Leicester Tigers picked up a first win of the season with five tries in a 49-33 victory over Newcastle Falcons at Welford Road on Saturday.
In Geordan Murphy’s first game as interim head coach, the teams shared 10 tries as Tigers bounced back from defeat at Exeter in Round 1 of the Gallagher Premiership season
An early try from George Ford - who contributed a total of 29 points - was followed by tries from Jonny May and Adam Thompstone to lead by 22 points in the opening 15 minutes.
The visitors opened their account midway through the first half before Manu Tuilagi claimed a bonus point for Tigers in a breathless opening.
Two scores from Vereniki Goneva kept Falcons in the game, though a second from May gave Tigers a 40-19 advantage at the break.
The lead was cut to 10 points early in the second half and Falcons enjoyed plenty of possession and field position before Tigers came through to delight the home crowd.
Falcons, who lost 21-32 at home to Saracens last Sunday, included five players with Tigers connections, including Toby Flood and Goneva, while Logovi’i Mulipola made his first return to Welford Road since a summer move to Tyneside.
Tigers give home debuts to summer signings Kyle Eastmond, Will Spencer and David Denton. Four other summer arrivals are among the replacements alongside England Under-20s internationals Tom Hardwick and Jordan Olowofela.
The Falcons have won just twice in their last 17 visits to Welford Road, but ended Tigers’ hope of a Premiership semi-final place last season with a 25-23 victory in the penultimate league fixture of the season.
Ford got the game under way after a minute’s silence in respect of former club secretary and president Tudor Thomas, and Tigers were immediately on to the offensive with the fly-half putting Spencer through a gap and then getting back on the ball near the tryline. Thompstone also went close, only to be shut out by Goneva, but Tigers retained possession and eventually Ford got to the line. After confirmation from the TMO, referee Matthew Carley awarded the first Tigers try of the season.
Ford’s conversion hit the outside of the near post and Falcons had a chance for an instant reply only for Flood to pull a penalty wide from 30 metres.
Denton collected ball at the front of a lineout near halfway and Tigers set up a promising drive before being handed a penalty as Falcons brought it down.
Ford connected firmly with the kick from just inside of the 10-metre line and Tigers were eight in front on seven minutes.
Falcons then proved masters of their own downfall in possession in midfield, being met with some stubborn resistance from Tigers and then Brendon O’Connor picked off a lateral pass and broke upfield. As Goneva came across to cover, the flanker passed to his left and May ran in to score. Ford added the extras for a 15-0 lead with not quite 10 minutes played.
A third try followed three minutes later with Ben Youngs, Ford and Eastmond keeping the backline moving, O’Connor providing a vital link and then Thompstone going over on the right. Ford’s conversion kick made it 22-0 on 15 minutes.
Falcons got on the scoreboard after 17 minutes when some strong carrying from prop Sami Mavinga and then Sinoti Sinoti opened the door for scrum-half Sonatane Takulua to provide a try which Flood converted.
A penalty for a high tackle on Eastmond gave Ford another sight of the posts, and his kick from 30 metres made it 25-7.
The bonus-point score came on 23 minutes and was met with huge cheers as Tuilagi showed power to get through two tackles near halfway and then pace to go through and win a footrace from Goneva to the line.
Ford’s kick from the right went in off the left-hand post to stretch the lead to 32-7.
But Falcons, with Mavinga carrying strongly again, came back with a Goneva try, picking up loose ball in the right-hand corner after colleague Simon Hammersley ball had lost possession in contact. Flood added a touchline conversion to make it 32-14 with 13 minutes still to play in the half.
Tuilagi looked sharp in the next Tigers attack and, although an ankle tap took him down, Flood was penalised as Youngs looked to recycle and Ford kicked the points to take the gap back up to 20 points.
Eastmond was replaced by Tom Hardwick on 32 minutes after treatment for what looked like a calf injury, and Tigers were quickly back behind their lines as Josh Matavesi produced a pinpoint offload on the left. Ford kicked clear from behind the tryline but Falcons quickly had a penalty and Flood pushed it into the left-hand corner.
