A second-half fightback fell just short as Leicester Tigers were beaten 46-30 by Gloucester Rugby at Kingsholm on Sunday.
Four tries from wing Ollie Thorley among six first-half scores for Gloucester put the hosts in control of the Round 17 clash in the Gallagher Premiership season.
But Tigers, fielding a young team after the midweek win over London Irish, added 24 unanswered points with tries from Harry Potter, Jordan Taufua and Cameron Henderson to provide fresh hope at 36-30.
Just when the momentum favoured the visitors, though, Gloucester created some breathing space with a penalty and then added another try to deny the visitors any consolation.
Meeting for the 225th time – with 108 wins each – but in the unusual circumstances of playing behind closed doors, both teams made 15 changes to their midweek line-ups with Ollie Chessum making his Tigers debut in a team captained by Thom Smith, overtaking Ben White as the club’s youngest Premiership captain.
Tigers got the opening points of the afternoon, with Henry kicking a penalty after strong work in pinning Gloucester inside their own territory following Tom Hardwick’s kick in behind the defence from turnover ball.
But the lead was short-lived as Gloucester made use of advantage ball to find a hole for scrum-half Joe Simpson to score under the posts. Billy Twelvetrees added the kick for a 7-3 lead with seven minutes elapsed.
Only two more minutes elapsed before Thorley opened his personal account as quick transfer along the backline from a lineout gave the wing the run-in on the right. This time the conversion came back off the post at 12-3.
Potter had his first opportunity when he picked off an ambitious offload from Danny Cipriani near halfway and his kick down the touchline had Gloucester stretched until Jonny May won the race back to dot down in-goal.
Henry’s perfect left-footed punt to the five-metre mark on the right allowed Tigers to build some pressure and, after carries among the forwards and efficient clear-out on the floor, the fly-half added his second penalty to make it 12-6.
After Gloucester spilled ball from a Simpson attack, Tigers’ respite did not last long as Cipriani capitalised on possession close-in to put Thorley over again and Twelvetrees added the conversion.
The wing completed his hat-trick on 26 minutes, racing on to a kick from May to dot down in the corner. The conversion made it 26-6, with Blake Enever replaced by Cameron Henderson as Henry took the restart.
Thorley made it four for his tally and five for the hosts on the half-hour, taking possession on halfway and, with support on his left, staying wide to beat last man Henry and score.
The restart gave Guy Porter a chance to take play up the right but, when ball was lost in attack, Gloucester broke free and Chris Harris ran in unopposed to make it 36-6 with six minutes still to play in the half.
George Ford entered the fray for the restart with Tom Hardwick making way in a shuffled backline, and after kicking off, his next touch was a conversion of a first Tigers score for Harry Potter.
Henry, now at full-back, was the creator, taking high ball then jinking through broken field and popping a pass for the young wing, running diagonally from right to left, to pick off without breaking stride and run in from 25 metres. Ford’s extras made it 36-13.
Jordan Taufua and Ben Youngs were sent on at the start of the second half and Tigers started with some fire, Potter showing good work in defence to mop up a dangerous kick from Cipriani, and Porter hitting hard in contact and then carrying strongly in attack on the left.
Tomas Lavanini made a strong intervention to win penalty ball near halfway and skipper Smith then latched on to lost ball at a Gloucester attacking lineout to avert the danger.
Dan Kelly made his debut as a replacement for Jordan Olowofela as Ford kicked penalty ball towards the corner on the right as a platform for a second score.
Lavanini’s quick exchange of ball to the back set up Smith peeling round and, after Porter was brought down just short of the line, Taufua bumped over the whitewash. Ford added the kick to make it 36-20 with just under an hour played.
A lineout drive moments later, steered by hooker Charlie Clare, brought a penalty into the corner as Tigers built on their momentum. And they made it count too, with Taufua stopped a fraction short and replacement Cameron Henderson adding the final push up to and over the line.
Ford added the kick to make it 36-27 as the teams took a drinks break.
Referee Matthew Carley spoke to Gloucester when No8 Jake Polledri gave away another penalty in defence and Ford’s kick got Tigers into range at 36-30 with 15 minutes to play.
Gloucester finally got back into Tigers territory on the back of a penalty on halfway and, when the whistle blew again against Taufua, it was Twelvetrees who knocked over the kick to add their first points since the 33rd minute. More importantly, it pushed the home side nine points in front with only eight minutes left.
Any lingering hopes of a successful comeback were snuffed out moment later when Lloyd Evans found space to run in on the right for Gloucester’s seventh try of the afternoon.
Tigers still chased something out of the day with one final push on the right before being shut out at a close-range lineout.