Leicester Tigers closed the extended 2019/20 season with a 26-32 defeat against Harlequins at Welford Road on Sunday.
A Gallagher Premiership campaign which began in October 2019 finally came to a close behind closed doors with a third home defeat since the restart in August.
Tigers got an early score through Tom Youngs, but an interception try from Alex Dombrandt got Quins back in the game and, when Joe Marchant stretched out to score on the 40-minute mark, they went in at the break 17-11 ahead chasing a third successive away win in Gallagher Premiership action.
Nemani Nadolo’s try and a touchline conversion from George Ford put Tigers in front again at the start of the second half, but the lead was snatched back by the visitors with another Marchant score and James Lang scored a fourth to stretch the lead to 11 points.
Matt Scott claimed his first try for the club to set up the prospect of a fightback in the closing 10 minutes and Kobus van Wyk almost had a dream debut as he stretched out to dot down in the corner before the referee checked to see a foot in touch and the final chance had gone.
Tigers knew they would end the season in 11th place in the table for a second successive season even before Chris Robshaw led out the visitors in his 300th and final game for Quins.
Kicking off towards the Mattioli Woods Stand end in autumnal sunshine after a day-and-a-half of rainfall, Tigers survived an early scare when Quins thought they’d scored through hooker George Hood following a one-two at the front of a lineout. But, after checking the replays, referee Matthew Carley confirmed the ball had been passed forward.
After a 40-metre break by Ben Youngs on the right wing was stopped by Aaron Morris just as the scrum-half could see the tryline, it was his older brother Tom who provided the opening score of the day.
First, Luke Wallace won a turnover penalty on the right and, although Tommy Reffell was stopped a fraction short of the line from a maul, another penalty award allowed Tigers to set up a second lineout drive and this time the captain safely steered the pack over. George Ford, though, screwed his conversion wide.
Full-back Aaron Morris fielded a Youngs box-kick and, after hammering his clearing kick 60 metres upfield, Quins enjoyed a good spell of possession until Tommy Reffell won a penalty with his work over the ball.
But then No8 Alex Dombrandt picked off the pass from scrum-half Ben Youngs and had a clear 50-metre run for the visitors’ opening score. The conversion by Brett Herron gave them the lead.
Ford put Tigers ahead again with a 40-metre penalty, won with Hanro Liebenberg’s work on the floor, and he immediately repeated the dose to make it 11-7.
Herron responded with a penalty from the left to bring Quins to within one point entering the last 10 minutes of the half and Quins closed the opening period in Tigers territory with back-to-back penalties on the left.
Although a superb lineout steal from Wells kept them out at first, they returned with ball in the backline to go in ahead at half-time after a smart finish from Marchant in the corner and touchline conversion from Herron.
Morris left the field after a collision with Kini Murimurivalu, to be replaced by Premiership debutant Louis Lynagh, the son of Wallabies legend Michael.
Moments later, Tigers were in front again after a touch of quality from two international backs. First, Nemani Nadolo forced his way into the left-hand corner, beating two defenders and planting the ball one-handed just inside the whitewash for his second try in eight days, and then Ford added a conversion from the touchline to make it 18-17.
The lead lasted just four minutes as a break from Herron, support from Nathan Earle and then quick ball to the right gave Marchant his second try of the day. Herron’s conversion made it 18-24 with half an hour remaining in the game and the season.
And they inflicted further damage with a counter-attack try, flooding forward on the right where Ford stopped Dombrandt, and opening up to the left for James Lang to dive over. Although Herron pushed his kick across the posts, Quins sat 29-18 in front.
A scrum penalty gave Ford a kick from 30 metres to make it 21-28 with more than 20 minutes still to play but Herron cancelled it out with his own shot from the left to take their advantage back up to 11 points.
Nadolo threatened a repeat of his earlier heroics as he latched on to Freddie Steward’s excellent aerial catch, but this time he was stopped 20 metres out and then Scott was taken into touch as he looked for the offload.
Steward and Nadolo linked again soon afterwards on the left, the big Fijian taking defenders with him before passing inside. But, as Ford looked for support alongside, the offside Quins prop Jordan Els blocked his path and was yellow-carded.
After setting the platform from a scrum, Tigers immediately took retribution as Scott ran in his first try for the club on the right to make it 26-32, though Ford’s conversion kick was just off-target.
Van Wyk showed good judgment and sound handling to claim a high ball which almost set up a fourth try for Tigers, with Nadolo playing ball to the left and Jaco Taute’s inside ball just escaping Scott’s grasp with the line in sight.
A penalty against Quins as they recycled ball on halfway provided the opening for another attack which ended with Van Wyk diving into the right-hand corner. But replays showed a foot in touch as he stretched out.
There were fewer than five minutes left on the clock with Tigers looking for one more scoring chance, only to be penalised for obstruction midfield, and the visitors were able to take down the clock in possession until spilling into touch with just 30 seconds left on the clock. Then, as Tigers made one final charge, their rivals managed to rip possession for Lynagh to kick to touch and bring the game to a close.