Leicester Tigers earned a first win of the season with a 16-13 verdict against previously unbeaten Gloucester Rugby at Welford Road on Saturday thanks to a late penalty from Tom Hardwick.
After watching five Tigers players in action during the World Cup Final in the morning, the home crowd saw their team 10-6 in front at half-time against unbeaten Gloucester thanks to Noel Reid’s first try for the club.
Tigers had dominated the game but Gloucester, without a win at Welford Road since October 2007, made their first really opportunity count as they edged in front with a Joe Simpson try on 50 minutes and they looked like they would take the points until Hardwick kicked Tigers level on 67 minutes and then added the decisive blow with the clock into the final minute of the Gallagher Premiership Round 3 fixture.
The win tied the scores in the overall series between the clubs on 108-108 in meetings dating back well over a century.
Tigers included Telusa Veainu and Sione Kalamafoni for their first starts of the season after World Cup duty and gave new signing Tomás Lavanini a debut from the bench.
Veainu was straight into the action, claiming high ball and then finding support from Jordan Olowofela in attack. As Tigers recycled ball, Noel Reid took a late blow from Slater and, after review, the Gloucester skipper was yellow-carded for the contact with the shoulder. The game was just two minutes old as Hardwick kicked the three-pointer with Slater headed for the dugout.
Heavy rain arrived almost on kick-off which made handling tricky, but Gloucester got through a set of phases before earning a penalty and Billy Twelvetrees kicked his team level from the tee.
Tigers made a big statement with a lineout drive which took them 20 metres upfield but they were whistled to a halt for taking out a player beyond the contact area.
Slater did not make it back on to field at the end of the sin-bin period as he’d been having treatment for a foot injury during his time out and Freddie Clarke took his place.
A smart kick from Sam Harrison, mopping up Gloucester’s attacking ball, pushed Tigers 60 metres further upfield and there was more pressure on the visitors’ ball as Harry Wells charged down a clearing kick from Joe Simpson and Tigers kept them pinned back.
Two strong carries from Kalamafoni – one which catapulted Marshall backwards was greeted with huge appreciation from the home crowd – gave Tigers room to advance again and, when Tom Youngs took play on, referee Ian Tempest brought play back for a high tackle on the hooker.
Tigers went to the corner on the right, throwing in seven metres from the tryline. A good set-piece was followed by half a dozen efficient phases before Reid called for the ball and sidestepped his way over the line for his first Tigers score. Hardwick added the conversion to make it 10-3 on 24 minutes.
The Tigers pack edged forward and won a scrum penalty with rain falling even harder, and then set up a golden chance with another big drive from the lineout.
This time, they created space for Olowofela to scorch through on a diagonal line and, when Marshall met him with a tackle less than 10 metres from the line, his one-handed pass just evaded Veainu with the tryline beckoning.
Veainu also took a blow in the face as he tried to retrieve ball and required attention to a bloody nose. Adam Thompstone was called from the bench as a temporary replacement, with Jonah Holmes going to full-back.
The rain eased off finally on the half-hour though a knock-on gave Gloucester a scrum which ended in a penalty award and Twelvetrees landed the kick to bring it back to 10-6.
There was little wrong with the handling as Olowofela and Liebenberg combined on the left touchline or when Calum Green stole valuable lineout ball, but Gloucester grabbed loose ball to kick back up to halfway in the final action of the opening period.
Gloucester made a change at the interval with Cipriani replaced by Chris Harris, and they claimed the first points when Marshall and Ollie Thorley combined on the left flanker and scrum-half Simpson raced in to score. Twelvetrees added the kick with Gloucester 13-10 in front on 50 minutes.
Joe Heyes replaced Nephi Leatigaga as the game got under way again, and was quickly into scrum action after Twelvetrees over-cooked a clearing kick and play came back well into his own half for the set-piece.
Marshall was well policed by Andy Forsyth as he tried to break out and, when Tigers took a quick throw, Olowofela almost wriggled free of the last defender on the right touchline but couldn’t find the supporting runner.
Tigers got the unexpected gift of put-in at a scrum when Marshall made a mess of a drop-out on his own 22, and it almost brought reward as the set-piece set up charges to the line for the forwards, with Boladau prominent, before Liebenberg was held up just as he looked to score.
Lavanini made his Tigers debut on 65 minutes at a five-metre scrum, with Facundo Gigena and Tatafu Polota-Nau also entering the action.
Gloucester were penalised under pressure at the scrum and Hardwick kicked the scores level with 13 minutes remaining.
A combined Kalamafoni-Lavanini tackle on Lewis Ludlow forced a knock-on just inside the Gloucester half but the Leicester No8 needed treatment on a shoulder before the game restarted.
Tigers continued to make their tackles and hit rucks, but referee Tempest penalised Liebenberg as he stepped over a ruck near halfway and Twelvetrees took on the kick but was just off-target with a potential match-winner.
Tigers got back on the attack with Lavanini carrying twice and then had one final chance at scrum on the 22 which brought a big eight-man shove, a penalty and a huge cheer from the crowd with just a minute left to play.
Hardwick scooped the kick and there was a pause as it floated just inside the right-hand post to give Tigers a 16-13 lead.
The game had to restarts and Tigers forced Gloucester back 50 metres with a succession of big tackles. But then they were penalised just short of the Gloucester 10-metre line with the clock beyond 84 minutes.
They went through phases again and again but met stubborn defence until a knock-on finally brought the game to an end and the crowd to its feet.