Leicester Tigers claimed a five-try win over the Scarlets to get off the mark in Pool 4 of the Heineken Champions Cup at Welford Road on Friday evening.
The forwards provided the impetus in a 45-27 win with tries from Harry Wells, Guy Thompson and Sione Kalamafoni, and backs Manu Tuilagi and Jonny May added two more in the last quarter of an enthralling contest.
On an evening which marked the 22nd anniversary of the club’s first home game in European competition, Wells claimed a try on his 50th appearance for the club as the hosts raced into a 10-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes.
Scarlets got back into the game with a try from scrum-half Gareth Davies and levelled terms soon afterwards, but back-rower Thompson added a second for Tigers who led 15-13 at the break.
The Kalamafoni try initially provided some daylight between the teams, but Scarlets were not done and fought back to lead 27-25 with scores from Steff Evans and Davies again on the hour.
Tuilagi, though, provided a powerful finish for a bonus-point score and then May ran in try number five inside the last 10 minutes.
Both teams lost in their competition opener last weekend and, in full knowledge that points will have to be hard-earned in such a tight and competitive pool, they produced an open and entertaining contest at Welford Road.
The Scarlets, who had been beaten on their only two previous visits to the venue, included British & Irish Lions trio Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies and Ken Owens in their line-up, and there was a place for Tigers academy graduate Tom Price in the second row. Tigers brought in May and Graham Kitchener after injury and welcomed back Will Spencer after suspension. But skipper Tom Youngs was ruled out of the announced team, with Tatafu Polota-Nau stepping into the No2 shirt and Jake Kerr taking a place on the bench for his first involvement in a European tie.
George Ford took over the captaincy and led out the team before Scarlets got the game under way, playing towards the Mattioli Woods Stand end. Jonah Holmes, called up by Wales for the first time this week, made a safe catch from the kick and Tigers showed some real purpose in the opening moments, winning a penalty just inside the visitors’ half as Scarlets held on to possession on the floor.
Ford judged his place-kick to perfection to give Tigers a 3-0 lead and take his total beyond 100 points for the season.
A big carry from Polota-Nau then gave Ford a chance to probe for space wide on the left, but Jordan Olowofela just couldn’t gather cleanly.
Seconds later the young wing was even closer to the line. After Tuilagi found some space on the right, Tigers quickly spread play to the opposite flank but the Scarlets covered in defence and forced him into touch just a couple of metres short.
Scarlets failed to secure safe ball from successive lineouts and from one free-kick Ford inspired the breakthrough with a spiralling kick into the opposition 22. Kyle Eastmond won the contest to the bouncing ball and Tigers hammered at the line for a couple of phases before Wells forced his way over. Ford’s simple conversion pushed the hosts 10 points in front with eight minutes played.
Tigers were playing at a tempo in defence which made it difficult for their rivals to claim any territory and a knock-on near halfway gave Geordan Murphy’s men put-in at a scrum and the set-piece brought a penalty against Welsh loosehead Wyn Jones.
Ford, from an identical position to his opening kick, aimed for goal again but this time he was wide of the target.
A chip over the defence from Ford evaded Eastmond in their next attack, but Scarlets showed their enterprise to claim a try as Halfpenny was able to run play forward and scrum-half Davies provided the finish as he supported a break in midfield. Halfpenny added the extras to make it 10-7 on 16 minutes.
The visiting supporters were in good voice when No8 Will Boyde won a penalty at a breakdown, giving Halfpenny another kick for the posts from his own side of the halfway line. He fired just wide, though, and the score remained 10-7.
A moment later they looked like they had claimed a second try with back-rower Blade Thomson somehow sliding into the corner on a slick pitch from about five metres out. The referee, though, had a second check and ruled the ball had slid out of his grasp as Holmes tackled just fractions short of the line.
It was a big escape but also a perfect illustration of the dangers posed by an adventurous Scarlets side.
Their next attack, this time through patient build-up with the forwards, brought a penalty in front of the posts as referee Romain Poite pointed at Guy Thompson as the culprit. Halfpenny knocked the kick over to level the scores on 28 minutes.
Tigers went through nearly 20 phases of possession at the Scarlets end of the field in response, with Spencer, Wells and Dan Cole carrying, but they were then penalised at a ruck and the Welshmen were able to kick clear.
A sliced kick from scrum-half Davies almost threatened the line as he made amends by gathering possession out wide, but Wells won turnover ball on the floor and quickly turned defence into attack as Tigers scored a second try.
Quick recycling and then quick hands from Ford produced some space and Thompson won the race into the left-hand corner.
Ford was unable to add the extras but Tigers were 15-10 in front with two minutes still to play and Scarlets quickly chipped three points off the deficit when Halfpenny landed a second penalty in the final score of the half.
