Leicester Tigers were beaten 23-27 by Bath Rugby in the opening game of the Aviva Premiership season at Welford Road on Sunday despite rousing late fightback.
Tigers got off to a good start with a penalty from George Ford and then a try from Manu Tuilagi, but two converted scores in a five-minute period around the half-hour from Bath centre Max Clark gave the visitors the lead and swung momentum in their direction.
When Semesa Rokoduguni then scored an interception try, Bath had a 21-8 advantage before half-time and three tries in the bag.
The second half yielded just a couple of penalties before two yellow cards for high tackles started to count against Bath, with Jonny May capping his debut with two tries for Tigers who threatened a comeback win with two late tries to set up a grandstand finale.
With a third Bath player off the field as the clock ticked to 80 minutes, Tigers spilled ball at an attacking lineout and a final chance had gone in front of a crowd of 22,582 and Bath grabbed only a second win at Welford Road in Premiership rugby and a first since 2003.
Ford was making his first competitive appearance for the club since the 2013 Aviva Premiership Final, with fellow summer signings Jonny May, Nick Malouf, Dominic Ryan and Sione Kalamafoni included in the starting team.
Bath enjoyed decent possession in the opening exchanges, twice going close to creating an opening on their left flank, only to falter with the final pass as the Tigers defence closed the door.
But the first real chance came on 17 minutes when Tigers prodded into the left corner from a penalty. After building play from the lineout, Ben Youngs went for a quick tap from another penalty 10 metres out, but the visitors defended the line and the chance to create an overlap on the right was lost.
The move ended with a Bath knock-on in a tackle on Manu Tuilagi and, after two re-set scrums, Tigers were awarded a penalty which Ford kicked to bank the first points of the afternoon.
There was real urgency in both defences, with Tigers up in the face of their rivals near halfway from the restart and Luke Charteris making a handling error which gave Tigers a platform at a scrum for the opening try of the season.
A good heave from the pack allowed Ben Youngs to attack and when Telusa Veainu and Jonny May were involved on the left, Brendon O’Connor showed good support to put Tuilagi away to score. Ford pulled the conversion attempt wide from the left as Tigers led by eight points.
The reply from Bath was almost instant, with Matt Banahan breaking down the touchline and releasing Max Clark for a run to the line. Priestland added the extras to cut the deficit to a single point.
Tuilagi thought he was away on a free run from halfway moments later but referee Luke Pearce brought play back for a Bath penalty at the ruck and Priestland pinned Tigers back with a kick to the corner. The defence stood up on the line before a quick pass from scrum-half Chris Cook gave Clark a second chance and he dived over the line next to the posts to give the visitors the lead for the first time. Priestland added the extras for a 14-7 lead.
A high tackle on Veainu near halfway brought a warning for the visitors as Ford kicked down the right touchline. But as Tigers tried to build pressure just 10 metres out, Rokoduguni stepped in and raced away. With Veainu and May in pursuit, he managed to stay out of reach to score. The conversion from Priestland stretched the advantage to 21-8 just four minutes from half-time.
The second half opened with a big scrum in their own territory from Tigers and an immaculate kick in behind the Bath defence from Ben Youngs which took play right up to the opposition five-metre line. Tigers, though, were penalised at the subsequent lineout and the chance had gone.
A big hit from Malouf on No8 Taulupe Faletau kept Bath in their own half but when they eventually broke out, Kalamafoni was penalised near halfway and Priestland was able to kick down the right for an attacking lineout.
Bath threatened a fourth score, starting from a lineout drive, but Tigers held up the attack on their own line before defending a five-metre scrum.
A Priestland penalty stretched the gap beyond two scores before a clean break by scrum-half Youngs ended with a high tackle as he entered the Bath 22 and Ford landed the three-pointer.
Bath relied on their lineout drive to attack again but they were held up again on the tryline. This time, Tigers were penalised in defence and, after a warning to the home side, Priestland again knocked over the points as Bath led 27-11.
Another good position at a lineout for Tigers in the right-hand corner provided half a chance, with Thacker steering the drive at the back, but Faletau wrapped up possession and Bath were rewarded with the put-in at the subsequent scrum.
Tigers again built phases in attacking territory, with Veainu looking dangerous, but Bath hacked clear to relieve the pressure once more.
Replacement Kahn Fotuali’i was then yellow-carded for a high tackle, referee Pearce informing him that it was Bath’s fourth of the game, as the clock reached 70 minutes.
Tigers looked like making them pay with an instant response, only to lose the ball twice in attacking positions due to handling errors.
But they stayed on task, with May providing a finish on the left for his first Tigers try after Thacker had again made the initial break. Ford was wide with the kick as Tigers trailed 16-27.
Bath skipper Garvey followed Fotuali’i to the bin four minutes later, for another high tackle as Tigers forced their way back into the game, and May quickly added his second try with the visitors pinned on their line.
There was still time for the crowd to raise the roof as Veainu broke clear into the Bath half, and for Matt Banahan to become the third Bath player in the sin-bin as Tigers looked for a final thrust.
But possession was spilled at the final lineout five metres out and Bath were able to close out an opening-day win.