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.
SEE YA, SAMMY
We'll leave you with images of Sam Harrison leaving the field for the final time in a green, white and red shirt.
Thank you, Sam Harrison!
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
As always, thank you to everyone in the #TigersFamily who showed their support this afternoon, whether you were one of the 19,807 here at Welford Road, or following along with Matchday Live.
See you back here next Sunday, January 12 (3.15pm) as we take on Cardiff Blues in the next round of the European Challenge Cup.
NOT A DRY EYE IN THE HOUSE!
A brilliant reception for long-serving scrum-half Sam Harrison, with both teams joining together to mark his contribution to Leicester Football Club.
We're not crying, you're crying. Okay, we might be crying a little bit...
FULL TIME | 31-18
Tigers claim a bonus-point win in their opening game of 2020, as they see off Bristol Bears in Round 8 of the Gallagher Premiership.
Tigers win a turnover on the floor in the final play, and Sam Harrison sprints towards touch to boot the ball out of play.
And that's a bonus-point win.
Piutau is helped from the field, and is replaced by Callum Sheedy.
BACK TO THE TMO...
May is penalised for taking Piutau high, but replays on the big screen reassure JP Doyle that it's a penalty only.
CROUCH, BIND, SET!
Sam Harrison feeds into a Leicester scrum one last time - maybe - and Kalamafoni comes away with it.
May boots downfield, where Piutau weighs up his options...
BRISTOL ROLL THE DICE
Bristol attempt a late surge down the field, but knock on in contact as they enter the Tigers 22. Another huge scrum needed, here!
TWO BRISTOL CHANGES
Callum Sheedy and Harry Thacker take their places in the dugout as they are replaced by Ian Madigan and Will Capon, respectively.
Sam Harrison is onto the field. A lovely moment between him and team mate Ben Youngs as he takes over the reins at scrum-half.
Elsewhere, Guy Thompson is on for Tomás Lavanini and Jaco Taute has been replaced by George Worth.
TWO MORE FROM THE TEE
Ford converts the score, to stretch the Tigers lead to 13 points...
Play opens up from the set piece and Veainu gets the ball out to May for a second score down the right. That's try number four, ladies and gentlemen.
FORWARD PASS FOR BRISTOL
Bristol opt not to keep the ball in their maul again - not after last time - and go to the right, but they knock on into touch and Tigers will take a scrum on half way. Just under eight minutes left to play.
ENGINE ROOM ENGAGED
The lineout is claimed, swallowed, and then used to great effect as Ford pins Bristol back on to their 22 with another glorious touch-finder. Brilliant!
Noel Reid replaces Kyle Eastmond at inside centre.
BIG SHIFT NEEDED
Bristol have a lineout five metres from the Tigers line, which they win ... but the maul falls apart and Leatigaga gets over the ball to claim the turnover!
LEOVEGAS FANS' FAVOURITE
Well, it couldn't be anyone else, could it? He hasn't stepped foot on the field yet, but Sam Harrison has already picked up your LeoVegas Fans' Favourite award for this afternoon.
Jake Heenan takes the place of Nathan Hughes.
BACK ROW CHANGE
Tommy Reffell replaces Jordan Taufua.
'Oohs' and 'aahs' from all sides at Welford Road as Tigers attempt to close down the Bristol attack, and Geordan Murphy's men win another penalty, this time in their own 22.
After a discussion about the ensjuing lineout, Ford makes great ground with his touch-finder.
LEATIGAGA FOR COLE
Nephi Leatigaga replaces Dan Cole on the Tigers tighthead, and Leicester have an all-new front row.
Tatafu Polota-Nau seems to be taken off the ball by Nathan Hughes as the hookers goes to gather a cheeky Tigers chip ... but the match officials don't think there's anything in it.
We'll restart with another scrum inside the visitors' 22.
Bristol are lucky for their scrum to survive long enough to get the ball out the back ... but the kick is out on the full, and Tigers win a lineout on the 22.
Dave Attwood and Nic Stirzaker are in the game, in place of Chris Vui and Harry Randall, respectively.
