Leicester Tigers booked a place in the semi-finals of the European Challenge Cup with a 39-15 victory over Newcastle Falcons at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday.
Tigers took an early lead with a Potter score and then added a penalty try from a maul, but a Falcons score through George Wacokecoke brought the game back to 15-8 as half-time approached, though the visitors lost a player to the sin bin for the second time just before heading back to the changing rooms.
Moroni ran in a third in the second half but Falcons replied to keep it tight entering the final quarter until a penalty from replacement fly-half George Ford – in his 100th game for Tigers – finally provided a 10-point buffer.
A second penalty try followed, as did two more yellow cards and the final touchdown from Potter as Tigers moved into the semi-final draw for a second successive season.
Richard Wigglesworth led Tigers on his return to the team, with Freddie Steward and Kini Murimurivalu added to the backline that started against Connacht in the last round. Harry Wells, Hanro Liebenberg and Tommy Reffell were recalled among the forwards.
Kick off followed a two-minute silence in respect of the Duke of Edinburgh who died on Friday, with Falcons getting the game started playing towards the Robin Hood Stand End.
Just two weeks after defeat in a Gallagher Premiership fixture at the same venue, Dean Richards included ex-Tigers quartet Logovi’i Mulipola, George McGuigan, Michael Young and Greg Peterson in the Falcons line-up, but the visitors were soon a try down on their return trip.
From a lineout maul, Matt Scott and Murimurivalu carryied into the 22 and then Potter latched on to a clever diagonal kick from McPhillips to score. The fly-half pushed his conversion across the posts with Tigers 5-0 on front on five minutes.
A superb catch at the restart from Wacokecoke gave Falcons field position and they held the ball through multiple phases until gaining a penalty which Brett Connon slotted from in front of the posts.
Potter was back in the action as he successfully chased a McPhillips kick and then found some space on the right to keep Falcons pinned back.
When a penalty decision followed for offside on the five-metre line, Tigers kept the ball in the right-hand corner and stayed there when the whistle from Romain Poite went again.
This time, as the drive moved towards the posts, the referee blew for a penalty try with Charlie Clare in possession as the maul collapsed. Falcons skipper Mark Wilson was yellow carded for the offence.
Harry Wells made a clean catch at the restart to send Murimurivalu clear upfield. The attack ended with Connon sweeping up on the touchline, but when Tigers won ball back, the whistle went again, with the referee also talking to stand-in skipper Micky Young after the build-up of penalties.
Matt Scott won a turnover on halfway which set Murimurivalu and Steward on the attack before wing Ben Stevenson cleaned up loose ball in front of the posts and Wilson returned from the sin-bin with his team still in their own territory.
Tigers lost Liebenberg after he caught a boot in the face as he attempted to tackle Tom Penny, with Jasper Wiese coming off the bench.
Falcons got back into the game when wing Wacokecoke finished smartly from an enterprising move instigated by full-back Penny to score in the left-hand corner and make it 15-8 with the final points of the first half, though there was still time for Falcons to find themselves short-handed again with a yellow card for replacement prop Kyle Cooper after another scrum penalty.
Falcons won the first penalty award of the second period, isolating Steward on the floor on halfway, but spilled ball as they approached the Tigers 22 brought the attack to an end.
A fourth scrum allowed Tigers to clear and a weaving run from Potter threatened to take him clear before Falcons squared up in defence.
Another big scrum led to a third try for Tigers, with Wiese and Steward carrying before McPhillips timed his pass to release the outside backs and Moroni was free to score on the left.
The conversion made it 22-8 but Falcons responded with a try as Stevenson broke clear and put Penny in to finish in the left-hand corner. It was his last action as he was injured in the process, but fly-half Connon’s touchline conversion made it 22-15.
Tigers sent on Tom Youngs, Ellis Genge and Dan Cole at the game restarted and got back on the front foot as Wiese picked off a Falcons pass on halfway and McPhillips prodded play cleverly down to the right-hand corner.
Ford replaced McPhillips to reach his century of Tigers appearances and Jack Van Poortvliet joined him at half-back, quickly getting into the game as he followed a Murimurivalu break.
The scrum which followed led to another penalty and Ford knocked it over for a 10-point lead at 25-15.
Scrum dominance gave Ford a chance to take play down the right but Falcons stood their ground in defence until winning a penalty over the ball on their 22-metre line.
Falcons threatened with a powerful run from Gary Graham down the middle of the field and the work of Wilson, but lost possession on their left and then met George Martin’s defensive effort when they tried again.
The defence stood up so well that Falcons were forced backwards in possession until Tommy Reffell won a penalty on halfway.
More of the same followed for another sustained period until a Falcons error and Moroni quickly punted play 50 metres upfield but Graham won the race for the ball as it bounced on his own tryline.
It meant Falcons had to defend a five-metre scrum and they lost prop Mark Tampin to a yellow card – a third of the afternoon – at the set-piece as Tigers put pressure on the line again.
It led to a second penalty try as the scrum approached the tryline, plus trouble for Cooper as he received his second yellow of the game.
That meant changes for the next set-piece with Falcons short-handed for an uncontested scrum and had just 12 men on the field as the game closed with a Tigers scrum in front of the posts which provided the space to put Potter in for his second try on the right and Ford added the kick to close the match.