Leicester Tigers scored three tries in a 24-12 victory over Cardiff Blues in the third round of the Anglo-Welsh Cup at Welford Road on Saturday.
Cup holders Tigers, who went into the game second in Pool 4 after two rounds, stretched an unbeaten run against Welsh sides in the tournament after scores from Will Evans, Jordan Olowofela and Luke Hamilton, though they did have to withstand a fightback from the visitors in the second half.
A try from Evans, after a Joe Ford penalty had given Tigers an early lead, provided a platform and Olowofela – on as a temporary replacement – scored a second as the lead reached 17 points before half-time.
Captained by former Tigers favourite Blaine Scully, the Blues got back into the contest with a converted try from former Tigers centre Jack Roberts early in the second half and another for scrum-half Lewis Jones on the hour mark which brought them to within one score.
But Luke Hamilton’s score provided some breathing space as Tigers continued their defence of the trophy.
Tigers have lost just one Anglo-Welsh pool game at Welford Road since 2011 and had won all five previous fixtures against Welsh visitors in the tournament. This victory took them level on points with pool leaders Newcastle Falcons who were beaten at Bath and host Gloucester next weekend in their final pool fixture.
Argentine prop Facundo Gigena was handed his debut in a team led by scrum-half Sam Harrison while Gareth Owen and Harry Wells were the only players to retain their places after the European Cup outing against Racing.
Tigers got the action underway, playing towards the Robin Hood Stand, and had to wait just three minutes to open the scoring with a penalty from Ford after the Blues backline had been called offside.
The next 10 minutes were played entirely between the 10-metre lines, with a lot of endeavour from both sides but neither able to find a break.
A big hit from Harry Wells stopped the Blues in their tracks, and hooker Jake Kerr provided value go-forward when Tigers won the ball back before Ford turned down a kick at goal with another penalty 35 metres out.
Instead, the fly-half pushed play into the left-hand corner to build pressure on the Blues. They were penalised twice more at the lineout with referee Jack Makepeace giving a warning to skipper Scully as Tigers re-set the throw.
When the Blues again infringed, attacking the Tigers catcher Hamilton before he had hit the floor and referee Jack Makepeace showed a yellow card to prop Corey Domachowski.
Outnumbered at the subsequent lineout, Blues had no answer to the Tigers drive and Evans dived over to score. Ford added the conversion for a 10-0 lead with 25 minutes gone.
Olowofela replaced Gareth Owen as the centre went for an HIA check soon after the try and twice went close to a try, being taken down just short of the line on the right wing and then held up over the line on the opposite side barely 60 seconds later.
But he made it at the third time of asking, with the forwards keeping the Blues back on their own line and, when skipper Sam Harrison pushed play left to right, Olowofela was able to pick his way through to score before swapping places with Owen again and returning to the bench. Ford added the extras from wide on the right as Tigers led 17-0 going into the last 10 minutes of the half.
A midfield break from centre Aled Summerhill up to the 22 and a run down the left wing by Corey Howells were the best a young Blues side could offer in attack, but Tigers largely kept them at arm’s length and safely defended the 17-point lead up to half-time.
The Blues, though, started the second period with some good possession on the edge of the 22, with centre Roberts closed out as he threatened on the left.
But he did not have long to wait as a five-metre scrum kept Tigers on the back foot and when Blues went to the right it was Roberts who dived over to score. Steven Shingler kicked the conversion to make it 17-7 on 55 minutes.
Tigers replaced the whole front row on the hour mark, but they were powerless to prevent a second Blues score following a five-metre lineout.
When the referee blew for a penalty, scrum-half Lewis Jones took a quick tap and darted in to score. Shingler’s kick rattled the near post as Tigers led 17-12.
Tigers had had barely any possession in the opposition half, but finally got back on the scoresheet with a try from Hamilton.
Ford put a penalty into the left-hand corner and, although a big forward drive ended just a metre short, the flanker had enough support to push over at the next phase and Ford added the conversion as the lead reached 24-12.
