Leicester Tigers were beaten 40-3 by Bristol Bears in the final away game of the Gallagher Premiership season at Ashton Gate on Wednesday.
Without an away win in the league campaign, Tigers trailed 21-3 at half-time after tries from Ioan Lloyd, Nathan Hughes and Bryan Byrne as Bristol chased the bonus-point victory needed to keep them in contention for a place in the top four.
The crucial fourth score came early in the second half from Dan Thomas and Harry Thacker added the fifth before a last-minute penalty try completed the card as Bristol added another win to a home record showing one league defeat during 2020.
Led out by 20-year-old Thom Smith in just his ninth first-team appearance, it was Tigers who got the game under way just as the rain turned heavy in the midweek teatime kick-off and in the opening minutes both teams were happy to kick long and play for territory before an inevitable knock-on brought the first scrum.
The opening penalty went into Bristol’s favour near halfway and referee Craig Maxwell-Keys was playing advantage again as wing Niyi Adeolokun almost found his way to the line before knocking-on around his ankles. When lock Dave Attwood took a tap and dived for the line, he was stopped short and then penalised in possession.
Luke Wallace and Ollie Chessum made important tackles in midfield to keep play on halfway and, when ball was spilled, Henry’s left-footed kick to the corner pushed them back to their own line.
But a scrum penalty midway inside the Tigers half presented Bristol with the chance to get first points on the board with 18 minutes gone. Although the forwards were met with decent defence, play was eventually worked to the right and Ioan Lloyd made use of the man out wide to create a gap to dart through and score. Sheedy added the conversion for a seven-point lead.
It was Bristol’s first meaningful visit to Tigers territory as another diagonal kick from Henry just evaded the reach of Freddie Steward on the opposition 22. But Tigers stayed on the attack as Joe Heyes picked up at a ruck and, as he looked for Ben White in support, the whistle blew for an offside and Henry kicked the penalty to get his side on the board at 7-3.
The Bears came back to attack on the opposite flank with Adeolokun again before being awarded another penalty just in front of the tryline.
They elected to scrum and gained another penalty, which this time led to a try as No8 Nathan Hughes picked up to score. Sheedy’s conversion made it 14-3 on the half-hour.
Tigers continued to work hard in defence on halfway, forcing Sheedy to kick for territory before Bristol eventually made a break down the right. Adeolokun stretched the defence before looking for support inside, where White was penalised for a deliberate knock-on and was yellow-carded as the hosts took play into the corner and immediately imposed sanctions of their own with a third try.
Setting up the lineout drive, it was credited to hooker Bryan Byrne and the lead reached 21-3 with the conversion.
When flanker Dan Thomas was whistled for offside at a ruck after Freddie Steward’s break, Henry fell short with a 50-metre penalty kick as the half came to a close and with the clock showing just seconds remaining in the opening period, Henry took aim at the posts. From 45 metres and near the right touchline, though, the kick fell short as Lloyd kicked clear to bring the half to a close.
Bristol’s bonus-point score came from the front of an attacking lineout just five minutes after the restart, with Dan Thomas dotting down. Sheedy added the extras off the post to make it 28-3 as White returned from the sin bin.
Henry’s chipped kick to the right found Potter in space and he had Lloyd scampering back to cover, though the Bears were kept in their 22 by Tigers’ work across the field until finally having put-in to a scrum and a platform to play again.
Steward made a timely tackle on Adeolokun just 15 metres out before Blake Enever’s big hit in midfield and Bristol were forced to go from touchline to touchline.
Jack van Poortvliet’s first contribution at scrum-half was a big clearing kick which Potter chased and forced a handling error, which was repeated further infield as Tigers had put-in at a scrum.
Although the rain had stopped, handling errors continued, with Adeolokun running clear to dive in under the posts, only to see play come back for a knock-on at the base of a scrum.
The referee had been playing a penalty advantage, however, and play restarted with Sheedy chipping into the right-hand corner and when they broke from the lineout, scrum-half Andy Uren found Thacker on his shoulder to score. Sheedy missed the conversion at 33-3.
Shalva Mamukashvili made his Tigers debut as a replacement in the final quarter of an hour, becoming the club’s first Georgian player and quickly getting a couple of scrums under his belt.
The rain belted down again for the closing five minutes as Tigers over-hit a penalty to touch on the right and then had to defend as Adeolokun wriggled free near halfway before the visitors forced an error just 15 metres from the tryline.
Enever was hurt in a chase for loose ball 25 metres out but was back on his feet as Tigers defended a scrum and pushed Bristol back again before another set-piece after spilled ball on halfway. This time, loose ball in midfield gave Bristol a chance to hack ahead but it was Simmons who won the race and slid in to dot down behind his own line.
With the clock on 80 minutes, Bristol had a five-metre scrum and looked to make space on the right-hand corner where Simmons intervened again. Referee Maxwell-Keys watched the replay as the left wing stretched out a hand to block the final pass and showed a yellow card as he awarded the penalty try to complete Bristol’s victory.