Leicester Tigers claimed a bonus-point win with four tries in a 33-26 victory at Gloucester Rugby in the second round of the Gallagher Premiership season on Friday evening.
In a tense tussle under lights as Gloucester unveiled their new artificial pitch at Kingsholm, momentum swung one way and then the other with the outcome finally decided by tryline defence from the visitors with the clock already at 80 minutes.
Tigers, though, were never headed after getting off to a clinical start with 13 unanswered points in the opening 13 minutes as George Ford’s two penalties were followed by a converted try for Harry Wells.
After former Tigers prop Fraser Balmain got Gloucester off the mark, Ellis Genge forced his way over for an 18-7 lead on the half-hour.
Gloucester trimmed the deficit to just six by the break but the jousting continued as Harry Potter provided the first points after the restart, only for the hosts to again reply, though Ford’s third penalty finally provided some breathing space with the lead at nine points.
Then with less than quarter of an hour to go, Nic Dolly steered a forward drive over the Cherry and Whites’ line, adding another try to the double he scored in Round 1 victory over Exeter, and although Tigers then conceded a fourth and braved the final few moments a man down after a yellow card, their defence stood up to the task of closing out a hard-earned five-pointer.
Tigers won both of last season’s meetings and for the return to Kingsholm, Steve Borthwick gave first starts of the season to Jack van Poortvliet and Eli Snyman while Matt Scott made his first playing appearance at the venue since ending a two-year stay at Gloucester in 2018.
The game was just over two minutes old when Ford landed a 35-metre penalty and, from five metres further back, he knocked over another before Wells provided the first try, quickly spotting an opportunity at a breakdown on the whitewash to dot down.
But, in the style that the game would follow the remainder of the evening, there was an almost immediate response.
Gloucester, building phases in their first real attack, reached almost up to the line where prop Balmain picked up to score. The conversion from Lloyd Evans brought it back to 7-13 and signalled an increase in volume from the stands in Gloucester’s opening home game of the season.
But some quick thinking from Tigers brought the next try for Genge, soon after home full-back Kyle Moyle had been sin-binned in defence. Penalty ball on the left quickly turned into an opportunity on the right after van Poortvliet and Ford linked up for the captain to drive over and put 11 points between the teams.
Ruan Ackermann then finished in the right-hand corner from a quick, long pass as the lesad was trimmed again just before half-time.
Potter then produced a solo finish to set Tigers on their way, Ben Youngs releasing the wing in the centre of the pitch after fielding a clearing kick. There was still a lot of work to do but the Tigers wing cut through the first tackle and, even when he met another defender just short of the line, he managed to wriggle free to score next to the posts, giving Ford the chance to add the conversion for a 25-12 advantage.
The game was still not put to bed, though, and the home crowd sensed a fightback when centre Mark Atkinson, fresh from a call into England’s training squad this week, pushed his way over from a series of attacking phases, bringing the gap down to six points.
Ford’s third penalty of the evening provided vital breathing room before Dolly struck the killer blow. It was a penalty from Ford which set the platform, kicking down the right touchline to reach touch five metres out, and the hooker taking control as his pack got their leg-drive going towards the line to make it three scores in a week and secure at least a bonus point.
Gloucester kept going, though, with penalties pushing them into the left-hand corner where they made use of an extra man when Ollie Chessum was yellow-carded to score their fourth of the evening. Jack Clement made the final push to set up the nervous finale, made more tense when Ford narrowly missed a penalty before the visitors stood up to a final push to secure the five points.