Ford, though, made it 18-13 with a kick from another scrum penalty at the start of the second half and the set-piece provided more Tigers ball moments later, this time referee Poite stopping the game to speak to Wyn Jones and skipper Ken Owens in the Scarlets front row.
The penalty pushed Tigers up to the opposition 22 and brought a third try, this time Kalamafoni making the final metres to the line after Tuilagi and then Polota-Nau had Scarlets going backwards. Ford’s kick made it 25-13.
Thompson’s dominant work at the next breakdown was rewarded with a penalty and took Tigers back upfield, but Tuilagi spilled ball on another attack and Halfpenny kicked clear.
A missed lineout on their own 22 put Tigers under pressure and, although the defence kept their discipline, wing Steff Evans found a gap around the ruck to score after a quick exchange of passes. Halfpenny made it a seven-point score and cut the deficit to 25-20.
May and Halfpenny contested a towering kick from Ford but knocked-on and gave Tigers another set-piece opportunity 35 metres out. Despite winning the push, Tigers turned over ball on the left and Scarlets played their way out.
The game was an hour old when confusion in the Tigers defence cost a third try when Gareth Davies fielded loose ball and suddenly found himself in space with Blade Thomson in support and back-rower ran in. Halfpenny’s kick put the visitors in front at 25-27 and gave their large support more cause for celebration. They could not have known at that stage that it would be their final points of the evening.
An error from Jonathan Davies in his 22 gave Tigers an opportunity from a scrum put-in and Tuilagi made it count when he showed brute strength to reach for the line on the left after Thompson had been first to threaten a score near the posts.
The try guaranteed a try bonus point and Ford’s conversion from the left touchline made it 32-27.
Kitchener replaced Spencer and claimed the restart kick before Ford punted a penalty down to the Scarlets 22. From the set-piece, Tuilagi arrived on a line and took four defenders with him before Thompson once more attacked the tryline. Eventually, Holmes got over the tryline but Jonathan Davies looked like he’d got underneath the full-back to deny a try.
After consulting with the TMO, referee Poite confirmed no try had been scored but brought play back for a penalty and Ford took Tigers eight points in front at 35-27 on 69 minutes with the kick.
Hooker Jake Kerr made his European debut on 70 minutes, with Tommy Reffell also on in the back row, and Scarlets were again in trouble with the referee after being whistled at a lineout. Ford made them pay with a 60-metre kick downfield and the Scarlets were penned in as Tuilagi forced his way forwards again and the power of the forwards combined with quick passing in the backs for May to run in his sixth try of the season. Ford added the conversion to put Tigers more than two scores in front at 42-27.
Matt Toomua, on at centre, relieved the pressure from the restart by kicking up to halfway and then Tigers won a breakdown penalty for Ford to make it 45-27 with the final scoring of the evening.
Tickets sold for tonight;s game was 18,842, thank you for your support.
What a game
The referee blows the whistle and players drop to the floor, what a game and the final score is 45-27 to Tigers from the boot of George Ford and five tries from Harry Wells, Guy Thompson, Sione Kalamafoni, Manu Tuilagi and Jonny May.
Running the Ball
Scarlets look to run the ball from the scrum and work all the way into Tigers 22 but the ball goes loose and that's the game.
Man of the Match
The announcer has the joy of announcing today's Heineken man of the match to the crowd is Manu Tuilagi.
There's some loose ball on Scarlets 10 metre line and Scarlets get the scrum again in front of the home dugouts as scrum coach Boris watches on.
Tigers are penalised for offside at the lineout and both teams kick but neither find touch and it is some running rugby from both sides as Scarlets look to break from their half.
Ford has another huge kick as Scarlets kick the restart, Ford gets the ball out for a Scarlets lineout on their 22.
Tigers extend the lead with a penalty scored by George Ford to make the score 45-27 after 76 minutes.
Tigers show a huge defence from the lineout pushing Scarlets back and Tommy Reffell is quickest over the ball to win a penalty for Tigers, Ford points to the posts.
Change of props as Facundo Gigena and Joe Heyes replace Greg Bateman
Restart and Lineout
Scarlets with the restart and Tigers kick straight to touch for a Scarlets lineout on half-way.
Tigers get the conversion through George Ford to extend the lead to 42-27 after 73 minutes.
Tigers ship the ball from one wing to the other and Matt Toomua finds Jonny May who sidesteps his way over the line for the try.
Tigers go quick at the lineout looking to attack Scarlets, Manu with another big run and Tigers go wide with the ball but Jonny May is brought down short of the 5 metre line. Tigers recycle and go again.
There's a messy restart as the ball bounces and is knocked into touch by Scarlets for Tigers lineout. Tigers get the ball but win a penalty for Scarlets pulling down the maul. Ford kicks for the lineout on Scarlets 22.
