Leicester Tigers claimed a bonus-point win in a 35-23 success against Gloucester Rugby at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday.
Gloucester went into the weekend in fourth place in the table and with just two away defeats on their record, but scores from Hanro Liebenberg and finally Guy Porter, coupled with the kicking of Freddie Burns ensured there would be a third at the hands of the Tigers.
Liebenberg was back as captain after starting on the bench in the win at Bath in Round 17, while Steve Borthwick gave a first start to Chris Ashton and recalled Nic Dolly, who was among the scorers in the away win over Gloucester in Round 2, to his matchday squad.
George Skivington, the former Tigers second-rower who is now head coach at Gloucester, included former Leicester prop Fraser Balmain in his starting front row and was able to name Mark Atkinson and Louis Rees-Zammit after their release from Six Nations squads.
In the 130 years since their first meeting, the clubs are barely separated on win count, with Tigers 111-109 ahead going into the game, and there was little between them again in the opening half.
Adam Hastings got the game started for the visitors on a sunny and windy afternoon, and although he missed his first strike at goal just three minutes in, the fly-half made no mistake with a repeat after Ashton was whistled for a challenge on scrum-half Charlie Chapman to put the visitors in front.
Freddie Burns made the most of a penalty for offside on halfway, thumping his kick into the right-hand corner where Gloucester were whistled again for collapsing the maul. Julian Montoya, in traditional territory, took possession at the next set-piece but he was tackled into touch five metres from the tryline.
Tigers did not let Gloucester out, though, as Ashton neatly read a kick from Burns and then van Poortvliet almost carried to the line. But he was denied only for another 60 seconds as Tigers kept ball and, with a ruck under the posts, the scrum-half dived to the line. Burns added a conversion to make it 7-3 on 15 minutes.
The Gloucester pack claimed a scrum penalty immediately afterwards and Hastings cut the gap to a single point with the kick from 30 metres.
A piece of individual skill from Burns had the home crowd on their feet and set the platform for a second try as the fly-half chipped ahead on halfway, then volleyed the bouncing ball to the tryline. Although Kyle Moyle beat him to it, Burns wrapped up the defender to force a five-metre scrum.
When the whistle went at the set-piece, No8 Wiese tapped and barged his way over the tryline. Burns added the conversion for a 14-6 advantage.
Tigers got forward again as they overloaded the left flank when Nemani Nadolo linked with Montoya, but he was too close to the chalk and forced into touch.
Gloucester, without real attacking ball since the opening few minutes, then got a score from set-piece ball when Santiago Carreras broke through on a sweeping backline move and found Ollie Thorley on the left. He was tackled almost on the line by Nadolo and Kelly but still twisted to score and Hastings added the kick to take the score back to 14-13.
They almost added another immediately with a break on the right before Tigers closed the door just short of the tryline. But the visitors were enjoying a promising period.
Atkinson left the field after a nasty-looking clash of heads with a team-mate in front of the dugouts and was replaced by Rees-Zammit, surprisingly freed by the Wales squad this week.
When play resumed, Gloucester offloaded their way up the middle of the field until they were finally halted by aggressive work over the ball by Nadolo, and Burns kicked up to halfway.
The crowd had a chance to see Ashton in full flight for the fist time as he chipped ahead on the right but the bounce just ran too far.
Hegarty then over-cooked a punt upfield, the ball bouncing under the goalposts at the Mattioli Woods Stand end and giving the visitors scrum ball 60 metres further back with the clock up to 40 minutes.
After a re-set, referee Jack Makepeace signalled a penalty and then marched Tigers back 10 metres. Hastings added the kick to give the visitors a 16-14 lead at the break.
Turning down a kick at goal, Tigers played from set-piece on the left and Wiese beat numerous tacklers in front of the posts before ball was recycled and Liebenberg reached out to score at full stretch despite the presence of three tacklers.
Burns put more distance between the teams with the conversion and a penalty from 45 metres to make it 24-16 on 54 minutes and ease Tigers beyond a converted score in front.
When the Gloucester scrum was penalised in the next phase of play, Burns was short with the kick at goal, but play remained at that end of the field and the arm-wrestle among the forwards continued when the visitors were driven out of play near halfway.
Gloucester lost replacement forward Alex Craig to a yellow card after a tackle on Liebenberg was checked by the TMO just after the hour-mark and Burns increased the cost with a penalty to make it 27-16.
Tigers stared to exert more control as Wiese took on three defenders when he picked up from a scrum and when their rivals tried to play from deep Hastings missed Thorley with a cross-kick into touch.
The lineout brought Kelly on to the ball, sidestepping his way forward and he was rewarded with another penalty, only for Tigers to miss their target at the lineout throw in the corner.
But Gloucester were unable to loosen Leicester’s grip on the game and, after more patience in attack, Porter added the bonus-point score with a remarkable finish in the left-hand corner.
Although he had some space when Kelly threw the long pass, Porter still had work to do, pushing off Moyle and then leaping for the tryline with a second defender and the touchline in close proximity. After several checks, there was nothing definitive to go against the referee’s on-field call of try and the score reached 32-16.
Gloucester replacement prop Harry Elrington immediately added their second of the day after good work in attack from Ludlow and Freddie Clarke.
Hastings converted to make it 32-23 momentarily, but Wiese then won a penalty on the floor and Burns kicked to add three points to the Tigers total.
The game was into its final minute when Tigers stopped a drive from the Gloucester forwards, but the referee was playing with attacking advantage when they swarmed over ball on the floor.
A score would give the visitors a point for their efforts but a mix-up at the lineout on the left cut any hopes short of that kind of dividend as Tigers added five points to their total.