Leicester Tigers were beaten 17-3 by top-of-the-table Bristol Bears in Round 11 of the Gallagher Premiership season at Ashton Gate on Saturday.
The scoreline was harsh on a Tigers side who had their moments and worked so hard for the 80 minutes, while also illustrating Bristol’s clinical attack in the period just before half-time when they scored their two tries.
The clock had almost reached the half-hour mark before there was a breakthrough on the scoreboard as Tigers fly-half Joaquin Diaz Bonilla landed a 40-metre penalty.
But Bristol responded with tries from Will Capon and Piers O’Conor during a costly spell when Tigers were a man down to the sinbin before half-time.
Bears kicked off on top of the table with just one defeat since the opening round of the season, and with seven wins and a draw in their opening 10 games.
Both teams had players on England duty, including Tigers teenager George Martin who was named on the bench for the game against Wales, and Steve Borthwick gave call-ups to Cameron Henderson and Ollie Chessum in the pack, while Joaquin Diaz Bonilla and Guy Porter came into the backline.
Chessum and Tommy Reffell joined together to block early Bristol progress in midfield in the opening minutes on a sunny early afternoon in the South-West, then Dan Kelly and Porter hunted down O’Conor as Bristol tried to play ball through hands.
A high tackle gave Bristol a penalty inside their own half and then Tomas Lavanini was penalised, but the Bears completely missed their lineout throw just six metres out from the tryline on their right.
Counter-rucking at the breakdown earned Bristol put-in at the next scrum as Tigers failed to clear their lines and they returned to the corner after a penalty award. Referee Christophe Ridley warned Tigers of the danger of a yellow card when the whistle went again, but this time, when Bears missed the tail of the lineout, Porter kicked clear and then led the chase to pin Bristol on their own 22.
When Bears conceded a penalty just inside their own half, Diaz Bonilla struck the kick wide and the game awaited its first points approaching the 20-minute mark.
They looked like coming when Bristol attacked from deep but Porter caught hooker Will Capon almost within reach of the whitewash and Reffell quickly got over the ball to win a penalty.
Reffell was also at the heart of the next defensive set, winning another penalty, this time close to halfway and Moroni closed out another dangerous phase on the Bristol left.
When Bristol’s backline were ruled offside at a lineout on the 10-metre line, Diaz Bonilla scooped the kick and saw it fall short but, just one phase of play later, Reffell’s strength at the breakdown brought another chance and this time the fly-half provided the first points of the game with 29 minutes gone.
Reffell was successful on the floor yet again as the game restarted but the referee blew against team-mates still on the wrong side of the tackle.
Moroni was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on and the response was immediate with a lineout drive for the tryline allowing hooker Capon to score. Ioan Lloyd added the conversion as Bears led with six minutes left in the first half.
Kobus van Wyk made a try-saving tackle after a 50-metre diagonal run from Luke Morahan to the left-hand corner and, when Bears moved ball across the field, John Afoa lost possession as he was tackled just short of the tryline.
Tigers were unlucky in that they got the final touch as the ball ran dead and play restarted with an attacking scrum which allowed Morahan to put in O’Conor to score next to the posts and the conversion made it 14-3 at half-time.
Moroni returned to make his presence felt with a big tackle on replacement Niyi Adeolokun but Tigers were then offside in the backline from a lineout and Lloyd chipped the three points to make it 17-3.
James Whitcombe was sent on for his Premiership debut on 50 minutes, with Dan Cole already on the tighthead side and Charlie Clare soon joined him in his 20th club appearance as a big scrum brought a penalty decision in Bears territory.
Tigers had an opportunity with a series of set-pieces in the right-hand corner before Bears could finally clear.
A high tackle on Moroni brought another wide on the right and Johnny McPhillips, on for Diaz Bonilla, judged a perfect kick to the right. After securing ball, Tigers got to within a metre of the tryline but then found their man isolated and Bears won a penalty award.
Van Wyk then attacked in the centre of the pitch as Tigers looked for a breakthrough, only to be forced back again as Bears hacked loose ball forward.
Another good tackle by Moroni forced Bears into touch on their left and then Chessum made his presence felt at a defensive lineout to wrap up ball.
A break from replacement Ben White tested Bears in midfield and the scrum-half was there again when McPhillips picked his way through in midfield before Kelly was penalised as he played ball on the floor.
Tigers were still intent on taking something out of the game with Kelly twice finding Harry Simmons on the attack on the left touchline and then Cameron Henderson was held up over the line with just 60 seconds left to play.
A penalty advantage allowed Tigers to go to touch for one last push but, after bringing in numbers to drive for the line, ball was lost forward and Bristol brought the game to a close with their defensive scrum.