Sam Harrison joins the game to replace Ben Youngs.
George Ford adds the penalty to extend Tigers lead to 35-27 after 68 minutes.
The referee says no try but we go back for a Tigers penalty and Ford points to the posts.
Jake Kerr and Tommy Reffell replace Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sione Kalamafoni.
Jonah looks to have scored, Tigers get the ball from the lineout and a huge break from Manu but he gets tackled in Scarlets 22, the ball is recycled and Jonah looks to have broken over but the referee is checking if the ball was held up.
Tigers get the ball at the lineout and a penalty as the referee deems Scarlets offside, Ford kicks for the lineout in Scarlets 22.
More Tigers Ball
There was a kick left to bounce and the ball hits a Scarlets player on the way into touch to give Tigers the lineout.
Graham Kitchener makes his way on to the pitch to replace Will Spencer.
George Ford adds the conversion to make it 32-27 after 64 minutes.
Tigers work the ball from the scrum and get it wide before Manu Tuilagi drives his way over line for a try.
Tigers Fight Back
Tigers look to hit back straight from the restart but there's a forward pass from Scarlets to give Tigers a scrum in their 22.
Matt Toomua is on to replace Kyle Eastmond.
Scarlets add the conversion through Leigh Halfpenny to take the lead 25-27 after 60 minutes.
A kick from the Tigers ruck gives Scarlets the ball in broken play and they run the ball, passing between defenders to score.
There's some reset scrums and Scarlets chip ahead for the winger to chase into TIgers 22, the ball is collected by Jonny May who passes to Jonah and he makes a break out of the Tigers 22.
Everyone at Welford Road not just the players can catch their breath - the game has been run end-to-end for some exciting rugby but we can hardly keep up. After so much passing rugby there's a loose ball on half-way and Scarlets get the scrum.
Hectic at the restart with both teams testing each other with kicks but Tigers come out best forcing a knock-on from Scarlets with a chip ahead kick to give Tigers the scrum between Scarlets 10 metre line and their 22.
Scarlets close the gap with the conversion to make it 25-20 after 53 minutes.
Scarlets create phases and get the ball up to Tigers 5 metre line and the scrum-half creates a gap for Stef Evans to get through and get the try.
Tigers look to attack from the lineout but Scarlets win the ball in contact and a chip ahead gets them into the Tigers half. Scarlets win a loose ball at the lineout and work to attack in Tigers 22.
From the kick-off Tigers kick to the touch for a Scarlets lineout but as they run the ball Thompson is over the ball and wins the turnover. Ford kicks for the lineout in Scarlets half.
George Ford adds the conversion to extend Tigers lead to 25-13 after 47 minutes.
Tigers work the phases on the Scarlets line before Sione Kalamfoni breaks his way through the defence and brings the ball down for the try.
Tigers Tigers Tigers
The chants ring out at Welford Road as TIgers run the ball from the lineout, Manu makes a break into Scarlets 22 and keeps going, only brought down at the Scarlets 5 metre line and Tigers go to quickly recycle the ball.
The referee speaks to Scarlets after successive penalties at the scrum before Ford kicks for a Tigers lineout in Scarlets half.
Some running rugby from the kick-off with both teams trying the chip ahead kick, Scarlets win a scrum as the ball is loose in front of the home dugouts but Tigers win the penalty
George Ford adds the first points in the second-half with a penalty to make it 18-13 after 43 minutes.
Tigers with the ball but there's a few resets scrums as the referee isn't happy but Tigers win the penalty and Ford points to the posts.
Tigers get the advantage early in the second-half, Scarlets kick the ball back to Tigers, Jonah returns the kick but the Tigers win the ball at the breakdown and win a scrum.
Tigers with the ball and George Ford to get things under away again here at Welford Road.
Teams are back out
Both teams are back out on the pitch for the second-half with no team changes.
Tigers lead the Scarlets 15-13 at half-time here at Welford Road.
Tigers kick the restart but Scarlets collect the ball and kick the ball into touch to end the first-half.
Scarlets add the penalty through Leigh Halfpenny to make it 15-13 after 39 minutes.
Scarlets with the restart but quickly get the ball back from Tigers, they look to run it back and win a penalty on Tigers 10 metre line, they point to the posts.
George Ford looks to add the conversion but the ball drifts wide to make it 15-10 after 37 minutes.
Tigers work the ball to one wing but work the defence and bring it back to the wing and who else but Guy Thompson still in space on the wing collects the ball and runs it in, in the corner.
What a run
Guy Thompson gets the ball in space and runs from the half-way into Scarlets 22 but is brought down. Tigers look to recycle quick ball and go wide.
Both teams chip ahead but there is a loose ball and Scarlets look to go wide but Tigers win the ball and run the ball back into Scarlets half.
