Leicester Tigers scored nine tries in a 59-7 victory over Rugby Calvisano to retain top spot in Pool 5 of the European Challenge Cup at Welford Road on Saturday.
A try bonus point was secured inside 20 minutes with an early score from Manu Tuilagi followed by two from fellow England international Jonny May and another from man-of-the-match award winner Sam Lewis – his first in club colours.
Tommy Reffell, Adam Thompstone and Jake Kerr added further tries as Tigers led 45-7 on the hour on the way to a 25th victory over Italian opposition in the club’s history.
Noel Reid dotted down an eighth try and then Telusa Veainu added another in the final minute as Tigers became the first English team to win the opening three rounds in the Challenge Cup since 2002.
Following a minute’s applause in memory of the club’s record appearance-holder David Matthews, Tigers got on the scoreboard with just three minutes played through Tuilagi.
They had already broken the defensive line once when Sam Lewis carried into the 22 and then at the next attack, starting with a lineout on the right, Tuilagi burst through one tackle and had the strength to push on for the line to the right of the posts. Ford’s conversion made it 7-0.
A second try followed just two-and-a half minutes later when a long pass from Noel Reid gave May space to run on the left and no defender got near him on a 60-metre run-in to score his first of the season. Ford’s kick from the left touchline sailed across the posts with Tigers 12-0 in front.
May was back on the attack shortly afterwards after Reid started a run from deep and claimed his second try on 11 minutes after superb hands from Reid and an offload from Steward gave him the chance. This time Ford added the kick to make it 19-0.
Turnover ball on halfway got Tigers going forward again and, after Tuilagi had taken play up the right, Lewis ran in for the bonus-point score with just 16 minutes elapsed. Ford’s kick stretched the advantage to 26 points.
Calvisano built their first attack as the game reached the 20-minute mark and had men spare out wide on the left only to misplace the pass.
Lewis almost found his way to the line a second time after linking up with May and then latching on to loose ball 20 metres out. But, after stepping past the first defender, he was taken down just short of the line and spilled ball as he looked for an offload.
Telusa Veainu, back in the squad after a broken nose in the win over Gloucester, replaced Tuilagi, with 19-year-old Steward moving into midfield alongside Reid.
May was denied a hat-trick as he found some space on the left again and chipped ahead. Although the Calvisano player got his hand to the kick, the ball still travelled up to the tryline but May knocked-on as he skidded on to it.
Tigers elected to go to a scrum just 15 metres out from the posts after a penalty award from referee Craig Evans and heard the whistle again at the set-piece but lost ball in contact on the right as Veainu tried to wriggle free.
A penalty against Sione Kalamafoni at a breakdown just inside the Tigers half gave the visitors a chance to kick into the corner. They over-shot their throw but managed to get ball back and, after two pushes near the line, prop Lorenzo Cittadini inched over to score with just seconds left in the half. The conversion kick from fly-half Paolo Pescetto brought the half to a close with Tigers 26-7 ahead.
Tigers claimed the first points after the restart, with Reffell timing his run on to a pass from Reid in midfield and burst through to score the fifth try of the day, converted by Ford for a 33-7 lead.
A break from Ford should have brought another chance but the Italian defence quickly rallied to stop Calum Green and then Sione Kalamafoni in support before Sam Harrison joined the action in a record 100th appearance from the bench for the club.
A penalty for obstruction gave Calvisano a rare attacking opportunity as they kicked down the right, but Tigers stole ball and then won a penalty of their own for a shoulder-charge at the contact area.
Ford’s day was completed on 50 minutes, with Tom Hardwick the replacement as he was straight into the game as May found a gap near halfway and Kalamafoni charged on in support before being stopped 20 metres out. The attackers were penalised at the breakdown, though, and Calvisano had brief respite with possession in midfield until Thompstone picked off a pass near the touchline and ran away to score.
Calvisano held ball near the Tigers tryline through several phases but were repelled by strong defence and then lost control in contact and play restarted with a scrum for the home team.
Two carries from Nephi Leatigaga threatened the Italian line and when Tigers set up a close-range maul, Jake Kerr steered it over for try number seven and Hardwick converted for a 45-7 lead.
The defence had to stand up to a driving maul which took play right up to the tryline before Tigers stole possession and then created an eighth try. This time, Hardwick broke a tackle on the halfway line and ran clear, looking for the support of Reid to beat the defence and go under the posts. Hardwick added the extras.
There was still time for Veainu to score after smart work along the backline from deep and the Tonga international beat the covering defence with a run-in down the right touchline. Hardwick's conversion brought the game to a close.