Leicester Tigers were beaten 37-44 by Worcester Warriors in an 11-try encounter at Welford Road on Sunday.
A first home defeat of the season came only after Tigers had fought back from 11-37 down to level the scores with just a couple of minutes left to play. But they had to settle for two bonus points as Warriors claimed their sixth and final try with the last attack of the game.
Two tries from fly-half Duncan Weir in the opening five minutes set Warriors on their way and hooker Jack Singleton added a third in the 24th minute.
Although Guy Thompson got a first for Tigers, the visitors grabbed a bonus-point score five minutes before half-time and led 30-11 at the break.
A score from Ted Hill took the lead out to 37-11 before scores from Jonny May and David Denton brought Tigers back into the game. And, just as they looked to be running out of time, Sione Kalamafoni claimed the bonus-point score to set up a grandstand finish.
An amazing comeback was capped by a try for George Ford which made it all-square at 37-37 before young lock Hill claimed his second of the day to secure a second successive win at Welford Road for the Warriors.
Worcester included Tigers academy graduate Ryan Bower in their matchday 23, while Tigers gave first starts of the season to Jordan Olowofela and Jonah Holmes in the backline and welcomed back Graham Kitchener for his first appearance of the season in the forward pack.
Warriors got the game under way, kicking towards the Mattioli Woods Stand as morning rain gave way to afternoon sunshine, and they gained a breakthrough with less than two minutes played.
After Ryan Mills had found a gap and threatened to go all the way before Tigers closed in, Warriors retained ball and, despite a tackle round the ankles of Bryce Heem by Olowofela just a few metres short, fly-half Weir arrived in support to run in . The Scot added the conversion for a seven-point lead.
With just five minutes gone, referee Luke Pearce confirmed a second score from Weir after checking a line of running in advance of the ball from lock Pierce Phillips and waved away claims for a forward pass in front of the posts.
Tigers finally gained some field position, carrying through the forwards before Pearce awarded a penalty for a high tackle on Denton. Ford drilled the ball down the left touchline and the home side built phase after phase of possession before finally being awarded a penalty under the posts. Ford put over the kick to reach 550 career points for the club and get Tigers off the mark with 12 minutes gone.
Warriors prop Callum Black was penalised at successive scrums, the second of which gave Ford another sight of the posts. Kicking from the right, 35 metres out, he struck the ball cleanly through the posts to make it 6-14.
Heem collected the restart kick with a perfect leap on Worcester’s right and Tigers were penalised as play spread across the field, allowing Weir to kick a three-pointer with quarter of the game played.
Kitchener was unable to keep hold of a pass from Ford as Tigers got back upfield with the Warriors defence spread across the field and Tigers were then penalised at the scrum just outside the visitors’ 22, allowing Weir to hammer a kick up the touchline. From the set-piece, Heem and Mills again combined in attack and, when they were stopped just short by a tackle from May, Weir picked out front-rower Singleton out wide on the left to score their third and silence the home crowd. Weir was off target with the touchline conversion but his side led 19-6 on 25 minutes.
A tackle off the ball by Nick Schonert on Tom Youngs 35 metres out brought a penalty for Tigers and Ford turned down the kick for goal to go to the left corner, with Warriors sending on Premiership debutant Hill for the injured Sam Lewis.
The decision to for touch gained reward with a score for Thompson – his first for the club – from a well-drilled lineout drive. Ford’s conversion attempt looked on course but the wind pushed it left of the near post.
Thompson then secured a timely turnover in defence and, when Tigers gained momentum going forward, referee Pearce blew up for a penalty. Tigers went to the left and stayed in attack from a free-kick at the lineout before Heem knocked-on in a tackle on Gareth Owen still just 12 metres from his own tryline.
Kalamafoni picked up strongly from the scrum but Tigers’ timing was off in midfield and Warriors managed to hack loose ball away. And, after a Tigers knock-on near the touchline, Warriors clinically claimed a bonus-point try from Chris Pennell in the left-hand corner to stretch the lead to 27-11.
The TMO brought the referee’s attention to a tackle off the ball in the next Warriors attack after Tigers had won turnover ball, but play came back for Weir to kick at the posts from 15 metres and make it 30-11 with 30 seconds left on the clock in the opening period.
Tigers needed a big start to the second half Tigers and, despite losing ball on halfway, they gained a penalty at the resulting scrum and set up a push towards the line before Warriors smothered ball-carrier Youngs and gained put-in ball of their own.
Kyle Eastmond replaced Gareth Owen before the game could restart but a scrappy beginning to the second period meant a drop in tempo just when Tigers were looking to lift the pace.
Good work in defence from Kitchener and skipper Youngs wrapped up Warriors ball and brought another scrum, but any flow was stifled on halfway as Warriors this time gained the put-in from holding up ball at the tackle zone.
Ten minutes had elapsed without either side building any phases of play before Warriors celebrated a fifth try when Hill capitalised on an over-throw at a Tigers defensive lineout and powered his way over. Pennell added the conversion with Weir off the field for a head injury check.
