Leicester Tigers claimed three tries and four points in a 33-32 victory over London Irish at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Friday evening.
The Exiles arrived with just one defeat on their record since early December and got off to a flying start in the Gallagher Premiership Round 12 encounter with a first-minute converted try from international fly-half Paddy Jackson.
Tigers patiently found their way back into the game and created a well-worked score for wing Kobus van Wyk as the teams reached half-time level at 13-13.
The Exiles lost Terrence Hepetema to a red card and a Kini Murimurivalu score provided some breathing space for Tigers on the way to another home win.
But that was not before more drama in the closing stages as Tigers collected two yellow cards, conceded a penalty try and, finally, saw Irish turn down a kick to the posts with the clock in the red to set up their own bonus-point try and ensure they headed home with two consolation points from the game.
With four players still in camp with the England squad, Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick recalled Freddie Steward, Matt Scott, Richard Wigglesworth and Henry, while also restoring Luan de Bruin, Dan Cole, Calum Green and Cyle Brink in the forward pack.
Irish included the experience of Test veterans Agustin Creevy, Rob Simmons and Blair Cowan in their front eight, with Jackson steering from fly-half.
It was the Irishman who got the game underway, and just 37 seconds later he was over the tryline for the opening score of the night.
Tigers had safely caught the kick-off, but ball was ripped free in contact by Blair Cowan, and former Leicester duo Steve Mafi and then Terrence Hepetema linked up to put Jackson over and he added the conversion for a seven-point start.
The hosts looked for an immediate reply with Tomas Lavanini involved three times as the forwards carried to within reach of the tryline at the opposite end. But when ball fell loose, referee Wayne Barnes came back to check the height of a tackle on Luan be Bruin and issued a yellow card to Irish skipper Matt Rogerson.
Zack Henry kicked the three points from in front of the posts to get Tigers off the mark.
When Mafi broke clear from a ruck, Tigers were penalised at the next breakdown. Jackson, after 14 successes in a row in Premiership rugby, pushed the kick just wide.
A pinpoint cross-kick then set Ollie Hassell-Collins into space on the Exiles’ left and, when Tigers infringed again, Jackson added the three points for a 10-3 lead after just 13 minutes.
Matias Moroni then found himself in the right place at the right time to latch in to loose ball but, when he kicked towards the left-hand corner, that man Jackson was there to dive on it.
Rogerson was back from the sin bin by the time of the first scrum of the game on the 20-minute mark, but strong work in midfield countered the Irish attack and Moroni hacked clear.
Tom Parton departure with an injury gave a Premiership debut to young Will Joseph in the Irish backline, but the whistle continued to blow against Tigers, this time at a lineout in Irish territory.
Finally a penalty in Leicester’s favour provided an opportunity to build an attack, with Tommy Reffell and Calum Green carrying before the whistle went again. This time, after a set-up from the lineout, Dan Cole made big metres and Henry’s perfect inside ball put Van Wyk in to score for the first time since the opening day of the season.
Henry’s conversion levelled the scores on 26 minutes but Jackson quickly added another penalty to push Irish noses in front once more at 13-10.
Kick-chase from Van Wyk earned the reward of a penalty on the edge of the Irish 22 to set up a promising position for the forwards on the left. But after meeting strong defence on the tryline, eventually it was left to Henry to tie the scores with another penalty and the final points of the opening period.
Chessum replaced Lavanini at the start of the second half and the young forward claimed his first club try three minutes later, making the final push after strong work from Reffell and Porter.
A perfect conversion from the left touchline by Henry took Tigers in front for the first time on the night at 20-13.
Quick interplay down the left set Irish away and they got the ball down after outnumbering the defenders, referee Wayne Barnes came back to check a block on Henry in the defensive line on halfway and, instead, gave Tigers a penalty.
Moments later, at their first scrum put-in of the evening, Barnes whistled again and Henry completed the kick to put Tigers 10 in front.
Steve Borthwick sent on a new front row for the restart and, with penalties starting to mount up against the Exiles, skipper Rogerson was told to speak to his colleagues with Irish pinned back.
Irish were denied again after prop Will Goodrick-Clarke pushed his way over, only for a knock-on to be picked up by the TMO.
But, already with advantage, they came back for a penalty and when the forwards provided ball, Nick Phipps sent Hassell-Collins in to the left-hand corner to score. Jackson was narrowly off-target with the kick as Tigers’ lead was cut to 23-18 and set up an intriguing final quarter.
A breakdown penalty after Van Wyk’s carry in midfield gave Henry another sight of the posts. But he had to wait while Barnes and the TMO checked a tackle from Hepetema on the Tigers wing which ended with a red card to the Exiles centre.
Henry missed the kick after the delay, but Johnny McPhillips – on for Van Wyk – made sure with the next one to put Tigers eight points in front.
Even better followed as Murimurivalu charged on to a clever pass from replacement Jack Van Poortvliet to make a diagonal run over the line for his team’s third try and McPhillips added the extras for a 33-18 lead with 12 minutes remaining.
When Irish reached the tryline at the other end, determined work over the ball brought a Tigers penalty and the chance to take play back up to halfway.
Van Poortvliet’s dart after strong work from Brink at the base of scrum provided another chance but Tigers missed touch with a resultant penalty.
The scrum, though, had Irish in trouble just outside their own 22 and another penalty gave the forwards another chance in the corner, only to be closed out against the touchline as they looked for the bonus-point score just a few metres out.
Irish got back on the attack and were awarded a penalty try after checking a deliberate knock-on from Van Poortvliet on his own tryline and the scrum-half also received a yellow card.
Then, with the clock up to 80, Joe Heyes saw yellow for a high tackle and Irish took their final throw of the dice as Jackson kicked to the corner rather than the posts and got his reward as it set up the chance for Matt Cornish to score from a forward drive. Jackson finally brought proceedings to a close with the conversion.