Leicester Tigers enjoyed a 35-28 victory against the Dragons in a pre-season fixture on their return to Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday.
Two weeks out from the opening game of the league season – at home to Exeter Chiefs on September 18 – head coach Steve Borthwick named an extended matchday squad which included seven new faces since the last home outing at the start of June.
The crowd cheered first-half tries from Freddie Steward, Nic Dolly and Jack van Poortvliet as Tigers led 21-0 at the break, looking to build on victory over Jersey Reds in the pre-season opener a week ago.
But Dragons began the second half with scores from Richard Hibbard and Sam Davies as both sets of coaches rotated gametime around their squads and, despite a second score from Steward, they levelled the scores with two more in the final quarter before Nemani Nadolo dived in for the last of the day’s nine tries.
Hanro Liebenberg, Dan Kelly and Steward were among the players given a first run of the summer while Dragons, who begin their season a week later than Tigers and were having their first warm-up game, included on-loan Jordan Olowofela and fellow Tigers academy graduiate Joe Maksymiw among their matchday 29 selected by boss Dean Ryan.
Tigers, wearing a change kit of white, orange and black on a sunny afternoon, got the game started attacking the Beehive Money Stand with supporters on three sides following the relaxation of Covid regulations earlier this summer.
The first real opening of the afternoon came when Hosea Saumaki kicked ahead on the left but the bounce beat him and Dragons soon showed their pace on a counter-attack which took full-back Jordan Williams almost to the tryline. Tommy Reffell, though, backed up the scrambling defence and snuffed out the threat as he got over the ball in front of the posts.
The breakthrough came after a break by scrum-half van Poortvliet took Tigers forward again and when he then wriggled free in attack moments later, he had support with him which allowed Freddie Burns to find Steward who scored on the right. The fly-half added a perfect conversion for a seven-point lead on 20 minutes.
Harry Potter almost instantly added a second and, although Tigers lost possession in the try zone, it was the replacement wing who reacted quickest to win a penalty as he contested possession.
This time the forwards kept ball and hooker Dolly was able to find the tryline. Burns added a second kick as Tigers doubled their advantage.
They had a fortunate break from the restart as Dragons attacked down the left, only to be called for an accidental offside as space opened up, and response came quickly as van Poortvliet picked his way to the tryline close to the same touchline. A third successful kick from Burns made it 21-0 and it stayed that way up to half-time as Tigers successfully defended a Dragons set-piece just five metres out.
By that stage, though, Dragons had claimed a try from hooker Hibbard, converted by Sam Davies to trail 21-7.
Dan Kelly thought he’d supplied a fourth try for Tigers, only to be called back for an offence in the build-up, and it was the visitors who celebrated moments later when fly-half Davies intercepted near halfway to run clear and score before adding a conversion to cut the score to 21-14.
Steward broke clear on the left wing to get Tigers rolling again with his second try of the day and Burns added the kick for a 28-14 lead.
Dragons replacement scrum-half Lewis Jones then finished an enterprising attack with their third try and quickly put Olowofela in to score the fourth which the conversion from Davies levelling the scores.
Juan Pablo Socino showed his strength on the ball in fending off a trio of defenders as Tigers looked to get forward again and when the hosts were awarded as penalty, the set-piece ball gained on the right was finally finished in the left-hand corner by Nemani Nadolo. The touchline conversion from Dan Lancaster took the lead to a decisive seven points.
Tigers are back on home ground on Thursday for a second Anglo-Welsh clash with the arrival of the Scarlets in the final warm-up game ahead of the new season. Kick-off is at 7.00pm and match tickets are available now. Entry is included in season tickets.