Leicester Tigers made it three home wins in a row with an 18-9 victory over Wasps in a Gallagher Premiership derby at Welford Road on Saturday.
The biggest crowd of the season so far at Welford Road cheered tries from Greg Bateman and Telusa Veainu in the Round 10 contest following a two-week break from league action.
There was further good news with Hanro Liebenberg back in the starting line-up for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in early November.
With Storm Dennis sweeping across the country, rain and strong winds met the teams as Tigers got the game started, kicking towards the Mattioli Woods Stand end but Wasps had the better of the first half with two penalties from Jimmy Gopperth against one from Tom Hardwick to lead 6-3 at the break.
Kicks from Gopperth and replacement Noel Reid made it 6-9 early in the second half with an inconsistent wind making any continuity challenging.
Tigers grabbed the opening try of the day with Greg Bateman finishing a forward drive for the line on 55 minutes and they led 13-9 with Reid’s conversion before Telusa Veainu’s 80-metre interception try provided some daylight on the scoreboard following a try-saving tackle from Ben White at the other end.
An early indication of the wind was a Hardwick kick from deep inside his own half which bounced dead at the opposite end of the field, giving Wasps a scrum put-in 20 metres inside Tigers territory.
Jimmy Gopperth provided the opening points of the day with a penalty from in front of the Tigers posts after his chip down the right had threatened the home team defence with nine minutes played.
Tigers had the wind at their backs but found it difficult to get control of field position, losing a lineout from a penalty in their own half and then needing Hardwick to cover another chip from Gopperth with Wasps chasing a first win at Welford Road since 2016 and only a second since 2008.
Gopperth added a three-pointer when Jaco Taute was penalised for a deliberate knock-on inside his own 22, making it 6-0 to the visitors.
Tigers finally returned to rival territory when Hardwick was played off the ball at a ruck near halfway and, after kicking to touch, gained another penalty as Willis pulled down the maul.
But this time the kick was over-cooked into the corner and the chance was gone.
A towering kick from Ben White had the Wasps defence scampering back and with Jonah Holmes chasing down Marcus Watson, the forwards arrived in force to take play forward, with Jordan Taufua charging at the line before being closed out.
Play came back for a penalty which Tigers drove in the left-hand corner, but lost ball as Thomas Young wrapped it up just a few metres in front of his own line.
Tigers, though, were building some momentum in the right half of the field and gained reward when Hardwick thumped over a penalty from 25 metres to get on the scoreboard with almost half an hour played.
Wasps fly-half Jacob Umaga over-hit his kick-off and play came back to halfway for a Leicester scrum. With referee Karl Dickson already playing advantage, Wasps were whistled for a second offence. Hardwick took on the kick from 40-plus metres and had the distance but was just off-target.
Kieran Brookes was whistled for a no-arms challenge on Bateman after strong carries from Tom Youngs, Harry Wells and Liebenberg. Hardwick’s kick took play into the corner with four minutes left in the half but Willis stole lineout ball as the visitors reached the break 6-3 in front.
They began the second half with a penalty as Tigers failed to deal with the kick-off and then saw Tomas Lavanini sin-binned, adjudged to have played the supporting player as Will Rowlands claimed the lineout ball.
Wasps kept the ball tight and when Tigers were whistled in front of the posts, Gopperth kicked to make it 9-3 in the visitors’ favour.
Another good driving maul from a Tigers lineout took play 25 metres upfield and brought a penalty which Hardwick played into the corner before being replaced by Noel Reid. Although Tigers drove forward again, ball was wrapped up by the defence and they had put-in at a scrum just metres from their own line.
Nizaam Carr slipped as he picked up at the base and Umaga was only able to kick 20 metres clear, allowing Tigers to rumble forward again from another lineout with Bateman and Cole taking play almost up to the line before the defence fell foul of Dickson’s whistle.
Reid kicked the points to make it 6-9 with 10 minutes of the second period elapsed.
Lavanini returned to the field in time to play his part in another lineout drive which ended in another penalty to Tigers on halfway.
An immediate repeat, this time 20 metres further upfield, brought the same verdict and a warning from referee Dickson as Tigers kicked to the left-hand corner.
It was a useful weapon for the home side and they used it to good effect as Bateman steered the maul over the line for the first try of the afternoon. Reid’s conversion made it 13-9 with Tigers in front for the first time on 55 minutes.
The hosts had a massive escape, though, a few minutes later when they lost ball and Wasps attacked down the right. Zach Kibirige was the extra man out wide and looked like running in to score until White raced back to tackle him a metre short and the wing knocked the ball on.
Wasps were still in the Tigers half, though, but from their own lineout they lost ball in attack and Veainu picked up to run 80 metres to score.
Reid’s touchline conversion was wide but the 10-point swing in the space of just a couple of minutes was crucial with Tigers now 18-9 in front.
Veainu threatened again moments later after picking up loose ball wide on the right, though Wasps regained ball and almost manufactured space of their own for Kibirige on the opposite flank before Eastmond stepped in.
A neck roll at a ruck on Tommy Reffell gave Tigers the chance to end the game in the Wasps half, with Reid playing the penalty down the right touchline and play stayed there until Dickson’s final whistle.