Leicester Tigers ended the regular league programme with a 20-10 victory over Wasps at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday in Round 26 of the Gallagher Premiership season.
Wasps got on to the scoresheet with a penalty soon after half-tim,e but Freddie Steward provided a second try for the hosts and Ford added penalties each side of a score for the visitors to wrap up the win.
Tigers had already secured a place in the semi-finals – and a first home game in the knockouts since 2013 – ahead of kick-off as all six games in this round kicked off simultaneously at 3.00pm.
But, after leading the table since the first weekend of the season, Tigers were not yet assured of top seeding with Saracens just three points behind as they travelled to fifth-placed Gloucester in this round of fixtures.
Wasps, in their 50th trip to Welford Road stadium, were still chasing a win to secure Heineken Champions Cup qualification as they started the afternoon ninth in the league table.
Charlie Clare started in the Tigers front row in his 50th senior appearance for the club, while Calum Green, Harry Potter and Ben Youngs were added to the line-up that started the win at Newcastle last time out.
The Wasps line-up included Jimmy Gopperth, in his final appearance before a summer switch to Leicester, and Tigers Academy graduate Paolo Odogwu, while brothers Jack and Tom Willis linked up in the back row.
An early kick from Ford, chased by Harry Potter, created issues in the Wasps 22 and play stayed there as Tigers created an opening score for Porter.
A clearing kick from Dan Robson reached only to 25 metres and from the lineout, Porter burst through one tackle and clear to the line to dive in next to the posts. Ford’s conversion made it 7-0 with less than five minutes played.
Freddie Steward’s clever angled kick to the left put Wasps back to their own line and, although they won ball through Gaskell at the lineout, the clearing kick again reached only 20-odd metres and they needed a sacrum penalty on 11 minutes to finally exit their half of the field.
Porter broke the line again as he read a pass from ben Youngs from a set-piece free-kick, and Jasper Wiese and skipper Ellis Genge also tested the defence before Wasps responded with a 50-metre break from Josh Bassett on the left before Steward and Potter combined to stop the wing.
Matias Moroni reacted sharply to a break by Odogwu down the Wasps right, taking the wing into touch just 10 metres out from the tryline, then Chris Ashton’s defensive effort forced an error from the visitors on halfway. Tigers won a penalty too but then missed their lineout drill on the right and Jack Willis carried out.
Moroni was back on the ball to chip down the left and Potter carried Atkinson into touch but was penalised for the height of the tackle.
Another whistle followed at a lineout near halfway but Tigers read a lineout move to stall Wasps again, then reacted when Ford’s clearing kick was partially charged down, with play eventually restarting with a scrum to the visitors midway inside their rivals’ half.
Robson claimed a testing kick from Ford, with Potter closing in, but the fly-half’s next effort bounced beyond the deadball line in the left-hand corner, bringing play all the way back into the Tigers half of the field as the clock ticked towards the last seven minutes of the half.
Wiese’s break off the back of a turnover had Wasps scrambling, but after Liebenberg and Potter combined on the left, Ollie Chessum was tackled 10 metres from the tryline and Odogwu managed to steal ball on the floor.
A scrappy spell brought another whistle, this time against Tigers at a lineout on the Wasps 10-metre line, but a dangerous break by Odogwu through the middle was met by strong defence and ball fell loose from Sam Spink as Porter made the tackle.
After more than half an hour at 7-0, Tigers were awarded a penalty as Genge carried in attack and Ford called for the tee, but pushed the kick wide of the right-hand post.
When Wasps broke out for one final break, a pass from Ali Crossdale floated behind Odogwu who had plenty of clear space in front of him as the first half closed with Tigers still those seven points in front.
The second half started with Robson’s chip ahead causing some problems at the Tigers end, and a penalty following despite some robust defence led by Moroni,
Chessum stole lineout ball on his own five-metre line, though, and then stepped in again with a tackle on full-back Crossdale as play remained in the Tigers 22.
More defensive sets followed, with Wasps being pushed backwards, but a penalty award gave Gopperth the chance to get points on the board with 48 minutes played and he judged the kick well to make it 7-3.
Wasps almost created a score on the right as Oghre led the charge and, even as Bassett slipped in possession, he kept ball alive and the hooker was in the corner to pressure Ford into touch.
The visitors set up their lineout drive but were stopped fractions short and when ball was wrapped up, Tigers were handed scrum put-in.
As Ford cleared his lines, Odogwu fumbled the kick into touch but Wasps stole the lineout possession and the chance to build in attack was gone.
Youngs was replaced by Jack van Poortvliet on 58 minutes with Tigers playing from a lineout on the left and carries from Genge and George Martin taking play deep into Wasps territory. When they were penalised, Ford pushed play into the right corner and it almost brought a try for Moroni.
Referee Craig Maxwell-Keys, though, spotted he had been held up over the tryline by Atkinson and play came back for a penalty from the initial forward drive to the line, 10 metres to the right of the posts.
Ford went for more of the same and Tigers were rewarded for their patience and persistence when Ford combined with Moroni to put Steward in to score in the corner. The touchline conversion made it 14-3 on 64 minutes.
Steward almost had a second just moments later as he chased a chip in behind the defence but Malakai Fekitoa just reached out first to dot down.
Ford added to the lead with a penalty as Tigers enjoyed a lengthy spell of possession, but Wasps replied with their opening try, Alfie Barbeary offloading for scrum-half Will Porter to run in on the left and Atkinson’s conversion brought the score back to 17-10 with 10 minutes left in the visitors’ season.
Nemani Nadolo’s first contribution resulted in a penalty and Ford took the lead into double figures again with just seven minutes left on the clock.
Ford turned down another shot at goal when Wasps were penalised in a central position to take play to the right once more, but Vaea Fifita managed to deflect the lineout throw and Miller kicked clear.