Joe Ford struck a late 50-metre penalty to secure a winning start to the pre-season campaign for Leicester Tigers at Cardiff Blues on Saturday.
Summer signings Sam Aspland-Robinson, Campese Ma’afu and Jimmy Stevens were included in an extended squad at the Arms Park and tries from academy graduates Jordan Olowofela and Thom Smith put the visitors into a 14-point lead before Blues got on the scoreboard in the final action of the opening half.
The Blues, though, looked to be heading to a win after posting 15 unanswered points before Ford stood up to strike the decisive penalty in a 17-15 victory for Tigers with just two minutes remaining on the clock.
Tigers were led by Harry Wells and gave starts to Aspland-Robinson, Stevens and Ma’afu in a squad of 30 players against a Blues side running out for the first time under their new coach John Mulvihill.
Both sets of players got through some strong work in contact in the opening stages, before Tigers broke the deadlock with a score from England Under-20s cap Olowofela.
After some close-quarters work in the centre of the field, Jonah Holmes chased a kick from Joe Ford and when ball was recycled and used to the left, full-back Olowofela saw a gap and ran cleanly through it from halfway to score under the posts. Ford added the conversion for a seven-point lead with just five minutes played.
Stevens was an early blood injury, with Jake Kerr sent on as a replacement, but he returned shortly after a Ford penalty had come back off the post from 35 metres out.
With the Blues’ former Tigers wing Blaine Scully and centre Jack Roberts among the crowd, Olowofela sensed another opportunity on 25 minutes but this time, after finding a slight gap, the ball fell loose as the defence closed in and Blues were able to clear from the scrum.
Olowofela was then penalised in defence as he looked to run out as Blues kick and the hosts prodded into the left-hand corner as they searched for the breakthrough. After setting up their maul and closing to within a few metres of the line, though, they were held out by the Tigers defence. Young No8 Smith was able to pick up at the base of the resulting scrum and, under pressure, make valuable ground before Ben White kicked to touch.
The rain, which had started shortly before kick-off, continued to fall as Blues enjoyed their best spell of possession at the midway mark in the opening half. But a spilled pass allowed Aspland-Robinson to hack on and, when he was held back in the chase, Tigers had another penalty.
They made the most of the opportunity, skipper Wells making a catch at the lineout from Ford’s penalty down the left and the forward pack keeping their patience as they rumbled towards the line, where Smith had control and dotted down. Ford added a tricky conversion from wide on the left to make it 14-0 on 27 minutes.
Wells was quickly into the action at the other end, holding up a dangerous Blues attack and earning a penalty as the Welshmen were just 10 metres from the tryline.
Tigers had another, even closer, escape moments later as Blues chased a kick on the right and first Aspland-Robinson got back to take down wing Jason Harries just metres out and then Olowofela dislodged the ball from Harri Millard’s hands as he made a tackle almost within reach of the line.
The visitors’ defence also held out a lineout drive in the left-hand corner, before the Blues made a breakthrough after a close-range scrum had Tigers under pressure and when they spread play wide full-back Dan Fish improvised a kick to the right and wing Harries ran in to score. Steven Shingler added the conversion to make it 7-14 just before half-time.
Head coach Matt O’Connor made extensive changes in the second half as players got their first taste of the action ahead of the new season with Kerr, Harry Simmons and Tom Hardwick the first to emerge from the replacements’ bench. Cameron Jordan quickly joined the on the field as skipper Wells made way.
Aspland-Robinson got 50 minutes under his belt before being replaced by Adam Thompstone as the rain got heavier in the second period.
The Blues grabbed the next score with scrum-half Dan Blacker making the most of a quick penalty in the left-hand corner to cut the gap to 12-14.
Simmons showed his pace in defence as he raced to a grubber kick into the corner ahead of the Blues attack, but Tigers struggled to find a way out of their own territory in the third quarter of the game and Shingler was able to give the hosts the lead for the first time with a 25-metre penalty on the hour mark.
The Blues continued to kick in behind Tigers, pinning their opponents back inside their own half, and leaving their visitors looking to counter-attack rather than build possession.
A dart from Simmons, following a tap penalty on halfway, threatened the home side but Tigers knocked-on 22 metres out and the Blues were able to clear their lines.
The game looked like it was heading towards a home win when Tigers were awarded a penalty on halfway with just a couple of minutes to play. And Ford, back on the field as a replacement for Olowofela, judged his kick perfectly to reclaim the lead and get the pre-season campaign off to a winning start.
Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 jason Harries, 13 Harri Millard, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Tom James, 10 Steven Shingler, 9 Lewis Jones; 1 Brad Thyer, 2 Ethan Lewis, 3 Scott Andrews, 4 Ben Murphy, 5 James Down, 6 Callum Bradbury, 7 Olly Robinson (c), 8 James Botham. Replacements (from): Liam Belcher, Rhys Carre, Keiron Assiratti, Rory Thornton, Alun Lawrence, Dane Blacker, Ben Jones, Cai Devine, Morgan Allen, Tom Williams, Aled Summerhill, Cameron Lewis, Ioan Davies, Lloyd Williams.
Tigers: 15 Jordan Olowofela, 14 Jonah Holmes, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 George Worth, 11 Sam Aspland-Robinson, 10 Joe Ford, 9 Ben White; 1 Campese Ma'afu, 2 Jimmy Stevens, 3 Facundo Gigena, 4 James Voss, 5 Harry Wells (c), 6 Sam Lewis, 7 Tommy Reffell, 8 Thom Smith. Replacements (from): Jake Kerr, Harry Mahoney, Joe Heyes, Gaston Cortes, Sam Grahamslaw, Cameron Jordan, Henri Lavin, Taylor Gough, Fred Tuilagi, Harry Simmons, Sam Harrison, Tom Hardwick, Matt Smith, Adam Thompstone, Mathew Tait.
