Leicester Tigers’ run of Aviva Premiership victories ended with a 27-31 defeat at home to Worcester Warriors at Welford Road on Saturday.
Two tries in the opening seven minutes gave the visitors a 12-0 lead before Tigers had even been in the opposition half of the field and the home side never quite made up lost ground as Worcester won at Welford Road for the first time.
Scores from Mike Fitzgerald and skipper Sam Harrison gave Tigers a foothold but they still trailed 17-19 at half-time after a third score from the visitors.
And in the second half, the Warriors claimed two more scores against one from Gareth Owen on the way to the win.
Tigers had made it six Aviva Premiership wins in a row with a bonus-point triumph against Sale Sharks in Round 8 to build their best sequence in the tournament since the 2013/14 season, while Warriors enjoyed a big win over Northampton Saints to climb off the foot of the league table.
Tigers recalled Harry Thacker and Pat Cilliers into the front row, with Brendon O’Connor starting at openside, but were forced into a late change when Dom Barrow failed a fitness cfheck. Mike Fitzgerald stepped up to the starting line-up, as he did in the win over Sale in Round 8, with Harry Wells called into the matchday squad.
Telusa Veainu, who scored the club’s try of the Season in the corresponding fixture last season, started at full-back in his 50th appearance for the club.
Warriors, who climbed off the foot of the table with a first win of the season in Round 8, unsurprisingly retained the same starting line-up from that victory over Northampton Saints.
Worcester made their first visit to Welford Road back in 1895 in the Midland Counties Cup but the teams have met on only 27 occasions in more than a century.
Warriors were first on the board, after just four minutes, with flanker Alafoti Faosiliva the man on the ball as they drove over from a five-metre lineout. Chris Pennell, though, was wide with the conversion from the right touchline.
By that stage, Tigers had already called prop Kyle Traynor into the action from the bench after a knock to Pat Cilliers,
And they barely had time to regroup before Worcester, without a win in their history at Welford Road, had stretched the lead to 12-0 when Josh Adams collected a chip in behind the Tigers defence to score. Pennell this time provided the conversion.
Cilliers returned after 16 minutes with Tigers still in their own territory and Tigers had to wait another five minutes for a breakthrough.
It came after some physical defence from Worcester with Tigers building phase after phase of possession and eventually it was Fitzgerald, wide on the left, who stepped into to score. Ford put the kick over to bring Tigers back within a score at 7-12.
Ford had the kicking tee back on moments later when Warriors were whistled at a lineout and struck the kick firmly through the posts to make it 10-12 approaching the half-hour mark.
Tigers, though, had to weather another storm as Warriors sniffed an opportunity from an attacking scrum and, after Gareth Owen had made a fingertip tackle, the forwards blocked out their opposition and then gained scrum put-in when Worcester knocked –on just five metres out.
Warriors then grabbed a third try just before half-time when Adams sliced through the Tigers defenders to score to the right of the posts. Many of the home crowd felt the scoring pass had gone forward but the referee signalled the score and Pennell added the conversion with a drop-kick to make it 10-19.
Warriors, in turn, felt they were harshly penalised on the edge of their 22 for not releasing in the tackle with the clock already up to 40 minutes. But Tgers went to the corner and earned a second penalty when David Denton collapsed the driving maul.
This time, Tigers made sure aftrer Kitchener caught the lineout and Thacker took control at the maul, before Sam Harrison was credited with the final touch over the tryline. Ford’s conversion cut the gap to two points at half-time.
Will Evans replaced Brendon O’Connor in the Tigers back row at the start of the second half, but it was Warriors who claimed the breakthrough score, hooker Jack Singleton getting on the end of a sweeping move initiated by Bryce Heem to claim the bonus-point try on the right. Pennell added the conversion to lead by nine.
A chance for a response was lost when Tigers were unable to claim clean lineout ball from a penalty into the Warriors 22 but Denton was then whistled at another throw-in and Tigers went back to the left-hand corner. Safe ball was secured this time but, after Telusa Veainu and Evans had been held out on the opposite flank, Tigers spilled ball at the next phase.
Warriors should have been able to clear from the scrum but with a big shove from the home side and Harrison snapping at No8 Denton, ball was spilled and Tigers got the put-in at the next set-piece.
The position looked promising but ended with Heem claiming ball behind his own line and the crowd growing frustrated after Owen had been tackled heavily in midfield. Referee Greg Macdonald, having checked with the TMO, restarted play with a drop-out f0or the visitors.
Tigers attacked again with a penalty down the right touchline but again lost possession as play opened up.
The penalty count was starting to mount up, and prop Nick Schonert was yellow-carded for the next offence near his own tryline as Tigers maintained the pressure but still looked for a decisive break.
A Ford penalty kick brought it back to 20-26 with 15 minutes remaining on the clock as the game continued in Warriors territory.
The game, though, slipped further from Tigers’ grasp when Worcester were finally able to get upfield and centre Ryan Mills wriggled free to score on the left. Pennell’s conversion attempt hit the outside of the left-hand post but Warriors were still 11 points in front.
Tigers were quickly back on the attack and Owen scored for a second successive week, picking up ball just inside the 22 and breaking away to score. Ford added the conversion with the lock just short of 79 minutes.
The ball was back ibn Tigers hands from the restart but Warriors continued to bite into their tackles until being penalised at a breakdown and then marched back for chat to the referee.
The home crowd willed Tigers towards the tryline once more but, after an initial drive from a lineout on the right, the match closed with Tigers taking play into touch on the opposite flank as Warriors celebrated an historic victory.