Worcester Warriors grabbed a last-minute try to snatch victory away from Leicester Tigers at Sixways on Sunday afternoon.
Tigers led 13-10 with the clock touching 79 minutes when wing Tom Howe dived over in the corner and fly-half Duncan Weir added the conversion to make it 17-13 in his side's favour with the concluding action of the afternoon in Round 14 of the Gallagher Premiership season.
Jonah Holmes turned desperate defence into opportunist attack with an interception score for Tigers in the first half and they were still 10-3 in front at half-time despite having further ‘scores’ from Jordan Olowofela and then Ben White disallowed after consultation with the television match official.
Warriors levelled matters early in a disappointing second period before Tom Hardwick put Tigers ahead again at 13-10 with a penalty on 65 minutes, but it was Warriors who managed to wrestle one final opportunity and leave their rivals in ninth place with just one consolation point from the day.
The Tigers line-up included Dan Cole and Holmes after their release from international duty and head coach Geordan Murphy welcomed back Tatafu Polota-Nau, Will Spencer, Guy Thompson and Harry Simmons after injury.
With Greg Bateman and Ellis Genge unavailable, Facundo Gigena started alongside Cole and Tom Youngs in the front row and there was a new look to the back row where Mike Fitzgerald and Mike Williams combined at flanker as Brendon O’Connor was ruled out.
Warriors were missing Josh Adams, scorer of the decisive try in the Welsh victory over England, and welcomed back Ted Hill to replace skipper GJ van Velze, who suffered an arm injury last week.
In the afternoon’s 1.00pm kick-off in unseasonal bright sunshine, Warriors had an early opportunity with an attack from a tap penalty on halfway before a pass from Fancois Venter carried forward on the right.
Gigena enjoyed early success with a scrum penalty on halfway and a second soon followed as Toomua booted it into the corner where most of the Tigers supporters were congregated. But possession was lost after a couple of phases 20 metres out.
Warriors were attacking every breakdown with numbers and gaining some reward as a counter-ruck produced turnover ball near their own line before a high tackle on Toomua allowed the Tigers fly-half to provide the opening points of the afternoon on 15 minutes with a penalty from 30 metres.
George Worth had to look sharp as Warriors continued to kick in behind the Tigers defence and Ben White also provided he had enough in defence as he won a chase to a kick rrom Chris Pennell inside his own 22.
Tigers had a try disallowed when Kyle Eastmond put Gareth Owen through on a 20-metre break in a central position and Olowofela arrived in support to dot down. The TMO, though, brought the referee’s attention to the Eastmond pass and it was given as forward with play returning for a Warriors scrum.
A stunning hit from Cole on Ethan Waller, and a rip from the England prop to take back possession, slammed the door shut on another Worcester attack just as they were building numbers to the left to protect a precious three-point lead.
Duncan Weir levelled the scores on 25 minutes after Eastmond was penalised over the ball and Tigers found themselves under massive pressure moments later, tackling on their own line, before Holmes picked off a no-look pass from Weir to run 95 metres for an interception score with Venter just behind him all the way.
Toomua’s conversion gave Tigers a 10-3 lead as play entered the last 10 minutes of the half.
The lead remained intact as Weir twice put kickable penalties wide before Tigers were denied by the match officials for a second time.
After a lineout on the left, scrum-half White made a break, rode one tackle and got back to his feet to bounce over the line. But after a lengthy check of the replays, referee Craig Maxwell-Keys penalised Owen at the breakdown instead of allowing the score.
Warriors had one more chance to cut the deficit as they attacked with penalty advantage just before half-time but spilled possession just as the referee signalled advantage over and Tigers headed back to the dressing rooms with a seven-point lead.
Hardwick replaced Toomua for the start of the second half and he kicked off with Tigers facing into the sun as they looked for a sixth win of the league season.
An early lineout drove took play 20 metres up towards the tryline but ended by being steered into touch and the missed chance proved costly as Worcester claimed the next score.
Francois Venter's break took them within reach of the line and scrum-half Francois Hougaard stretched over from a ruck to dot down. The referee needed to check before awarding the score and Weir’s conversion levelled the scores at 10-10.
A succession of lineouts and box-kicks punctuated the second period, with both sides waiting for their rivals to blink with the result in the balance.
Polota-Nau and Spencer made their return from injury just short of the hour mark and Thompson followed them into the action as Warriors enjoyed a spell of possession without finding a decisive break.
Spencer’s first touch of the ball made some valuable metres in Warriors territory and, when the whistle blew for offside, Hardwick put over the kick to give Tigers the lead again with 13 minutes remaining.
Two missed lineouts denied valuable possession and Cole led the defensive effort from a dangerous Warriors lineout but missed touch from a penalty gave them another opportunity, especially as the referee blew in Worcester’s on halfway and Weir hammered his kick to the right corner.
A timely tackle from Hardwick, though, and the intervention from Polota-Nau reclaimed possession and Tigers cleared.
But Warriors returned and eventually created enough space on the right flank for wing Howe to dive over to win the game with the clock entering its final minute. Weir added a touchline kick to make it 17-13 in the final action of the afternoon.