Leicester Tigers were beaten 23-25 by a last-minute score from Newcastle Falcons at Welford Road on Friday evening in the final home game of the Aviva Premiership season.
A try for each team in the opening six minutes – from Vereniki Goneva and Jonny May – got the ball rolling in a contest between the teams who started the weekend separated by one place and two points in the table.
Tigers, chasing a place in the play-off stages for a 14th successive year, finally took the lead for a first time at 13-10 on the half-hour after a couple of George Ford penalties but a late kick from Falcons levelled scores before half-time.
A try from Mike Fitzgerald midway through the second half as rain lashed Welford Road provided some breathing space and the lead reached 23-13 with another Ford penalty.
But Goneva’s second of the evening halved the gap with 10 minutes remaining to set up a nervy finish and it was the Falcons who had the last word as Ally Hogg got over for a score to level the game at 23-23 with Tigers a man short before the conversion snatched a first win at Welford Road in two decades.
Falcons went into the game in fourth place in the table, with Tigers in fifth as the season reached its penultimate round.
Tigers welcomed back Manu Tuilagi and Brendon O’Connor after injury, while Ellis Genge made his 50th appearance for the club since his move from Bristol, and Ben Youngs started a Premiership game for the first time since January following his full recovery from a knee injury suffered during the Six Nations.
The Falcons included former Tigers trio Vereniki Goneva, Calum Green and Michael Young, though Toby Flood was counted out by injury, and brothers Mathew and Alex Tait were named on the respective benches.
Ford got proceedings under way in front of a Premiership record crowd for a Friday evening fixture. But it was the visitors who claimed an instant breakthrough and it was Tigers old boy Goneva who provided the score.
Picking up ball at a ruck on the 10-metre line, Goneva stepped the first tackler and went clear to score a 12th league try of the season with just 74 seconds played. Joel Hodgson added the conversion for a 7-0 lead.
The home crowd, though, did not have long to wait for a response, with May providing his 12th try of the season and the 50th in his Premiership career.
Smart work at a lineout and a break from O’Connor had provided the platform and Tigers stayed patient on the five-metre line until they had extra numbers and May dotted down. Ford levelled the scores with a precise kick from wide on the right.
Falcons had to make a change when prop Scott Wilson was hurt in a collision with Sione Kalamafoni just inside Tigers territory but they had the consolation of a penalty which Hodgson struck from the 10-metre line to regain the lead on 12 minutes.
Ford failed to connect cleanly with a drop-goal attempt on 15 minutes after 15 phases of possession, but Falcons were forced into another change when lock Sean Robinson was replaced by Will Witty.
A superb offload in the tackle from Telusa Veainu got Tigers going forward on the left, and O’Connor and Ellis Genge gained more yards before ball was lost on the 22-metre line.
The Falcons then gained a scrum penalty to push upfield, but they were whistled at the lineout for impeding Graham Kitchener, and Ford punted play down the touchline only for Tigers to then miss their man at the throw.
Good work in defence from Tuilagi halted Goneva in his tracks and O’Connor was instantly on to the ball, earning a penalty which Ford prodded down the left touchline.
After Tigers had missed their previous two throws, Kitchener this time took control and the pack set up a maul before May attacked the line. Falcons closed in, only to be penalised as Polota-Nau tidied up possession 15 metres out and Ford added the three-pointer to bring it all-square after 24 minutes.
Hodgson was hurt in the build-up and Falcons had to make a third change in the opening half-hour, with Juan Pablo Socino coming on at fly-half.
Socino’s first duty was to restart play, but moments later he kicked out on the full from halfway inside his own half and Tigers were able to stay in rival territory. Ball was lost in contact, though, and gave the visitors a scrum and a chance to clear again.
Polota-Nau needed physio treatment after the scrum collapsed, but recovered to play his part as Tigers made a mess of the Falcons put-in. Turnover ball allowed scrum-half Youngs to spread play quickly to the right, but Michael Young covered a kick in behind from Ford as Tigers threatened.
An illegal challenge on Kitchener at the next lineout brought anther penalty and a first opportunity for Tigers to go in front on the scoreboard with just over half an hour played. Ford struck it cleanly to make it 13-10.