CHANGE ON THE HOUR
Ellis Genge is replaced by Greg Bateman in the Tigers front row.
Another huge shove at scrum-time, but referee Doyle doesn't see scrum-half Youngs nipping round the back with the ball when he blows up for a penalty. Ford will go for the corner.
CHANGE AT HOOKER
Tatafu Polota-Nau joins the action, in place of skipper Youngs.
George Ford now takes the on-foeld captaincy.
The lineout is good, but the play off the back is scrappy, and Tigers commit another handling error on halfway to gift Bristol a scrum.
A big roar from the crowd as Tigers win an all-important penalty under the gaze of the Breedon Terrace, and Tom Youngs will have a throw-in on halfway.
VEAINU MAKES SAFE
Morahan is into the action immediately, chipping and chasing his own kick to test Telusa Veainu's aerial skills, but the full-back manages to dot down for a 22 restart.
Jordan Lay and Will Hurrell are replaced by Jake Woolmore and Luke Morahan.
SETTLER FROM THE TEE
Ford gets Tigers on the board in this second half with a successful penalty kick. Tigers lead, 24 points to 18.
TAP AND GO!
Ben Youngs goes quickly as the Bristol players reset, finds Jonny May and then feeds England team-mate Dan Cole, before Tigers win another breakdown penalty.
This time, Ford opts for a shot at goal.
BRISTOL FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS
The Tigers defenders are being called on to put some big hits in, here.
An extended period of Bristol pressure is procluded with a peep on Doyle's whistle, as he picks out a Bears player in at the side.
The conversion attempt is missed, but Tigers; lead has been cut to three points.
Bears break from the restart, and score a second try within two minutes as Piers O'Conor gathers a hack down field.
Sheedy adds two more from the tee, with a curling kick between the posts.
BEARS MAUL OVER
The Bears set up a lineout drive and crash over through Dan Thomas. Doyle checks with his TMO before awarding the try.
PENALTY AGAINST TAUFUA
Taufua and May combine in front of the dugouts to snuff out the Piutau threat, but JP Doyle penalises the back-rower for a tip.
Just a penalty, though, and Bristol will kick down field.
OLOWOFELA CLEARS UP
Tigers' first job in this second half is to weather a storm of Bears attack, with the Leicester line standing strong, and Jordan Olowofela pouncing on a loose kick through. Tight.
SECOND HALF UNDERWAY
Callum Sheedy gets the second half going at Welford Road.
MATCH SNAP | GENGE'S BOOTS
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee ... charge like a Baby Rhino?
A tribute to a sporting legend on try-scorer Ellis Genge's boots this afternoon.
HALF TIME | 21-6
Three tries and an impressive defensive display put Tigers up at the break in their first game of the New Year.
Bristol win advantage and tap-and-go through Charles Piutau. They try and rumble up to the line with one-out runners, but the Tigers defenders - to a man - hold strong under immense pressure. Turnover. Half time. Nice!
KICK TO CORNER
With the clock well into the red in this first period, Bristol work through the phases and win a penalty on the far side. They'll have an attacking lineout with the final play of the half.
Tigers work a gap down the left off the back of their scrum, with Veainu and Olowofela working in perfect harmony, right up until the final offload, which the full-back can't quite cling on to.
A nice idea, though - and the noise from the Welford Road faithful would suggest the crowd agree.
Meanwhile, back in the action ... and we've got another reset scrum, this time for an early push. Boris looks on, unmoved.
SAMMY WAVES TO THE CROWD
Meanwhile, as we reset for another scrum, Sam Harrison acknowledges the Breedon Terrace as he jogs down to the dead-ball area to get some warmth into his legs.
TENSIONS TO THE BOIL
The visitors win posession off the back of their scrum, but once again can't find a way through the green, white and red shirts.
Scrum-half Harry Randall commits another handling error on the floor, and while tensions haven't quite boiled over yet, the kicked-away boil after the whistle is a sign that all is not happy in the Bristol camp at the moment.
SCRUM ON HALFWAY
Bristol catch the home side napping at the 22 restart and make some metres up field, but it gets messy on halfway, where there are two knock ons in quick succession.
