Leicester Tigers suffered a 41-10 defeat – and a first-half red card for centre Kyle Eastmond – against Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate on Saturday afternoon.
Bristol led 21-10 at half-time with two tries from former Tigers hooker Harry Thacker – the first after just 60 seconds – in a Gallagher Premiership Round 9 fixture.
Manu Tuilagi marked his return from Test duty with a try for Tigers who then lost Eastmond to a 25th-minute red card for a high tackle on Bristol fly-half Ian Madigan.
Bristol added a third try at the start of the second half from wing Luke Morahan and then Harry Randall claimed the bonus-point score for the hosts who moved level in the table with Tigers on 18 points.
Adam Thompstone led the Tigers out of the tunnel in his 150th club appearance, and it was Bears who got the game underway and they were on the scoreboard in just over 60 seconds as Thacker scored against his hometown club.
An inside ball on halfway created the space for Alapati Leiua and, after weaving up to the 22, his simple ball to the right put Thacker in to score, pumping his fist as he ran in to the right of the posts. Madigan added the kick for a seven-point lead.
Tigers had an immediate chance to respond after a Bristol error in front of their own posts, but they shut out Will Spencer and then Sione Kalamafoni before knocking-on as Leiua attempted to intercept on the right.
The scrum brought a free-kick to Tigers and Kalamafoni charged at the line but the viasitors lost possession just 10 metres out.
Bears then burst out in the backline along their right flank, Luke Morahan kicking cleverly down the touchline as Tigers scrambled back and George Ford cleared up.
Madigan made it 10-0 with a penalty following a high tackle from Eastmond on Thacker with 10 minutes elapsed.
From another attack, Will Hurrell was stopped by Tuilagi and, when Tigers were handed a penalty at the breakdown, it was the Tigers centre who celebrated as he claimed his fourth try of the season.
It was Thompstone who carried into the Bristol defence following the lineout on the right and the wing’s clever offload put Tuilagi away, beating one tackler and running in to the right of the posts. Ford’s conversion made it 10-7 on 18 minutes.
Bristol looked to get ball through hands whenever they had possession, while Tigers tried to build from set-piece possession, and the two styles collided when the hosts fumbled in their own half and Tuilagi pounced to claim the ball. Spencer and Thompstone carried forcefully in the 22 but another error gave Morahan a chance to break clear and Ford had to show his pace to cover.
Eastmond’s red card was confirmed after referee Wayne Barnes and TMO checked a hit on Madigan in midfield, with the official checking the point of contact on the replays before judging direct contact with force to the head.
Madigan, who did not need a head injury assessment, kicked the penalty from just short of halfway to make it 13-7.
Moments later, the hosts were also down to 14 men as prop John Afoa was yellow-carded for a no-arms tackle on Jonny May. Ford struck the penalty cleanly from 35 metres to bring it back to 13-10 on the half-hour.
Madigan, though, doubled the advantage with another kick and then Thacker claimed his second try – and fifth in two weeks – though not until the referee had checked the build-up where flanker Steve Luatua went to ground but bounced back up to run in behind the defence and find Thacker to diver over on the right.
This time Madigan pulled his conversion attempt across the posts but his side led 21-10 and there was no further change before the break.
With Bristol back up to their full strength following Afoa’s yellow card, Ford got the second half under way and Tigers introduced Harry Wells in the second row as a replacement for Kitchener.
The opening three minutes were played in the Bristol 22, with Tigers retaining possession, but after then turning over ball on halfway, the home side birst clear and Morahan beat May on the outside to score.
The extras from Madigan made it 28-10 on 45 minutes and the bonus-point score arrived five minutes later when scrum-half Randall took a tap-and-go penalty from 40 metres and had the legs to get to the line first.
Madigan took his tally to 15 points with the conversion as her made it 35-10.
The home crowd were ready to celebrate a fifth when Leiua broke down to the left, but Ford kept up with him and made the tackler just 10 metres out.
Great work from Wells turned defence into attack, with Holmes and Spencer involved as Tigers reached the 22 but a Bristol closed in and forced an error from Genge.
Geordan Murphy changed both props for the scrum, joining Tatafu Polota-Nau who replaced Jake Kerr at the previous stoppage, but they were penalised at the scrum and another whistle followed as Barnes judged that Tuilagi had tackled his man Siale Piutau a fraction before he had claimed the ball. Madigan struck the kick to make it 38-10.
Tigers were whistled for a ruck infringement three minutes later and Madigan took his tally to 21 points with the kick from 40-plus metres.
Matt Toomua replaced Ford on the hour and had the best chance for a consolation score as he first found Thompstone with a cross-kick, then received the return pass but got closed down 15 metres out and could not find support within range for the offload.
Tigers dominated possession in the final quarter but could not find a telling pass in the Bristol 22 as they also had to survive a breakaway as Morahan picked off a long pass from Toomua only for the whistle to blow for obstruction against the home side as Shaun Malton ran away under the posts.
It was Malton, too, who knocked-on in midfield as the clock approached 79 minutes, giving Tigers one last chance before Bristol won ball on the floor and brought the game to a close.