Leicester Tigers went down to a first defeat in their pre-season programme, losing 26-10 against Benetton Rugby in a hot and humid Treviso on Friday evening.
It was a valuable work-out for an extended Tigers squad, with 32 players given game time as the countdown continues to the new Gallagher Premiership season.
Tigers had taken an early lead through Adam Thompstone’s third-minute try, but Benetton Rugby, who had a host of Italy internationals playing in front of national head coach Conor O’Shea, had too much on the evening.
Treviso scored four tries, three in the first half, including a brace for hooker Hame Faiva while their fourth was a penalty try as Tigers illegally stopped the maul that had caused them problems through the evening.
Internationals Kyle Eastmond and David Denton were given their first run-out in Tigers colours after joining the club in the summer.
Campese Ma’afu, Ross McMillan and Sam Aspland-Robinson, who also joined Tigers this summer, were also included in the squad which was captained by second-rower Mike Fitzgerald.
Telusa Veainu, Sam Harrison and Mike Williams were among the senior players who gained their first run-out of the summer on Friday.
Tigers flew out of the blocks with a try inside three minutes. Tigers had the advantage of a penalty in the Treviso 22 and Harrison’s kick sat up nicely for Thompstone to outjump Iliesa Ratuva and score. Hardwick landed the touchline conversion to give Tigers a 7-0 lead.
Harrison was heavily involved in the early stages and it was his tap-tackle on Luca Morisi that forced the centre into a knock-on with the line beckoning.
Treviso threatened again moments later. Their locks combined in midfield to take Treviso into the Leicester 22. Tigers infringe at the breakdown and, with the advantage, Tommasso Allan kicked in behind but Hardwick was aware and dotted down in-goal.
But Treviso did score from the lineout. The set-piece had not functioned to this point but hooker Faiva got it right 5m out before joining in the maul to score from close range. Allan converted to level the scores.
Hardwick, who played for England Under-20s in the summer, shrugged off the whistles after pointing to the posts with a penalty on halfway. He landed his kick to put Tigers 10-7 ahead.
But as the first quarter came to an end Treviso claimed the lead for the first time. Scrum-half Tito Tebaldi wrong-footed Mathew Tait with a dart from a maul to dot down. Allan converted as play stopped briefly for both teams to take on drinks in the heat and humidity.
Treviso had the better of proceedings after play resumed, and they caught Tigers napping with Tebaldi’s quickly-taken penalty. It created the overlap on the left for Faiva to score his second try, which went unconverted.
Tigers ended the half with 14 men, Tommy Reffell, the young flanker, received a yellow card for an off-the-ball tackle on Thomas Iannone as the Treviso centre chased a kick into the Leicester in-goal area.
Treviso looked to hammer home the position from a 5m scrum, but Tigers stood firm before Telusa Veainu forced Ratuva into a knock-on to signal half-time.
Tigers faced a stern examination in the opening stages of the second half as Treviso piled on the pressure.
Veainu’s tackle produced another knock-on by Ratuva but Tigers were under pressure at the resulting scrum, conceding a penalty. They infringed again at the lineout, but Treviso could not capitalise on numbers out wide as Jonah Holmes shut the door.
It was all hands to the pump in defence, but Reffell eased the pressure by forcing Ratuva into touch by the corner flag.
Reffell then won a turnover penalty to allow Joe Ford to find touch and give Tigers a foothold in the Treviso half.
But it was Treviso who were next to score, and again it came from their lineout drive. Tigers appeared to have driven the maul into touch, but illegally ruled the referee, who awarded the home side the penalty try.
Holmes threatened to score a consolation try late on when he swooped on loose ball and hacked on. However, he was unable to pounce on the loose ball and Treviso found touch on their 22.