Leicester Tigers missed out on an opportunity to move into the top four of the Gallagher Premiership with a 36-13 defeat by Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm on Friday evening.
The teams were separated by one point and one place in the table going into the Round 7 clash but Gloucester emerged with a bonus-point victory on their home turf.
After early kicks from rival half-backs Danny Cipriani and Joe Ford, full-back Jason Woodward provided a try for the hosts. Although Ford added a second shot on target, Gloucester responded with two more tries from Matt Banahan and Fraser Balmain before half-time.
Ollie Thorley added try number four early in the second half and, after a Mike Williams score from a driving maul finally provided some hope for the visitors, he young wing added another in the closing minutes to put a seal on Tigers’ fate.
Among the oldest rivals in club rugby, Tigers and Gloucester met for a 222nd time, with the Cherry and Whites 107-106 ahead on the win count going into this game, including 75 on home turf.
In the first league action since a win over Northampton Saints at Twickenham at the beginning of October, Tigers welcomed back Sione Kalamafoni and Dan Cole to the starting line-up, though interim head coach Geordan Murphy was without a number of players on international duty.
Gloucester were led by former Tigers captain Ed Slater, with Balmain and Billy Twelvetrees also lining up opposite old clubmates. Another former Leicester man, prop Kyle Traynor, came into the squad just ahead of kick-off following the withdrawal of Val Rapava Ruskin due to illness.
Playing in their alternate kit of white and purple, Tigers conceded the opening points after just three-and-a-half minutes with a Cipriani penalty, though the ball did strike the inside of the right-hand post on the way through.
A knock-on by Twelvetrees gave Tigers put-in on the opposition 22 moments later and when prop Sean Hohneck was penalised at the scrum, Ford put over the kick to level the scores.
The next scrum brought a whistle against Greg Bateman, but Tigers stood firm against the lineout drive and forced anther knock-on.
Kyle Eastmond got hands on the ball as Tigers looked to attack and they were rewarded with a penalty from a lineout on the right. With the tee on the junction of the 10-metre line with the 15-metre mark on the right, Ford pushed his kick wide.
Tigers were made to count the cost after a scrum on halfway when Mark Atkinson broke down the Gloucester left and put Woodward in to score. Cipriani added the extras to make it 10-3 with 16 minutes played.
Some good pressure from the Tigers defence forced another error on the Gloucester 22 and, after setting a platform at the scrum, referee Ian Tempest blew for an offence in front of the posts and Ford made it 10-6 with the kick as the clock ticked just past the 20-minute mark.
George Worth was penalised in possession as he got isolated on halfway, giving Gloucester a chance to play from a set-piece in Tigers territory for the first time and they held on to the ball long enough to create a two-on-one on their right wing, giving Banahan the chance to score in the corner. Cipriani dragged the conversion wide with his team 15-6 in front.
When Sione Kalamafoni was wrapped up by the Gloucester tacklers on halfway, the game restarted with a scrum for the hosts but Tigers used good linespeed in defence to keep them out and forced a handling error.
But Tigers were penalised at the next scrum and, while Tom Youngs spoke to the referee, Cipriani kicked up towards the line. Although Jordan Olowofela produced a tryline tackle on Ollie Thorley in the corner, play came back for a lineout offence on the opposite flank and Tigers were still on the back foot as they hit hard at Twelvetrees and then Willi Heinz, dislodging the ball almost under the posts.
But Gloucester came back again, earning a penalty for a high tackle and then seeing temperatures rise when Cipriani had his progress blocked by Tom Youngs.
A lineout drive took them towards the line once more, but they were just short when the ball became unplayable. That gave them put-in again and, after Heinz had dropped short, prop Balmain picked up and forced his way over. Cipriani’s extras stretched the lead to 22-6 with two minutes remaining in the half.
White returned at scrum-half as good work along the backline gave Olowofela a chance to get into his stride on the right wing, but a tap tackle from Cipriani brought him down 30 metres out and Gloucester were handed a penalty as Heinz attacked the breakdown. Graham Kitchener stole valuable ball at the lineout as the half came to a close with Gloucester still 16 points ahead.
From the kick-off to the second half, George Worth made a big break through the middle but breathed a sigh of relief when Banahan read his pass to left but could not keep hold.
A dangerous attack down the left had Tgers tracking back until strong work by the forwards turned over ball in a central position and Ford kicked clear.
But relief lasted barely one minute more as Gloucester outfoxed the defence and Thorley ran in on the right for the bonus-point score. Cirpriani’s kick made it 29-6 on 48 minutes.
Will Spencer replaced Harry Wells as the game restarted, but Gloucester were straight back on the ball and looked like they had added a fifth try with a length-of-the-field break on the right involving Cipriani and Banahan twice before Woodward’s finish. But, after checking with the TMO, play came back as the final pass travelled forward.
A big scrum from Tigers looked like creating an opportunity to open up the play, but Gareth Owen’s pass to Adam Thompstone went forward and Gloucester had their own set-piece ball.
An interception from Thompstone finally gave Tigers a chance to move out of their own half, but he was chased down 30 metres out.
Tigers had another chance from a penalty into the corner and, after gathering safely, earned a repeat when Slater was whistled. And this time the drive ended with Williams dotting down his first of the season. Ford added the kick to make it 29-13.
Strong work at the breakdown by Owen brought another penalty on the left and the forwards kept tight formation as they drove in-field. Referee Tempest issued a team warning when Gloucester brought down the drive on the five-metre line just to the left of the posts.
Kalamafoni aimed for the line as he picked up but Gloucester stayed firm until a handling error gave them scrum ball just 10 metres from their own line. An early engage gave them a free-kick and Cipriani cleared to halfway.
When Tigers were penalised as Gloucester over-shot their own lineout ball, Cipriani pointed goalwards but his kick dropped fractions short.
Ben White took over the captaincy as Murphy started to make changes, including a new front row and Tom Hardwick on at fly-half, but the scrum-half soon made way too as Harrison returned.
The home crowd were pushing their team on as they built phases of play, but they met a good set of defensive work from Tigers, making their tackles and then forcing another dropped ball 10 metres out.
Harrison assumed the captaincy as he put in at the scrum and Gloucester went straight to the floor, allowing Hardwick to kick 20 metres upfield.
Matt Smith made good progress from a chip by Hardwick, with Spencer adding some strength on the ball too before the referee penalised the Gloucester defence and Tigers took play into the right-hand corner.
Tigers remained 10 metres out, with Spencer and Fitzgerald getting through their carries, but could not find a way through and when Gloucester finally won ball back, they released wing Thorley and he used his pace to pick his way upfield and run in for a fifth try with barely 90 seconds remaining. Twelvetrees made it 36-13 with the conversion.