It was May who provided a lifeline on 59 minutes, latching on to a chip from Ford to run clear and score his fifth try of the season and Denton got his name on the scoresheet moments later, diving in from a ruck on the tryline after Ford’s pinpoint kick into the right-hand corner from a high-tackle penalty. This time Ford added the extra two points to make it 23-37 with 16 minutes remaining.
A penalty took Warriors back upfield, but Tigers read the lineout to win possession and were playing with advantage after May was played in the air chasing a kick when Kalamafani grabbed the bonus-point try.
Eastmond showed perfect timing on his pass to Thompson and, after Manu Tuilagi was stopped just short, play spread left and No8 Kalamafoni ran in. Ford thumped the conversion over to bring it back to a seven-point gap with 10 minutes to go,
It was Worcester’s turn to feel the pressure, conceding three tries in 11 minutes and then finding themselves back near their own line after a scrum penalty. But this time lock Anton Bresler managed to steal ball in a tackle to stop Tigers taking anything from the opportunity.
From the lineout, though, the home crowd raised the roof when Ford showed clever feet to break in midfield and then a turn of speed to race away. Although he was tackled just short, he was able to spin and touch down for a try which he then converted to level the scores.
England Under-20s cap Sam Lewis got on for his Premiership debut at the restart as the crowd caught its breath, with Joe Ford joining the backline with just a couple of minutes remaining.
But Worcester were quickly on the front foot as Tigers struggled to get out of their own territory and the visitors claimed the match-winning score through young Hill in the left-hand corner with the hosts short-handed in defence with replacement Jimmy Stevens floored in the previous phase. Weir took the full amount of time allowed for the conversion and slotted it safely with the final action of a remarkable match.
Next home game
Tigers are back at Welford Road next Sunday when Sale Sharks are the visitors in the Gallagher Premiership. Tickets are on general sale and still available. Call 0116 319 8888 (option 2) or book online at www.leicestertigers.com/matchtickets
Weir's kick is the last action of the game. Worcester have won a thriller at Welford Road by 44-37.
No time for a restart
Weir has been told he can use all of the time left on the clock for his kick. And he lands it from the left-hand touchline.
Worcester have won it
Worcester have hit Tigers with a killer blow. Hill dives in at the left corner with 90 seconds remaining.
Welford Road goes wild as Ford lands his conversion to bring the scores level. It sets up a grandstand finish.
It's a try!
Referee Pearce was felled in the build-up to the try, and Worcester feel he prevented the tackle. But it stands.
The TMO is being involved. Is the try about to be scrubbed off? We can't see any issue.
Wow. Just wow!
Welford Road goes berserk as Ford goes over for a fifth Tigers try. The fly-half ghosts through a gap and then has the pace and strength to ride the tackle and score.
Tigers secure possession
Wells takes the lineout and Tigers move it in to the back line. They still have it in the Worcester 22.
The noise cranks up again around Welford Road as first the scrum wins a penalty and then Ford kicks Tigers into the Worcester 22. Huge lineout coming up.
The Terrace cheers a not straight lineout from Joe Taufete'e as if it was a try itself. Scrum 45m out. What have Tigers got here?
Tigers back in it
Ford lands the touchline conversion to bring Tigers back to within seven points. Can Tigers complete the comeback?
May makes a wonderful take and is clattered in the air by Pennell. The referee plays the advantage and moments later Tigers are over. Eastmond's wonderful pass puts Thompson through, Tuilagi goes close before Kalamafoni finishes an overlap on the left. Brilliant try!
Front row changes
Jimmy Stevens and David Feao are on for Tigers, replacing Tom Youngs and Bateman.
Harry Wells is on for Kitchener in the second row. And his first invovlement is to steal a lineout.
Ford adds the extras from the right to leave Tigers 37-23 down. Is a comeback on?
Denton goes over
David Denton, the Lumbers Player of the Month, has Tigers' third try. Leicester control the lineout drive well and Denton scores from close range.
What a kick!
Another high tackle, this time on Cole, brings a penalty in the Leicester half. Ford punts his 60m into the corner.
May on the mark
Jonny May collects Ford's clever chip on halfway, and with the Worcester defence scattered, glides his way to the line. But Ford cannot convert.
Ben White is on at scrum-half in place of Ben Youngs.
Worcester add conversion
With Weir off the field, Pennell takes over kicking duties, and he slots the conversion. Worcester lead 37-11
Worcester extend their lead
A mistake at a defensive lineout sees Marco Mama collect the ball at the back. Hill is in support and forces his way over.
Weir is hurt in a collision with Sione Kalamafoni and is off for an HIA. His replacment Jono Lance runs on in his training bib before realising and heading back.
Frustration around Welford Road
The frustration levels are rising around Welford Road as Worcester defenders wrap-up Tuilagi to earn the scrum put-in. It's been a very stop-start opening to the second half.
Good lineout defence
Tigers give Worcester a taste of their own medicine, wrapping up the ball in the maul to win the scrum put-in.
