Leicester Tigers were beaten by a last-minute try from hosts Wasps in Round 10 of the Aviva Premiership season in Coventry on Saturday.
Two tries in six second-half minutes from Jonah Holmes looked like they would give Tigers victory at the Ricoh Arena, but the contest remained in the balance until the final 70 seconds, just as it had in the semi-final between the two clubs on Leicester’s last visit in May.
And in the end, Kearnan Myall found a decisive gap to score as Wasps took five points in a 32-25 victory.
Tigers had built an early 10-point lead early on after a first try of the season for skipper Tom Youngs, but Wasps got back into the game with two tries of their own to take the lead for the first time around the half-hour mark and a long-range penalty from Elliot Daly gave them a 17-10 advantage at half-time.
The breathless action continued in the second half with Holmes providing two smart finishes and Daly scoring a fine try for the hosts as the scores were tied at 25-25 approaching the final minute.
In the 100th meeting of the teams – with Tigers ahead 59-35 in terms of wins ahead of kick-off at the Ricoh Arena – the teams ran out to sweeping rain and the 4.30pm start meant darkness had already fallen when Tom Youngs led out the visitors wearing the club’s white alternate kit.
Ellis Genge, Dan Cole, Ben Youngs and George Ford were back in Tigers colours after duty with England, though Jonny May was ruled out after a knock in the win over Samoa last week. Wasps included Elliot Daly in his England position on the wing but were without Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes.
The game was just a minute old when soft hands from Genge created pace in midfield and Gareth Owen broke through the Wasps defence before being caught just short of the line. Even then, Tigers recycled quickly and Mike Fitzgerald had a bite at the line and then Adam Thompstone on the right before being forced into touch.
But play came back for a penalty and Ford knocked over the kick for an early three-pointer.
Daly created the first promising attack for Wasps with a sniping run on the left which had the Tigers rearguard scrambling back, but the attack was brought to a halt when Danny Cipriani’s grub-kick ran dead.
Wasps, though, remained in Tigers territory until aggressive defence allowed Telusa Veainu to pick off a pass in midfield and Ford hammered the ball upfield.
More strong work in defence gave Ford the opportunity to punt a penalty to touch just 10 metres short of the tryline on the left and, after patient work in the forward drive and an intervention from Tait in midfield, the ball was kept alive and Tom Youngs applied the finish to the right of the posts. Ford added the extras for a 10-point lead with just 15 minutes played.
A big scrum, led by Genge and Cole, had the Wasps pack in trouble again and when Ford put the penalty into the corner, Tigers had the advantage of another penalty when Jonah Holmes was kept out in the corner. When play came back for the penalty, Tigers were unable to capitalise when they were whistled at the five-metre lineout.
Another blow of the whistle from referee Thomas Foley followed and Wasps were able to get back into Tigers territory and find their breakthrough score from No8 Nizaam Carr.
An initial break on the left looked to have ended when Tait grabbed Cipriani, but Thomas Young worked hard to provide go-forward and a carry from James Gaskell had Tigers packpedalling before Carr arrived to force his way over. Jimmy Gopperth added the kick to take the score to 7-10 with 24 minutes played.
Tigers used the scrum as a platform for another attack soon afterwards but, when Owen was wrapped up in midfield and then dispossessed, the hosts cleared up to halfway again.
Wasps took the lead for the first time with a try from scrum-half Dan Robson on 32 minutes, but not before the Tigers defence had kept out a series of phases close to the line.
Ben Youngs made a try-saving tackle on his opposite number within reach of the line, but after two more phases, Robson was able to pick up and go left, sniping his way over to score. Gopperth’s extras made it 14-10.
Owen left the field, replaced by Matt Smith, before the game restarted and Veainu also needed physio treatment after taking a heavy knock on halfway.
As half-time approached, Tigers were penalised at a maul wide and Daly landed an impressive kick from 40 metres to stretch the Wasps lead to seven points.
Valentino Mapapalangi twice looked like he’d broken tackles to get Tigers forward in the next phases of possession, but couldn’t make a decisive break.
There was no further score before the break, but Tigers were forced into another change when Genge made way, replaced by Mulipola in his first appearance since the end of September.
Wasps threatened early in the second half when second-rower Kearnan Myall latched on to good work by Jake Cooper-Woolley, and then created extra men on the left but threw the pass into touch on the edge of the Tigers 22.
Mapapalangi sat down Myall with his next carry of the ball and Tom Youngs twice took Tigers forward strongly before Cipriani was adjudged to have knocked-on deliberately 35 metres from his own tryline as Tigers opened up play.
The penalty award gave Ford a first sight of the posts since his conversion in the opening quarter of an hour and his kick struck the right-hand post, allowing Cipriani to clear.
But Wasps could not keep the visitors out for much longer, with Sione Kalamafoni carrying positively and the phases mounting up before the pressure finally told with a second try.
Remaining patient in possession, Tigers played and played through phases in the Wasps 22 before finally Holmes found himself in space to dive into the left-hand corner for his first Premiership try for the club.
Ford struck the kick well from the left touchline but fell just wide as Tigers trailed 15-17 with 53 minutes played.
There was no let-up in the pace of the game as Tom Youngs continued to show himself as a target in possession and Kalamafoni became increasingly influential on his return to action.
Tigers regained the lead with a second try from Holmes in a six-minute period, this time picking off a long, lopping pass from Daly intended for Wade to run free and score.
Holmes was well inside his own half when he claimed the ball, then fended off Wade to run clear and score under the posts. Ford’s extras made it 22-17 in favour of the visitors and had the travelling support in good voice, especially with many of them gathered at that end of the stadium.
Harry Thacker replaced Tom Youngs as the game restarted but Gopperth immediately cut the gap with a penalty from 25 metres.
And the lead lasted just a matter of minutes further when Daly provided a fine finish to a first-phase move from a lineout on halfway.
After taking ball at the back of the lineout, the Wasps backs immediately spread play along the line and Daly raced home into the left-hand corner. Gopperth was wide with the conversion attempt but the hosts were in front at 25-22 with 15 minutes remaining.
Holmes sniffed a potential hat-trick when Mapapalangi popped a pass to him on the left touchline, but was stopped five metres out and then had another go for the line as Tigers continued to pile forward, only for Robson to rip the ball and allow Gopperth to kick to touch.
Tigers still held ball and thumped at the Wasps door, getting some reward when the hosts were penalised at the breakdown 15 metres out and Ford made the kick to level the scores at 25-25 with 70 minutes played.
The game was proving to be as tight as the Tigers’ last visit and the whole crowd were on the edge of their seats when Wasps reached the Tigers line again, only to lose possession two metres out, as Thacker darted through a ruck to reclaim loose ball at the feet of scrum-half replacement Joe Simpson.
Wasps remained in the Tigers half, though, testing the Tigers defence and discipline through phases of possession and then creating a chance on the right for replacement Josh Bassett. Tigers, though, nailed their man five metres out and the Wasps wing knocked-on in the tackle. The scrum brought further release when referee Foley penalised Wasps, allowing Ford to take play back up to halfway with the kick to touch.
The impetus did not last, though, as a knock-on on the Tigers 10-metre line provided Wasps with another set-piece, though they lost hooker and captain Ashley Jonson before the game could restart.
Just 70 seconds remained on the clock when Wasps finally found a gap in the Tigers defence for Myall to score to the left of the posts and, as they had done in the semi-final in May, snatch a late victory. Gopperth added the kick to bring an epic battle to a close.