They retained ball and had penalty advantage before opening up across the field and Goneva was able to push his way over past the last defender in the opposite corner for his second try of the afternoon. Flood was off-target with the conversion with Tigers 35-19 in front.
O’Connor was whistled for offside in chasing a Ford kick and the referee brought play right back into Tigers territory. Flood, though, failed to make touch with the kick and Thompstone was able to play out from the back.
A knock-on from Matavesi, just as Falcons looked to stretch the Tigers defence near halfway, But before play could restart with a scrum, injury brought O’Connor’s shift to an end as Thompson came off the bench for his debut.
There was still time for Tigers to gain a penalty at the scrum with a minute left in the half and Ford drilled play into the right-hand corner. The catch from Mike Williams set up a drive and, with advantage being played, Tigers spread play wide and May was able to dive in for his second of the day. Ford, from the touchline, was wife with the kick but Tigers led 40-19 at half-time.
Falcons were the first on the front foot, building possession and territory before putting a penalty into the left corner. Tigers got through their drills in defence but were whistled again five metres out and Flood again went for the lineout option.
This time the visitors set up the drive quicker, and Mark Wilson broke off the blindside to score, a try confirmed after replays with the TMO to give Falcons their fourth score. Flood’s kick made it 41-26 on 47 minutes.
When Will Welch was blown for offside ahead of a Falcons clearing kick, Tigers called for the tee and Ford added the three points.
Tigers were then penalised at a ruck just as they thought they’d won turnover ball and Falcons went to the right-hand corner. Although Tigers held out two drives, Mavinga managed to force his way over for their fifth try and Flood brought it back to 43-33 with a well-judged conversion.
Ford looked like he’d managed to wriggle clear from the restart before Falcons scrambled back, but Tigers had the penalty award and the fly-half made it eight successes from 10 as he made it 46-33 approaching the hour mark.
A crunching tackle from Tuilagi on Goneva knocked ball loose and allowed Tigers to try again, with Ford again finding the acceleration to break the line before the Falcons got back. But Tigers fell foul of the whistle on halfway and Flood prodded Falcons forward once more.
This time Denton clawed lineout possession back in Tigers favour as the home crowd roared their team on.
But the referee halted play for obstruction, giving Newcastle another penalty and moments later the TMO was called upon again as Thompson and Veainu got under Takalua’s push for the tryline.
Referee Carley adjudged there was no grounding, but one of the tacklers was offside in front of the line and Veainu went to the sin bin.
Falcons resumed with a penalty five metres out but dropped possession at the lineout as Tigers were able to catch their breath. The scrum was as final contribution for Dan Cole and Greg Bateman as Tigers made changes in the front row, then Sione Kalamafoni stole lineout ball as the hosts desperately looked for a way out of their own territory.
Spencer received treatment for a blood injury, with Harry Wells on in the second row, and Kalamafoni showed his strength as he picked up at another scrum, only for the whistle to go for an accidental offside on halfway.
Tigers finally made it back up towards Falcons territory with Ford and Tuilagi, but Falcons ripped ball at the breakdown and Hammersley had to be cut down as he looked to break free.
The home side again managed to disrupt Falcons lineout ball but were pinned back and had to kick to touch with the game into its last 10 minutes and Veainu’s sin bin time almost complete. Falcons this time took possession but came to a halt with a forward pass off the back of the set-piece.
Rather than send Veainu back on, Jordan Olowofela got his chance at full-back.
After a penalty on the right, Tigers tried to set up Ford for a drop-goal attempt, but he failed to connect cleanly and Falcons got back on the ball. Takulua threatened a score until Olowofela closed in and in the next phase Tigers gained a penalty on the floor, to a huge roar from the 20,000-strong crowd.
The clock had reached the final 90 seconds when Ford booted up to halfway and referee Carley quickly whistled for a high tackle on Hardwick and then marched Falcons back as Ford called for the tee just inside their half with time up. The fly-half made no mistake with the kick in the final action of the game.