Leicester Tigers got the new Gallagher Premiership season off to a winning start with a 38-15 bonus-point victory over Gloucester Rugby at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday.
They led 22-8 at half-time but saw that cut back to just seven points before Zack Henry added a couple of penalties and then Charlie Clare supplied the bonus-point try in the final five minutes of the game to put the verdict beyond doubt.
The result not only brought five points to kick off the season, but also levelled the historic rivalry with Gloucester on 109 wins each over nearly 130 years of matches.
Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick, starting his first full season at the club, gave debuts to Wigglesworth and Jasper Wiese in the starting line-up, with Joaquin Diaz Bonilla and Cyle Brink also making their bow from the bench.
Gloucester, in an all-white change kit, got the game started, but it was Tigers who made the first attacking effort, taking play into the right-hand corner before spilling ball as they attempted a drive for the tryline.
The visitors then stole Tigers lineout ball in a promising position and immediately swung play to the opposite end where Lewis Ludlow found room on the right before Guy Porter covered across and forced an error as the visitors tried to recycle just five metres out.
But Tigers recovered from that scare to go in front with two tries in five minutes.
Both started at set-piece, the first at a scrum just five metres from their own tryline and the second from lineout pressure at the opposite end.
Van Wyk finished the first opening, which started with Harry Potter’s break on the blindside from the defensive scrum, and as play moved across the field, the use of penalty advantage allowed Zack Henry to spread play for Jaco Taute and Van Wyk to break free, with the wing providing the run-in.
Then, on 12 minutes, with three penalties going against Gloucester close to their own tryline, Tigers maintained pressure with their lineout drive until skipper Youngs provided the finish.
Henry was wide with the second conversion after a smart success from Van Wyk’s score as Tigers moved 12 points in front
Gloucester sensed an opportunity to reply with a lineout drive of their own but, after building phases up front, Tommy Reffell capitalised on some strong defensive work to get over the ball and hear the referee’s whistle in his favour with the tryline intact.
Danny Cipriani put a kick into the Tigers 22 on the left -hand side from a penalty award and, when the referee blew for offside, Billy Twelvetrees kicked the visitors’ opening points with 22 minutes on the clock.
Wigglesworth then celebrated a debut score after play opened up on the left and Potter kicked on just as Gloucester covered to tackle, with the scrum-half following play perfectly to pick up and score. Henry’s conversion made it 19-3.
There was a pause in play for Ludlow to receive treatment and then be replaced after a blow to the head as he tracked Freddie Steward’s catch from a Joe Simpson kick.
As play restarted, Tigers took play upfield and Henry added a penalty kick to stretch the lead.
But Gloucester provided an instant reply, keeping ball alive on their left for hooker Hanson to force his way over. The conversion from Twelvetrees bounced back off the post with the deficit down to 14 points at the break.
Ryan Bower joined the Tigers front row in the opening moments after the restart after injury to Facundo Gigena and he straight into action as the game restarted with a scrum deep in Gloucester territory.
Contact in the air as Steward fielded another kick gave Tigers a penalty on the right touchline and Wiese carried twice in attack before Gloucester closed out the chance and quickly capitalised by creating an opening for Simpson to score to the right of the posts. The conversion made it 22-15.
Brink made his debut as a replacement for Reffell as Charlie Clare joined the Tigers front row with half an hour still to play.
Wiese showed his carrying strength again as Tigers got forward on halfway and Dan Cole chased down Simpson as he fielded a box-kick which brought a knock-on and a scrum in Tigers’ favour 25 metres out. Gloucester were penalised at the set-piece and Henry called for the tee to make it 25-15.
Steward made a superb catch from a towering Woodward kick as Tigers set the platform for a succession of phases on the ball in Gloucester territory, but failed to find an opening before fine work at a driving maul from a lineout provided another chance with set-piece on the left.
The visitors were warned when penalised again and Freddie Clarke was yellow carded, though his short-handed team-mates managed to keep out another Tigers drive for the line.
With the game into its final quarter, Gloucester attempted to play out from deep, only to be met by good defence and two more penalties, the second of which gave Henry a chance from 25 metres to make it 28-15.
But Gloucester had a penalty of their own as the game restarted and took play down the left touchline. Harry Wells stole ball at the lineout but was forced back into touch. At the second attempt, the visitors looked for Twelvetrees in midfield and, although he remained on his feet in possession, he was wrapped up until the referee blew for a Tigers scrum close to the tryline.
The scrum brought a Tigers penalty as Bonilla got the call to join the fray, replacing Henry at fly-half.
Referee Makepeace yellow-carded Hanson and Calum Green after an altercation at a ruck in the Tigers half, but play restarted with a penalty to Tigers in their home half and Bonilla prodded down the right as Clarke returned for Gloucester, making it 14-a-side for the closing stages. Ball squirmed away from Tigers, though their rivals knocked-on to provide scrum ball which brought another penalty.
Wiese threatened a debut score as he attacked the line and, although he was brought down short, the forwarded retained ball and got behind Charlie Clare to drive in for the bonus point score. Bonilla added his first points in green, white and red as Tigers eased out to a 35-15 lead with three minutes left to play.
And the fly-half replacement brought the game to a close with a penalty as Tigers pinned their rivals back near their own line.