That's the game
Tigers hold on to get the first win of the season as the score finishes 15-17 here at Cardiff Arms Park
Tigers hold on to the ball as the clock counts down, a penalty at the breakdown and the referee blows his whistle
Joe Ford is calm as cucumber and lands a huge kick from the half-way to give Tigers a 17--15 lead
More good rugby
Both teams trying to find a gap in the closing minutes of the game but a lot of loose balls and turnovers, Tigers still trying to break out of our half when we win a penalty on the half-way line and Joe Ford points to the posts for probably the last play of the game
Tigers build some more good phases but are turned over and Cardiff push up to the half-way before winning a penalty at the breakdown. Cardiff kick for the lineout on Tigers 22
A lot of rugby
Despite the conditions both teams are running the ball and it's providing some great rugby, unfortunately there a lot of loose balls and knock-ons. Tigers build some good phases into Cardiff's half but are penalised at the breakdown, Cardiff clear to touch from the scrum.
Skills on show
Some great skills on show from the young players, Jordan Olowofela collects a ball kicked down field and returns it with a pressure kick to get back into Cardiff's half and Tommy Reffell makes a great steal at the breakdown from the lineout
Cardiff add the three points through Steven Shingler and give Cardiff a one point lead
Cardiff continue to add the pressure in the second-half and push Tigers back into our half before being penalised at the breakdown. Cardiff point to the posts...
Cardiff are unable to add the conversion with the kick going wide of the posts so Tigers have a 2 point lead at 12-14 after 53 minutes
Some end-to-end rugby to start the second-half as the rain gets heavier and there are a lot of spilled balls. Cardiff win a penalty and kick for the lineout on Tigers try-line, from the lineout Cardiff win a penalty and take it quickly to dot down in the corner
Second half kick off
Cardiff kick-off the second-half as Tigers hold a lead of 7-14
Tigers head in at the break with a lead of 14-7
Cardiff's fly-half Steven Shingler adds the conversion to make it 7-14 after 36 minutes
Cardiff put the pressure on at the scrum and get the ball out wide, with a chip ahead from the centre Cardiff's Jason Harries picks up the ball and runs it over the line
Tigers hold on
Tigers defend the Cardiff lineout and manage to hold them up over the line for a scrum
Try saving tackling!
There's a loose ball in the Cardiff 22 from Tigers and Cardiff run the ball wide, a chip ahead gets the best of the Tigers defence but Sam Aspland-Robinson and Jordan Olowofela make last ditch tackles against the Cardiff 13 and 14 to keep Cardiff from scoring and give Tigers the scrum from a knock-on.
Cardiff take the ball from the kick-off and push up to attack the Tigers line but some strong defence wins Tigers a penalty and kick to touch for the lineout
Joe Ford lands the kick from the near touchline to make it 0-14 after 27 minutes
Tigers create a driving maul from the lineout and push over in the corner with Thom Smith carrying the ball over the line.
The play here is end to end with a lose pass from Cardiff in Tigers 22 is chipped ahead, Sam Aspland-Robinson was pulled back by retreating Cardiff players to give Tigers a penalty, Joe Ford kicks for the lineout of the Cardiff 5 metre line.
Tigers have a good scrum on our own line and clear the ball to touch near the 10 metre line. Cardiff throw the ball in the lineout but the ball is like a bar of soap and we get a scrum from a knock-on
Cardiff keep on the pressure from the scrum and kick ahead, Tigers are penalised in the breakdown and Cardiff kick for the lineout on Tigers 5 metres. However Tigers are able hold up the Cardiff forwards and win the scrum
Tigers win a penalty and kick for the lineout on the Cardiff 22, Tigers create the phases and it looks like Olowofela is through another gap in the defence but the ball is loose for another scrum
Strong Home Defence
Cardiff show their strength in defence and Tigers are penalised for holding on, Cardiff kick for a lineout back on Tigers 22 but we win a turnover in contact
Tigers keep the pressure on Cardiff and win a penalty just inside our own half, Joe Ford kicks for the lineout just inside the Cardiff 22
Cardiff overthrow at a lineout and Tommy Reffell takes the ball to make a break into the Cardiff half but a chip ahead goes straight into touch for another Cardiff lineout
Missed Penalty Tigers
Tigers push the attack into the Cardiff half and win a penalty, captain Harry Wells points to the sticks and Joe Ford steps up to kick but the ball hits the posts and Cardiff kick to touch
Tigers add the conversion from Joe Ford to make it 0-7 after 5 minutes
Tigers chip ahead and Jonah Holmes makes a clean catch on the far wing, the ball is passes back inside for Jordan Olowofela to make a break through the centre of the Cardiff defence and run in under the posts.
Both teams showing some good passing but neither team venturing far outside each others 10 metres
As predicted, we have our first scrum and it goes to Cardiff after a Tigers knock-on, Cardiff win a penalty from the scrum
We have kick-off here in Cardiff with Joe Ford to start us off.
As the teams head inside from the warm-ups the rain is showing no signs of slowing down here - should be a good mood from Boris with plenty of scrums to come we reckon.
Here we go!
Welcome to the first game of the 2018/19 season as we prepare to kick-off our first pre-season fixture away at Cardiff Arms Park.