Another lineout on the 22 but for Scarlets and the opposite side of the pitch, Scarlets go to ground and chip ahead but Jonny May collects the ball.
Tigers build phases from the lineout and work into Scarlets 22 with some big carries but are penalised at the breakdown. Scarlets kick for the lineout.
Tigers with the restart, Scarlets clear to touch to give Tigers the lineout on Scarlets 10 metre line.
Scarlets level the scores through a Leigh Halfpenny penalty to make it 10-10 after 28 minutes.
Scarlets work the ball into Tigers 22 and give away a penalty in front the posts, Halfpenny to take the kick.
Tigers look to defend Scarlets from the lineout as they run the ball, there's a scream for a turnover for Tigers but Scarlets retain the ball with some big tackles going in from the Tigers defence.
Tigers look good in the scrum pushing Scarlets back, Sione Kalamafoni runs from the scrum before the ball is passed back to Ford to clear. Scarlets lineout near the 10 metre line.
TMO calls back the referee and the balls is deemed to have been knocked on over the line, Tigers scrum.
Scarlets run the ball back at Tigers and look to get the ball wide from the restart and they look to have scored in the corner but the TMO calls them back to check it.
Leigh Halfpenny with the penalty attempt but the ball goes wide to keep the score at 10-7 and Tigers have the restart.
Tigers look to build phases into Scarlets half but are penalised at the breakdown for penalty to Scarlets and Halfpenny points to the posts.
Scarlets get the lineout and work the ball wide where they chip but Jonah Holmes collects and runs the ball back into their half.
Tigers look to run the ball from the scrum and work the ball into Scarlets 22, there is some loose ball on the floor so Ford kicks ahead and the ball goes into touch inside the Scarlets 22.
Tigers with the restart but is some end-to-end rugby, both teams with chip ahead kicks and turnover ball but Scarlets knock on and give Tigers a scrum just inside Scarlets half.
Leigh Halfpenny adds the conversion for Scarlets to make it 10-7 after 16 minutes.
Scarlets work the ball into space and their scrum-half Gareth Davies slides over for the try.
Scarlets hit back
Scarlets look to hit back from the restart, Tigers chip back the ball and Scarlets run the ball up into TIgers half.
George Ford looks to add the penalty but the ball goes just wide of the posts, Scarlets to kick out from the 22.
Tigers with the ball at the first scrum of the game and Tigers win a penalty, Ford points to the posts for his second penalty attempt.
Scarlets with the restart and Tigers kick ahead looking for territory, Scarlets have the ball looking to attack the Tigers half but the ball is lost forward in contact and Tigers win a scrum.
George Ford adds the extras to give Tigers a 10-0 lead after 8 minutes.
Tigers work the ball and Harry Wells on his 50th appearance dots the ball down between the posts.
Tigers look dangerous
Tigers win a free kick at the lineout and Ford chips ahead with Kyle Eastmond jumping highest to win the ball. Tigers now build phases up to Scarlets tryline looking for the try.
Tigers continue to disrupt the Scarlets lineout and the ball is loose, Scarlets dive on but are pushed into touch for a Tigers lineout.
Scarlets good defence
Scarlets collect the lineout ball and chip ahead, Tigers look to run it back but are penalised at the breakdown, Scarlets kick for the lineout.
Tigers work the ball up to the Scarlets tryline and go wide but Jordan Olowofela is pushed into touch on the opposite wing to give Scarlets the lineout on their 5 metre line.
Tigers win the ball and the lineout and the crowd cheers them on as the ball goes wide and Jordan Olowofela runs the ball up the wing but is brought down inside the Scarlets 22.
Scarlets with the restart, Tigers kick ahead with Jonny May pushing back and Tigers run the ball wide but the ball is lost into touch on the opposite wing giving Scarlets the lineout on their 10 metre line.
George Ford adds the first points of the game and the first for Tigers with a penalty to give Tigers a 3-0 lead.
Tigers get the best of the early exchanges, a chip into the Scarlets half from the kick-off is collected but Tigers win a penalty and George Ford points to the posts.
Here we go
It is Scarlets to kick things off tonight at Welford Road.
Here comes Tigers
Followed closely by Tigers led by tonight's captain George Ford as we get ready for kick-off.
Scarlets run out first
There is a good noise from the crowd for Scarlets as they make their way on to the pitch for kick-off.
Warm-ups have finished
The teams make their way into the changing rooms as we are minutes away from kick-off.
Whilst we wait
As there is 15 to go until kick-off why not check out our recent story on Welford Road's memorable European matches, which can be found by clicking here.
Welcome to Welford Road
We're here under the lights for our first home fixture in the European Champions Cup this season as we host Welsh side Scarlets.