It was the 35th minute before Falcons made their second visit of the evening to the Tigers 22 and they got a penalty as they set up a lineout drive and chose to go to the corner. The Tigers defence looked to have repelled the threat with a well-timed push as Falcons landed, but referee Luke Pearce blew for a penalty for a side entry.
Falcons went again but Tigers piled in bodies to stop their charge. The drive got as far as the five-metre line before Tigers stole ball on the ground, but again the penalty went against them. This time Socino went for the kick and made it 13-13, and it stayed that way up to half-time.
The rain fell heavily throughout the break and Tigers started the second half positively with a penalty into the corner, but Falcons stayed on the ball and there was no way through.
Falcons missed an attacking lineout of their own but had a second chance on the 22 and this time threatened the line before spilled ball led to what Tigers believed was a vital score at the other end.
Polota-Nau carried out, Tuilagi took up play and when Adam Thomsptone kicked upfield, May beat team-mate Youngs to the final touch. Ford had the ball on the tee for the conversion but was stopped from taking the kick as the referee consulted the TMO and acknowledged there had been a knock-on by both sides near the Tigers line. The first offence came from the Falcons so Tigers had the put-in and gained a penalty as the opposition wheeled illegally, though it was little consolation for the big home crowd.
Tom Youngs replaced Polota-Nau and Tigers gained an immediate penalty with a good drive on the right touchline. Ford judged his kick to perfection into the corner and Fitzgerald provided the finishing touch for the second try as the forwards gained forward momentum. Ford drilled the greasy ball through the posts for the conversion to make it 20-13 with the clock approaching the hour mark.
A mistake from Socino conceded field position again for Falcons but Tigers could not find a gap in defence and had to be content with a scrum near halfway.
The Tigers pack started to gain ascendancy in the scrum, earning another penalty which the crowd cheered all the way through the posts as Ford stretched the lead to double figures.
Toomua, who had battled on after a knock early in the second half, made way with 15 minutes remaining, and Mathew Tait's first work was in the heart of the defence as Falcons built possession with the forwards and gained a penalty in an attacking position on the right.
The Tigers pack stood up to the drive, but when Falcons went again, Goneva powered up towards the line with the ball and provided a second try on the right.
Mike Williams made his return to the action after injury as Tigers got forward once more, May looking to wriggle clear before the Falcons defence closed in.
With two minutes remaining, Kalamafoni was yellow-carded as he was caught offside attempting to get back into the line. He had also clashed heads with Fitzgerald and Tigers also lost the second-rower as he was led to the touchline. Falcons had the penalty and went into the corner against their outnumbered rivals.
The defence won the initial contest but Falcons kept going with phase after phase within reach of the line with the clock already in the red. Twice they were pushed backwards by defensive hits, but retained ball until Hogg reached over at a ruck on the line. The referee and TMO were involved in lengthy debate before the score was finally awarded and snatched victory from the Tigers.
Sonatane Takalua took on the conversion and, with the Tigers team rushing out towards the kicker, struck the winning points to wrestle the initiative back in the race for play-off places.
Thank you for your support
It wasn't to be for Tigers today, but thank you to every single member of the Tigers Family for your support at Welford Road this season in the 125th anniversary of rugby at this famous old ground.
Full-time at Welford Road
And that is the end of the game. The Falcons have recorded their first win at Welford Road since 1997. And in doing so have put a huge dent in Tigers' hopes of a semi-final spot.
Takulua keeps his cool to land his conversion to give Newcastle the win.
It's a try!
The TMO has awarded the try and it's a score for Hogg. The conversion for Falcons to win it.
TMO looking long and hard
Ally Hogg is claiming the try. He dived over a ruck, but was it a double movement?
Is it a try?
Falcons think they have scored at the death. Referee Pearce has gone to his TMO.
Time is up ...
... and Tigers are under the pump on their line.
Socino puts the penalty to the corner. And Tigers are defending for their lives, forcing the maul to the floor. This is intense.
Tigers down to 14
Tigers will end the game with 14 men. Sione Kalamafoni is hit by the ball as he runs back into an onside position and sees yellow. Fitzgerald is off as well. He is replaced by Harry Wells.
Newcastle are forcing Tigers back here, sending wave after wave down onto the Leicester defence. Socino's kick forces Tigers back into their 22 and a lineout. Williams takes possession and Ford finds touch close to halfway. This is nervy.
