Worcester Warriors denied Leicester Tigers a victory on the opening day of the league season as they recorded a 24-16 win at their Sixways home on Saturday.
Neither side was able to stretch a lead to more than five points until the final seconds of the game when Duncan Weir kicked his fourth penalty to push Warriors eight in front and deny Tigers even a consolation losing bonus point as they lost on opening day for a third successive season.
Tom Youngs claimed Tigers’ first Premiership try of the season after just 10 minutes but Warriors scored two of their own to lead 15-13 in front at the break and both teams failed to find an attacking rhythm in the second period which brought just three Weir kicks against one from Tom Hardwick.
In a second trip to Sixways in a month following the Premiership Cup tie in September, Tigers gave a Gallagher Premiership debut to five players and included EW Viljoen in the team for the first time since his arrival from South Africa. Noel Reid, Hanro Liebenberg, Nephi Leatigaga and academy graduate Tommy Reffell all played in Premiership rugby for the first time.
But Tigers also had to make a late change when Kyle Eastmond was ruled out by illness, giving a chance to Hardwick in the No12 shirt. Andy Forsyth filled the void among the replacements.
Tigers were looking for a first opening-day win since 2016 – when they scored a bonus-point win over Gloucester at Kingsholm – while Warriors have only ever won on two occasions at this stage of the season, against Sale in 2011 and Northampton in 2015.
Reid got the game underway, with Tigers in their alternate fluoro-red kit, and they quickly earned a first penalty of the afternoon, with Worcester prop Callum Black called at the set-piece, and Hardwick landed the kick.
But the lead lasted barely three more minutes as flanker Ted Hill barged his way over one tackle to score on Worcester’s right. Weir’s conversion attempt bounced back off the far post with his side 5-3 in front as they defended a home record which showed just one Premiership defeat at the venue in 2019.
Only four more minutes had passed when Youngs finished a lineout drive to dot down and Hardwick quickly added the extras.
The young centre, though, missed his next kick at goal after referee Maxwell-Keys spotted a high tackle on Greg Bateman and checked with the TMO before confirming initial contact at shoulder level.
The 20-minute mark arrived with Tigers 10-5 in front but they had to work hard in defence when Weir pushed play into the visitors’ 22, until Reffell’s work over the ball gained a penalty and a chance to clear.
The Wales U20s international stole ball in the next Worcester attack, too, but Tigers struggled to take play far enough upfield and paid the cost when Worcester secured a second try.
Tigers Academy graduate Perry Humphreys dived over for the score after some clever work in keeping ball alive on their left. Weir’s conversion put his side 12-10 ahead.
There were five minutes left in the half when Kitchener was penalised on the floor and Hardwick kicked from 35 metres to make it 13-12 to Tigers.
The visitors, though, returned the favour back in their own half and Weir responded with the penalty that put Warriors 15-13 in front as Tigers missed an opportunity to set up a scoring chance from two quick-fire penalties into the left-hand corner as the clock passed the 40-minute mark.
The opening phases of the second half were scrappy from both sides, with Tigers losing ball at a breakdown, then Ben White ripping it back in a tackle, only for the visitors to lose possession again on the right touchline.
Jonah Holmes had to be alert when Chris Pennell chipped over the Tigers defence, and the Wales international wing cleared up and punted 50 metres forward to avert the danger.
A knock-on from Cornell du Preez on his own 22 gave Tigers scrum ball and the visitors’ pack won a penalty with their pressure. Hardwick kicked the penalty for a 16-15 lead as Youngs was replaced by Jake Kerr.
The referee had his hands full at scrum-time, with a series of free-kicks and resets interrupting the flow, while Tigers also lost possession on their own ball as the ball squirted out on Worcester’s side just as they tried to get a push on.
Tigers also survived when Pennell threatened out wide, only to miss his pass to Melani Nanai on the wing just 10 metres out.
But a seatbelt tackle on the full-back on the other side of the pitch brought another penalty chance for Weir and he kicked his side in front at 18-16 with just over a quarter of an hour remaining on the clock.
Home side captain Mama then fell foul of the whistle as he contested possession on the floor just inside his own half and EW Viljoen took on the kick but pushed it wide.
The whistle went again in similar circumstances moments later, but this time well inside the Leiester half. Will Spencer was the last person to get back to his feet and he had been replaced by Harry Wells by the time George Worth punted forward on the left.
Set-piece ball allowed Worth to attack on the right but when replacement Jordan Olowofela failed to take his inside pass, play came back for a penalty at the original lineout. But Hardwick miscued his kick, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Warriors gained a scrum penalty just short of halfway with six minutes left to play and Weir landed the three points to stretch their advantage, repeating the dose in the final minute to seal the win.