Doyle calls the mark for another scrum.
Ford's kick looks good from the tee, but it drifts just wide of the mark.
The reset is, ahem, reset. Third time lucky? You bet.
Tigers win the penalty at the third scrum, and Ford opts for the posts after a discussion with captain Tom Youngs.
More of an even contest at the push this time, and Sione Kalamafoni comes away with possession but is wrapped up in Bristol arms. The ball is lost, but the Bears knock on ... so we'll scrum down again.
Bristol choose the aerial route once more, but this one rolls all the way through the in-goal area and goes dead.
Time for another Tigers scrum, beyond halfway.
Ford converts his own try, and Tigers lead by 21 points to six.
TRY NUMBER THREE!
Tigers bang on the door ... and they're through! A delicious offload from Jaco Taute sets up a run of play that sees George Ford over for a thrid try of the afternoon.
ON THE LINE!
Bears No8 Nathan Highes is forced into digging the ball out of a retreating scrum, as Tigers get another strong nudge on at the set piece.
The visitors manage to kick clear, but Tigers still have them pinned in their 22.
We'll restart with a Bristol scrum in front of their own posts.
FRANTIC FOUR MINUTES
There's been real back-and-forth between the two teams over the last four minutes, with Bristol repeatedly warned for offside and May making another trademark burst up the field.
Tigers are up in the visitors' 22, in front of The Robin Hood Stand, before referee JP Doyle calls for a pause as a Bristol player receives treatment on the floor.
Ford adds the extras well within his allotted time, and Tigers extend their lead at Welford Road.
MAY DOTS DOWN!
WOW! What a score. Tigers set from a lineout drive in their own half, and feed the backs via Ford, Eastmond ... out to Veainu ... and Jonny May beats the final defender!
YELLOW CARD | ALAPATI LEIUA
Bristol are down to 13 players as left wing Leiua knocks on.
CUT TO RIBBONS!
Jonny May finds an open door on the right-hand side of the field as he cuts the Bristol defence to shreds, and as the ball is shipped back to the left Alapati Leiua deliberately slaps the ball down. He'll receive a yellow card.
John Afoa is replaced by No18 Max Lahiff in the Bristol front row.
BEARS CLOSE THE GAP
Sheedy delivers another three points from the tee, taking the score to seven points to six with a quarter of an hour plaeyd.
But, after winning a penalty in their quarter of the field, Bristol push back up in Tigers' half through their New Zealand forwards - skipper Steven Luatua combining with Chris Vui.
Dan Cole's tackle on the back-rower is checked by the TMO, but there's nothing in it. Instead, the Bears have another penalty attempt on the far side of the field.
Both sides look to the sky for the next few phases of attack, first through Leicester fly-half Ford and then through Bears full-back Charles Piutau.
Jordan Olowofela does a great job of competing for the ball, and it bobbles into the Bristol 22 as the visitors rush back to recover possession.
YELLOW CARD | JORDAN LAY
...and the decision is 10 minutes in the bin. Bristol down to 14 men.
VEAINU DOWNED IN ATTACK
The Leicester ranks close in on another Bristol attack, but a Toby Fricker dab-through is gobbled up by Tigers full-back Telusa Veainu.
The Tonga international looks to run it back up the field, but he is downed by an iffy-looking collision with Bristol prop Jordan Lay. We'll look to TMO Nigel Carrick to see if there's anything in this...
PENALTY FOR BRISTOL
Callum Sheedy notches up three points with an opening penalty, and the visitors are back within four.
The Bears string together some phases of possession from the restart, and break down the left, but the final pass is neatly intercepted by Jonny May.
Tigers give away a penalty on the floor, though, and so Bristol will have a chance from the tee.
STRAIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE
Genge's try is converted by Ford, for a seven-point lead.
TIGERS OFF THE MARK!
Tigers start at a furious pace, with Sione Kalamafoni leading a barrage of heavy carries off the back of a scrum, with Ellis Genge crashing over to open the scoring against his former employers.