Player of the Month on
Harrison, who has won the Lumbers Player of the Month vote, is on at scrum-half for Youngs.
Falcons make a switch at scrum-half. Young comes off for Sonatane Takulua.
Back row replacement
Luke Hamilton is off and Mike Williams, on his return from eight weeks out with a hamstring injury, is on the pitch.
Falcons are back in it
Tigers defend their line well, keeping out a series of close-range thrusts. But they cannot stop Goneva as he steps off his right wing and drives over for his second try. The try goes unconverted. Tigers lead by five.
Front row replacements
Logovi'i Mulipola is on for his last home game in a Tigers shirt. He replaces Cole. Greg Bateman is on for Genge.
Vote for your Spire Man of the Match
Mat replaces Matt
Mat Tait has come on for the last 15 minutes for Toomua. He slots in at centre.
Another scrum penalty
Tigers have the edge at the scrum and drive Newcastle back some 5m. They win the penalty and Ford goes for the posts. His kick is good and opens up a 10-point lead.
The attendance is 23,828, a record for a Friday evening Premiership Rugby fixture. Thank you for your support.
Ford is kicking excellently from hand and floor and lands his conversion to move Leicester seven points ahead.
This time it's a try
Tigers keep the momentum going at the maul, Ben Youngs went close but Mike Fitzgerald kept his cool to collect a wet ball and reach out to score.
What a kick
Ford didn't have much to aim at but has kicked Tigers to within 7m with a penalty. Kitchener claims the lineout as Tigers ride the defensive surge.
The TMO spotted a knock-on by Tigers back on their line, after Newcastle spilled the ball, and play comes all the way back for a scrum to the home side. Not well received by the home crowd!
Club captain on
Polota-Nau has come off after a huge shift and is replaced by club captain Tom Youngs.
More on the try
Newcastle were camped on the Tigers line but spilled the ball. Polota-Nau picked up possession and found Tuilagi. Thompstone kicked ahead and Youngs touched down. But wait. The TMO is involved.
Welford Road erupts
Try time. Tigers sweep the length of the field and score to take the lead ...
It is absolutely tipping it down as Falcons threaten with a lineout in the Tigers 22. But Kitchener steals possession and Ford finds touch.
Solid Newcastle defence
... Tigers set up the drive but Falcons defend it well, wrap up Cole and win the scrum put in. Again they come under pressure but they manage to secure possession for Socino to find touch.
Early scrum penalty
Genge looks in the mood this half and wins a penalty at the first scrum. Ford punts it into the Newcastle 22 ...
Spire Man of the Match
Voting is now open for the Spire Man of the Match on the Tigers app. Click on the news section and the top story to cast your vote.
Falcons to kick-off
Socino, the replacement Falcons fly-half, will get us going with Tigers attacking the Mattioli Woods Stand end of the ground.
Here come the teams
The teams are back out on to the pitch for the final 40 minutes of rugby at Welford Road this season, the 125th at this famous old ground.
Lumbers Player of the Month
Congratulations to Sam Harrison, who fans have voted their Lumbers Player of the Month for April.
That half has flown by. Goneva caught Tigers napping with a second-minute try before May replied with his 50th Premiership Rugby try. Ford is 100 per cent from the tee. And we're all square.
That's the half
We're into the final few seconds of the half and a scrum on the Falcons 10m line. But Tigers are whistled for an early engagement and that is that for the first 40 minutes.
All square. Again.
Socino opts for the posts this time and, from virtually in front, lands his kick to bring Falcons level. It's 13-13 with 90 seconds to half-time.
Referee Pearce speaks to Ford and issues a yellow card warning as Tigers infringe again. O'Connor deemed to be off his feet as he steals possession.
Falcons into the corner
Socino turns down a kick at goal to go for the corner. Tigers infringe at the lineout as they drive Falcons backwards, and the visitors go to the corner again.
Tigers lead for the first time
On a blustery night, Ben Youngs has to hold the ball for Ford, who makes no mistake to drive over the penalty. And Tigers lead by three points 10 minutes before the break.
Kitchener cleaned out
Calum Green, the former Tigers lock, takes out Graham Kitchener at a lineout and Ford points to the posts ...
