before being tackled into touch.
Gloucester-Hartpury clear their lines but Tutt runs it back, making to halfway and allowing the side to recycle, an unfortunate knock on a few phases later briefly halting the momentum.
Abrasive play follows in midfield, the likes of Keia Mae Sagapolu Sanele, Leah Bartlett and Catha Jacobs powering over the gain line before Francesca McGhie gets her first chance of the game, making ten metres before being hauled down.
With momentum firmly in their favour, Tigers get the first try of the day. From the set piece the side play wide, swift hands out left finding Tutt who’s made a dart round the back, the Wales international making a half break before offloading well in contact to McGhie, who then pops inside to Roisin McBrien on a storming line. She’s on the opposition 22 but the flanker puts on the afterburners to touch down in delight.
Just a couple of minutes later, the crowd are on their feet as Tigers turn over a scrum on halfway and swift hands see McGhie score a wonder try from halfway; however, it’s cruelly ruled out, the referee pulling back for an infringement at the scrum.
Gloucester-Hartpury kick dangerously to touch from the penalty but it’s still all Tigers, the home side winning it back and attacking themselves, McGhie and Meg Jones combining well to make it back up to halfway.
The ball heads back to the forwards, the visitors needing to front up in defence as Lisa Cockburn and Julia Omokhuale both make metres, the latter on a bulldozing line. Possession trades hands a couple of times here as both sides play for territory.
But, an astute Jones spots an opportunity to increase the home lead, blocking a clearance and grubbering through on the floor and diving on the ball to double the lead.
G-H come back firing, driving right to five metres out; a McBrien vital turnover on her own line looks like Tigers will keep the Champions out for the whole first half but cruelly, as Tigers try to clear their lines, a nightmare knock-on from Claire Gallagher means the visitors have the scrum five metres out and centre Kerin Lake makes Tigers pay with a strong try in the corner.
With just a couple of minutes left in the half, Tahlia Brody does superbly to rise highest and win the ball from kick off, Omokhuale then battering through to seize the impetus back.
As the game gets scrappy, the visitors make it all the way down Tigers five metre line, aiming to level the score at half-time. But McGhie does really well to evade tackles to run it up to the 22 and then Tigers are going for it, flying up the field, swift hands going from left touchline to right, Tutt making a half break before the ball comes sailing all the way back and McGhie finishes in style in the left corner to end the half on a huge high.
Half time score: Leicester Tigers 19 – 07 Gloucester-Hartpury
The second half starts as the first one ended, Tigers are on top from the off, Jacobs setting the tone with a crashing line that sees her fly through two defenders. The forwards are piling into contact, each of them gaining incremental metres and putting the visitors on the backfoot straight out of the blocks.
Tigers stay patient and get the first score of the second half, finally going out the back to Meg Jones who whips the ball wide to Tutt to go over in the right corner, a two on one executed to perfection. Jones then follows that up with a booming touchline conversion and Tigers are enjoying a 19 point lead over.
However, these will be the final points the side enjoy. To have got over the half-way point of the season and still be unbeaten you have to be made of stern stuff and the current Premiership Champions instantly come roaring back into it.
Storming carries across the park drive the side up the field until a penalty is given beneath the posts. G-H initially play the advantage but when it’s called back, experienced Red Rose Alex Matthews takes the penalty quick and dives over in front of the posts.
From there, the Champions wrestle momentum back firmly, enjoying the lions share of possession and all of the field tilt, smashing into contact and dominating the ball.
The heavens have firmly opened up here at Mattioli Woods Welford Road at a critical juncture, the carry favouring G-H far more comfortable in the torrential conditions than a Tigers side who favour flinging the ball wide.
It all comes together in successive scores for wing Cath Richards that see the away side suck in all the defenders with massive midfield carries, battering all the way to the five metre before sending it wide for the wing to dive over and level the scores.
A tumultuous last five minutes sees both sides have opportunities, chief among them Meg Jones who takes a penalty quick and jinks through but, after turning the ball over, the Circus finally get in front, substitute Emma Sing scoring to the left of the posts after the side had rumbled to the Tigers line off the back of a storming maul.
Tigers have one last shot at glory; they initially make it up the 22 before G-H clear their lines. The home side responding with an absolutely MASSIVE 50:22 from Sarah Nicholas, a ludicrous kick on the spin that gets the bench and crowd to their feet. The bodies pile in and the side make inch after inch of progress but finally are held up after making it over the line and the final whistle blows.
To get both a try bonus and losing point against the reigning Champions, against the league’s only unbeaten side and the team that ‘beat us up’ at Kingsholm, with Tigers 49-0 down at half-time, this represents a huge step forward. However, it doesn’t mean the defeat doesn’t sting and Tigers will rue their missed chances ahead of next week’s Leicestershire derby against Loughborough Lightning.