KICK-OFF IN 2020
George Ford puts boot to ball and gets Tigers going in the New Year. Round 8 of the Gallagher Prmeiership is GO!
DOWN THE TUNNEL
Both teams take to the field for this earlier-than-usual kick-off in Round 8 of the Gallagher Premiership. Moments to go.
Come on, Tigers!
FIVE MINUTES TO GO
Just five minutes to go until kick-off here at Welford Road, and for the final time, Sam Harrison runs through his match preparations.
CONFIRMED TEAM NEWS
Sam Harrison is included in a Leicester matchday squad for the final time this afternoon, and is in line for his 178th appearance in the famous green, white and red shirt.
He closes more than a decade in the Tigers senior squad, after making his first-team debut as a teenager in the win over Italian side Treviso in the European Cup during 2008/09.
Elsewhere, Jordan Olowofela – who returns from injury – and Harry Wells are the only changes to the team that started against Harlequins last time out.
Greg Bateman and Guy Thompson also take their place among the replacements after recovering from injury.
Bristol include Tigers Academy graduates Harry Thacker and Will Hurrell in the starting XV, captained by former All Black flanker Steven Luatua.
See the full match line-ups by clicking here, or scrolling down on this page.
EXCLUSIVE | WORTH PICKS OUT BRISTOL THREATS
While Geordan Murphy’s men will be focused on getting their own game right in this afternoon’s fixture, they must also be wary of the threats posed by a high-flying Bears side, according to full-back George Worth.
In an exclusive chat for Matchday Live users, the 23-year-old – named among the replacements in Round 8 – said: “They’ll play from deep, they’ll try and get the ball into Charles Piutau’s hands as much as possible, they’ll try and get the ball into Nathan Hughes’ hands as much as possible, and they’d be silly not to, because they’re very good players.
“We’ll try and do the same with our attack, try and get the ball into our best players’ hands, and see what happens.
“You want to solve [their game] with the frontline as much as you can. If they’re going width to width, then we obviously have to get our spacings right and work hard with the boys in and around you.
“They lost last weekend and we’re starting to get some momentum. We had a good 40 minutes against Exeter and then a draw at Twickenham, so if we can get a win this week, that stands us in good stead for two European games.”
TAUFUA LOOKS FOR COMPLETE PERFORMANCE
High-profile summer signing Jordan Taufua has scored two tries in his last two games – including a first at Welford Road against Exeter – and says his team must focus on delivering an 80-minute performance this afternoon.
“We need to make sure that we finish the way we start,” he told LeicesterTigers.com. “We haven’t put a full 80-minute performance together as a whole and we know that, so for us it’s just going out there, getting our stuff right and playing our game for 80 minutes.
“I haven’t played Bristol before, so it’ll be my first time facing them this weekend.
“We’ve definitely identified their key players – which they’ve got all across the field – but it’s about us getting our stuff right in both attack and defence, making sure that we nail what we want to do and everything else will take care of itself.”
Read the back-rower’s full preview of this Round 8 match, right here.
MATCH PREVIEW | TIGERS VERSUS BEARS
Tigers kick off the New Year – and a new decade – at Welford Road this afternoon, against Bristol Bears in Round 8 of the Gallagher Premiership.
These two clubs have met on 183 previous occasions, with Tigers ahead 94-84 on the win count (and nine games drawn), though Pat Lam’s side took the spoils in both league meetings last season.
Head coach Geordan Murphy said earlier this week: “We’ll give Bristol the respect they’re due, they’ve been top of the Premiership already this season.
“They lost at the death last week [at home to Wasps] and that was painful for them, but we have full respect for what they’ve done and the players they have while also trying to play our own game.”
The match also marks the final appearance of long-serving scrum-half Sam Harrison, ahead of a move for him and his family to Australia … but more on him later!
Read our full match preview here, or scroll down on this page.
WELCOME TO MATCHDAY LIVE!
We’re LIVE from Welford Road for Leicester Tigers’ first game of 2020, against Bristol Bears, with kick-off to come at 3.00pm.
Follow all the action as it happens with our Matchday Live coverage, right here on the Tigers App and LeicesterTigers.com.