Leicester Tigers earned a bonus-point 31-18 victory over Bristol Bears in Round 8 of the Gallagher Premiership season to kick off the New Year in style at Welford Road on Saturday.
Ellis Genge and Jonny May tries in the opening 20 minutes gave Tigers a 14-6 lead in the day’s early kick-off – played at 1.00pm to accommodate Leicester City’s FA Cup game at 5.30pm – and the club’s opening fixture of the new year.
Then George Ford added a fine third try to stretch the lead to 21-6 before the break as Bears had to cope with successive yellow cards to prop Jordan Lay and wing Alapati Leiua.
Two tries inside two minutes at the start of the second half, though cut the gap to 21-18 as Bears looked for a third successive win over their rivals.
But Tigers stayed in the fight until a second May try created a bit of daylight with just four minutes remaining, at which point Sam Harrison joined the action in his final appearance for the club.
Tigers were on the scoreboard after just three minutes after establishing field position with a scrum.
Big carries from Sione Kalamfoni, Tomas Lavanini and Ellis Genge, coupled with control at the breakdown from scrum-half Youngs, crated a chance and Bristol-born prop Genge forced his way over for a try.
Ford added the conversion from wide on the left to get both players off to a good start in the week they announced new contract agreements with the club.
A promising attack on the left threatened for Bears before Jonny May stepped in to claim ball, but Tigers were penalised just outside their 22 and Sheedy kicked his opening points of the day.
In their next attack Bristol had a three-on-one advantage but lock Ed Holmes carried into contact and, when Telusa Veainu tried to lead a counter-attack, he was felled n contact with prop Jordan Lay. Referee JP Doyle watched a number of replays for the area of contact before showing a yellow card.
Another penalty against Tigers at a breakdown gave Sheedy his second kick at the posts and he cut the gap to one point with 15 minutes played.
A break from May on the right got Tigers going forward and ended with a second Bears yellow card, this time to wing Alapati Leiua as he knocked-on looking to block runners on the left, taking his team down to 13 men.
Although Bristol survived the set-piece when Tigers lost ball on the 22, the hosts quickly made amends as they broke from deep for May to add the second try of the day.
Good lineout ball and a carry from Genge gave Ford space to work in as Tigers released the backline on the right and May ran the final 30 metres to score under the posts. Ford’s conversion made it 14-6 as Lay returned to the field for the visitors.
A turnover from Jordan Taufua gave Tigers precious ball in their own half and released Ben Youngs down the left. Playing with a penalty advantage, May broke free on the right but was tackled just five metres short and just couldn’t find enough support to convert the chance.
The third try did come though, on 26 minutes, when Ford rode through one tackle and raced in on the right. The fly-half added the conversion for a 21-6 lead.
Leiua was back on the field for the restart, bringing the visitors back up to 15 men for the first time since the 10th minute of the game.
They were unlucky to see a clearing kick from Sheedy run dead at the Tigers end, bringing play back for a scrum 35 metres out. But when the set-piece yielded a penalty, Ford pushed his shot wide of the right-hand post
Bristol continued to try to play from deep and, although Harry Wells blocked their progress near halfway, the ball bobbled forward off a Leicester hand and play restarted with a scrum. This time, after good advance from Piutau from deep, Bears knocked-on on the Tigers’ 10-metre line.
The half ended with Bears on the Tigers tryline but meeting repeated phases of staunch defence before spilling ball with the home side heading into the break 21-6 in front.
But two tries in successive minutes at the second half threatened to turn the game on its head.
First, two penalty verdicts put them up to the tryline and from a lineout set, Dan Thomas dotted down. Sheedy added the conversion.
Then fly-half Sheedy broke out as Bears collected the restart and his kick ahead bounced favourably for Piers O’Conor to collect and score in the right-hand corner. Sheedy this time was short with his conversion attempt with the deficit now at just three points.
Home-team hearts would have been fluttering again when Bristol kept ball in attack through a number of phases before Taufua won turnover ball and, as Tigers worked their way upfield, they were awarded a penalty and Ford made no mistake from 40 metres to make it 24-18.
Luke Morahan replaced Hurrell in the Bears backline and almost immediately threatened with a run from deep, only for Veainu to get back and gather his kick ahead.
A dominant scrum against the head brought a Tigers penalty on halfway and Ford took play into the 22 only to see the forward dispossessed as they tried to set up a drive.
Genge earned a big cheer from the home crowd as he was replaced by Greg Bateman around the hour mark and Tigers also added Tatafu Polota-Nau to the front row and he was fingertips away from gathering a grubber kick from Ford in attack.
Nephi Leatigaga also joined the pack as the clock approached the final quarter-hour as Tigers enjoyed a period of pressure in Bears territory.
But when the visitors broke upfield, it took some determined work from Kyle Eastmond in the tackle to halt their progress and just as they gathered momentum.
Bristol then had a penalty on halfway which Sheedy placed down the right touchline and earned another as they set up their maul to take play within five metres of the tryline with just six points between the teams. But Tigers responded by first wrapping up the drive and then earning a penalty of their own as they contested the breakdown.
And then Tigers struck with a superbly worked bonus-point try, stemming from a scrum and involving Jordan Olowofela on a diagonal run before Veainu released May for a smart finish in the right-hand corner.
It was fitting, then, that Harrison should bring the game to a close, hammering ball into the Robin Hood Stand with 80 minutes elapsed and five points earned.