Leicester Tigers extended their unbeaten run into the new year with a 31-0 triumph against Newcastle Falcons on Sunday.
After making it 10 out of 10 in the league with Christmas victory at Bristol, Tigers stretched their winning run to 16 matches in all competitions since defeat in Round 21 last season and stayed top of the Gallagher Premiership with 50 points.
After an opening period dominated by heavy rain at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, Tigers turned pressure into points in the 10 minutes before half-time thanks to tries from a driving maul – with Dan Kelly credited for the touchdown – and then Matt Scott as they led 17-0 at the break.
George Martin provided the third try after a prolonged spell of pressure in the second half. But Tigers had to wait until the final action of the game to add a fourth from Harry Potter to seal the full five points.
Steve Borthwick brought Eli Snyman, Matt Scott and Guy Porter into the starting line-up, and was forced into a late change in the back row where Ollie Chessum was replaced by Harry Wells in the absence of both Marco van Staden and Jasper Wiese.
George Ford made his 100th starting appearance since his debut for Tigers as a 16-year-old in 2009, and it was also a landmark afternoon for Falcons full-back Mike Brown who reached 250 games in Premiership rugby.
Ford got the game started in light drizzle on an overcast afternoon and quickly had a chance to get the scoreboard moving with a third-minute penalty when the opposition were caught offside in defence.
The drizzle turned to heavy rain with the game just five minutes old, blowing into Tigers’ faces as they played from a penalty to the right-hand corner, only to lose ball after Ellis Genge had taken on the Falcons defence.
Both teams then chose to kick from hand as the elements dictated a territorial approach, with full-backs Freddie Steward and Mike Brown having to stand up to a steady supply of teasing high ball.
After a scrum penalty gave Tigers a chance on the left, the forwards drove infield from the lineout and Guy Porter showed remarkable athleticism to catch and touch down in one movement from Ben Youngs’ kick to the corner. But after numerous replays, TMO Ian Tempest ruled he had simultaneously touched the white line of touch in goal and the try was denied.
Not to be deterred, Tigers were immediately back on the attack, after another knock-on from a kickchase, and then the bounce from a Ford chip to the left corner beat Porter as the ball squirted into touch just short of the tryline.
When a penalty followed, Tigers turned down a kick at goal to stay in the corner. Finally, with sun peaking out and the rain finally in abeyance, the breakthrough followed.
A big maul from the set-piece took play towards the line and, with backs joining the push, it finally got over the chalk, with Dan Kelly taking the pats on the back from team-mates. Ford’s conversion made it 10-0 on 33 minutes.
Falcons made good use of scrappy ball from a lineout as scrum-half Louis Schreuder kicked down the left touchline for almost their first incursion into the Tigers 22. But, when Youngs chose to play out from a defensive position, Harry Potter took play 60 metres upfield. Although Brown cleared to touch, the next phase brought a second score.
Tigers chipped in behind and, when Joel Hodgson missed the bouncing ball, Scott nudged it forward and gathered to dot down under the posts. Ford converted to make it 17-0 with one minute left in the half.
The second half started with Tigers on the attack again, forcing Brown back to his line, where he was driven over by a combination of Kelly and Scott. But ball was knocked-on at the five-metre and the chance had gone.
Falcons, though, still found it difficult to get out of their own territory, forced back by Ford’s kicking and by a kickchase from Steward which forced another error and then a scrum penalty midway inside the Newcastle half.
But, after setting up the drive to the line on the right, Tigers were wrapped up in possession and Falcons had scrum put-in as Logovi’i Mulipola joined their front row from the bench.
The pressure, though, stayed on and phases after phase of play from the Tigers until finally, George Martin dived over to score on the right. Referee Karl Dickson been playing advantage for three offside penalties as he then checked for a possible kinock-on in attack before awarding the score.
Ford’s conversion from the right made it 24-0 with 24 minutes left on the clock.
Another push from the forwards, with Nephi Leatigaga on for Genge, almost brought another score but this time Falcons held up the charge in-goal and they were able to drop-out.
Nic Dolly, Charlie Clare, Joe Heyes, Jack van Poortvliet and Freddie Burns all entered the fray from the bench in the final quarter, with Kini Murimurivalu and Matias Moroni also on for the closing 10 minutes.
Murimurivalu, Dolly and Wells made up the back row as the Tigers earned a penalty inside their own 22 after Falcons dangerman Adam Radwan had had his first chance to show his pace in attack before being closed down.
With just 100 seconds left on the clock, Falcons spilled ball in trying to play out of their 22 and Tigers had the final chance from a scrum.
It eventually came with the forwards gaining the territory and Burns finding Potter with a flighted crosskick, though the wing still had to beat two defenders and reach out to score the bonus-point try with the clock on 80 minutes. Burns added the conversion to bring the game to a close.