Scrum to Worcester
Williams sets up the drive and Tigers initally have Worcester back-pedalling. But the maul goes to ground and the ball is still in there. Scrum to the visitors. Meanwhile, Kyle Eastmond is on for Owen.
Tigers win a penalty at the first scrum of the second half. It's just in their half and Ford has found touch 15m out. The noise cranks up around the stadium.
The teams are back out
The two teams are back out at Welford Road and Tigers have it all to do to overturn a 30-11 half-time deficit. They will kick off attacking the Mattioli Woods Stand end.
There's a hush around Welford Road as the half-time whistle is blown, with the exception of the pockets of Worcester fans who are singing loudly. Their team leads 30-11 at the break.
Worcester add to their lead
Tom Youngs is whistled for playing the man without the ball and Weir has a simple penalty to put the Warriors 30-11 ahead.
Lewis is on for his debut. He replaces Thompson. Joe Ford is on for Tuilagi.
Kitchener shows amazing athleticism to take a lineout before Pennell rises above Holmes to collect a clearing kick.
Worcester make Tigers pay with their bonus-point try. They stretch Tigers in defence and work a massive overlap on the left for Chris Pennell to score. It goes unconverted.
A promising position is lost as the ball goes to ground. Venter is first to react and hacks the ball out no halfway.
Tigers work an opening on the left but Owen's final pass is knocked on in the tackle by Heem. Play restarts with a scrum, despite the home crowd calling for a penalty.
Top work Thompson
Thompson, fresh from his try, shows his skills on the floor as he strips Venter of possession and sets Tigers back on the attack. It ends on halfway as Worcester again infringe. Ford kicks Tigers to within 20m.
Try time Tigers!
It was the right decision to go for the corner as Tigers drive over for the try. Graham Kitchener sets it up nicely, Tigers ride the counter-drive and rumble over for Thompson's first try for the club.
Nick Schonert is pinged for an off-the-ball tackle on Tom Youngs. Ford kicks to the corner. Meanwhile, Worcester's Sam Lewis is off and replaced by Ted Hill.
Warriors have a third
Worcester are a huge threat every time they attack, and they have a third. Heem was at the centre of things again with a superb break. The ball was recycled and Singleton goes over at the left corner. The conversion is wide.
Thompson on the charge
Guy Thompson, on his first home start, is getting through plenty of work. He charges onto Owen's pass to get Tigers on the front foot. But play stops for a knock-on. Can Tigers put the Warriors scrum under pressure again?
Worcester extend their lead
The penalty decision goes against Dan Cole for a deliberate knock-on just outside the Tigers 22. Weir lands a simple kick to put the visitors 17-6 ahead.
Ford lands his kick
Kicking towards the Robin Hood Stand, Ford makes no mistake with his penalty to cut Worcester's lead to 14-6.
Tigers march the Worcester pack back and win a second penalty at the second scrum of the game. And this time Ford points to the posts ...
Smart thinking by Owen
Gareth Owen somehow loses possession as he is met by Francois Venter in collecting the ball. And then he somehow wins it back as the ball squirms out of the ruck.
Tigers get the put in at the first scrum after Jack Singleton throw goes off target. And they get the penalty as Callum Black slips his bind. Ford kicks Tigers back into the Worcester half.
Tigers get themselves a foothold in the game with a period of possession and pressure in the Worcester 22. It ends with a penalty under the posts for not rolling. And Ford kicks Tigers' first points.
Tigers go to the corner after Heem is pinged for a high tackle on Holmes. No further sanction though, from referee Luke Pearce.
Weir adds the extras
Worcester have a 14-point lead after five minutes, and their fly-half Weir has all of them. Tigers are yet to get into the game.
It's a double for Weir
The try is awarded. The officials say there was no forward pass in the build-up, to the dismay of the home support, and Weir has his second try.
Have Worcester scored again?
Worcester cut through Tigers again and score behind the posts, but there's a suspicion of a forward pass from Sam Lewis to Pierce Phillips. The TMO is being consulted.
Weir converts his own try, and Worcester lead 7-0.
Early score for Worcester
Tigers go behind to an early Warriors try. Heem burst through into the Leicester 22 where he was well tackled by Olowofela, but Weir is in support to ghost over on the right.
Worcester's Duncan Weir gets us going. Jonny May fields the kick and is immediately whacked by Bryce Heem. Welcome to the game Jonny!
Hear that ROAR!
Smoke on the Water starts up, and here comes Tom Youngs and his Tigers to a huge Welford Road roar. Good luck boys.
Here come the visitors
Worcester are out on to the pitch, led by their captain GJ van Velze are out on the pitch
It's warming up nicely!
There's a buzz around Welford Road as we countdown to kick off. Let's hear that Tigers roar!
Good to luck to Jordan Olowofela, who makes his first league start, and to fellow academy product Sam Lewis, who is set to make his debut from the bench.
Here are the teams for this afternoon's game.
The rain has stopped, the sun is trying to come out and there's a light breeze ahead of kick-off. Perfect rugby conditions.
Tigers v Worcester
It's great to be back at Welford Road for this afternoon's Gallagher Premiership clash with Worcester Warriors.