Another solid scrum
Tigers get the shove on the Falcons scrumk and overturn possession. As the Falcons fly up in defence Ford slid the ball through but Young came across to win the ball in front of Veainu. Tigers will have the lineout on the 22.
Break in play
Tatafu Polota-Nau is getting treatment after getting hurt as a scrum collapsed. But the Aussie international is okay to continue. Second scrum to come.
Sloppy from Socino
Socino's first involvement is to slice a kick straight into touch and give Tigers a lineout back in the Falcons half.
More injury issues for Falcons
No Hodgson, the Newcastle fly-half is being helped from the field. He is replaced by Juan Pablo Socino as play restarts.
All square again
Ford lands a simple kick from in front of the posts to bring Tigers level again.
Penalty in front
Tigers are awarded a penalty in front as Mark Wilson infringes on the floor. Tigers tap and go, but the kicking tee is on and referee Luke Pearce pulls play back.
Brendon O'Connor announces his return from injury with a wonderful piece of back-row play to overturn possession.
Tigers force Falcons backwards on their own scrum ball, but they manage to secure possession and Michael Young finds touch 40m out.
Ford kicks Tigers into the Falcons 22 after they infringe at their own lineout. But Mike Fitzgerald knocks-on the lineout and we will restart with a scrum.
Another Falcons replacement
Now Sean Robinson is off for the visitors after he was hurt in a collision. He is replaced in the second row by Will Witty, as Veainu produces an outrageous break and offload round Goneva. But the attack ends with a knock-on.
Drop goal attempt
Tigers go through 17 phases and Ford sits back for a drop goal attempt. But he miscues it wide and Falcons will restart with a drop out.
Falcons lead again
Hodgson lands the penalty to give Newcastle a three-point lead.
Wilson has been hurt in that tackle and is coming off. Trevor Davison is the replacement tighthead.
What a tackle
Sione Kalamafoni, who was this week named the Players' Player of the Year, produces a huge tackle on Scott Wilson. However, Tigers are pinged at the breakdown and Falcons will have a kick at goal from 40m.
Milestone for May
That try by May was his 50th in Premiership Rugby, his ninth for the Tigers. Well done Jonny.
Gorgeous kick George!
George Ford lands the conversion from the right-hand touchline and we're all square at Welford Road.
More on the try
Brendon O'Connor made the intial break off the back of a lineout, Tigers swept forward and, with a penalty advantage, worked the overlap on the right for May to score.
Tigers hit back immediately, and it's a try for Jonny May!
Joel Hodgson adds the conversion and the Falcons have an early seven-point lead in the race for a semi-final spot.
Try for Falcons
Nik Goneva on his return to Welford Road, has opened the scoring with a brilliant solo try. He picked at a ruck 40m out, dummied the guard and raced away to score on the right.
Bright and breezy
Telusa Veainu misjudges the first kick of the game in the wind and the floodlights, but gathers himself to clear from his 22 towards halfway.
Tigers to get us going
There is a cracking noise around the ground for the final game of this 125 anniversary season as George Ford gets us going. Tigers are attacking the Robin Hood Stand end.
Rocking Welford Road
Live rendition of Smoke on the Water and fireworks to greet Tigers, as they run out led by George Ford. Come on you Tiiggeerrss!!
The visitors are out
Newcastle are first onto the pitch led by captain Mark Wilson ...
Countdown to kick-off
The warm-ups are over. The Tigers players are heading through the Terrace for their final preparations ahead of a massive match in the Aviva Premiership.
More team news
Tigers welcome back Manu Tuilagi, Brendon O'Connor and Mike Williams from injury. Ellis Genge, meanwhile, makes his 50th appearance for the club.
Spire Man of the Match
Who will be the Spire Man of the Match this eveninh? Well, that is up to you! Vote using your Tigers Mobile App from half-time.
The confirmed teams for this evening's game.
Welford 125 celebrations
Tigers fans young and old have been encouraged to wear their favourite shirt from down the years as part of the celebrations of 125 years of rugby at Welford Road. Thank you to everyone who has got involved.
Welcome to Welford Road
The floodlights are on for the final home game of the season. And what a huuuuuge game it is too! Quarter-final, knockout rugby, call it what you want as the sides in fifth and fourth in the table meet at Welford Road.