Tom Brady, making his first Welford Road appearance of the season, made a huge hit to bring a promising Blues attack to a halt and then Tatafu Polota-Nau made a similar impact on scrum-half Jones before Tigers found themselves down to 14 men when Joe Maksymiw was sin-binned for blocking a quick penalty just 10 metres out from his own line.
A Thacker tackle on Roberts had Blues in retreat but Tigers still couldn’t get out of their own half. The tackle also signalled the end of the afternoon for the unlucky Roberts, who received treatment from the physios before being helped off.
Blues threatened another score with a penalty into the right-hand corner but over-shot the lineout and Harry Simmons was able to clear with a big left-footed kick as the final miniutes were played out on the edge of the home side’s 22.
Next home game
Thank you to all the supporters who joined us at Welford Road for today's Anglo-Welsh fixture. Our next home game is against Harlequins on February 17.
Man of the Match
Fans have voted for their Man of the Match through the Official Club App during the second-half of today's match and the winner is Jordan Olowofela. Congrats Jordan!
Tigers scored an early penalty and three converted tries in today's match with tries from Will Evans, Jordan Olowofela and Luke Hamilton and Joe Ford adding all the rest of the points.
Tigers keep the pressure on Blues and they chip ahead looking for the winger but the ball bounces into touch to end the game, making it full-time score Tigers 24 Blues 12.
Tigers lose the ball at the lineout and Blues look to capitalise and work the ball up the field, Tigers recover the ball and chip ahead. Blues look to get something as the click counts down to 80.
Both teams continue to test with kicks ahead but as Blues try to run around the win they are pushed into touch for a Tigers lineout on the 10 metre line.
Tigers put the pressure on the Blues from the lineout and force an error as the Blues make a forward pass to give Tigers a scrum in the Blues half.
Blues win a penalty at the scrum and kick into the corner for the lineout but Tigers win the ball and clear with a great kick past way.
Joe Miles replaces Alun Lawrence
Scott Gibson and Max Llewellyn replace Lewis Jones and Jack Roberts
Big Tigers defence
Tigers show good defence to push the Blues back up to the 10 metre line and as Blues chip ahead Jordan Olowofela collects and makes a break but is pushed into touch for a Blues lineout on the half-way line.
Shown to Tigers Joe Maksymiw - after a big hit from Tatafu Polota-Nau the ball is kicked loose from the ruck and as Blues take a quick ball Maksymiw doesn't retreat 10 for the tackle in the 5 metre channel also winning Blues the scrum.
Joe Ford is replaced by Tom Hardwick
Another Blues Attack
Blues look to hit straight back again from the kick-off and winning the ball in the Tigers 22 but the ball is passed wide and a big tackle from Tigers puts off the Blues and they are pushed into touch for a Tigers lineout inside the 22.
Rhys Carre returns to the pitch for Corey Domachowski and Ben Jones replaces Corey Howells.
Harry Simmons and Jordan Olowofela replace Sam Harrison and Gareth Owen.
Joe Ford adds the conversion to take it to 24-12 for the Tigers.
Tigers look to drive the ball over the line with a driving maul but fall just short, they recycle the ball and Luke Hamilton pushes over the line for the try.
Tigers put the pressure on Blues in from the kick-off and win a penalty, kicking to the corner for the lineout.
Blues Conversion Missed
Blues push the ball wide in the conversion to keep the score at 17-12 to Tigers.
Blues run the ball from the lineout up to the Tigers tryline and win a penalty, the scrum-half Lewis Jones takes a quick tap and go to cross over for the try.
Front-row replacements Tatafu Polota-Nau, Kyle Traynor and Chris Baumann replace Jake Kerr, Pat Cilliers and Facundo Gigena and back five replacement Valentino Mapapalangi replaces Harry Wells.
Blues win a penalty at the scrum and kick for a lineout in Tigers half of the pitch, Blues look for a run with the ball from the lineout but a penalty in the ruck against Tigers gives them a kick for the lineout in the corner.
Hooker Ethan Lewis replaces Kirby Myhill
Tigers look to hit back from the kick-off but knock-on in the ruck to give Blues a scrum on their 22 metre line.
Blues fly-half scored by Steven Shingler to add to the visitors score.
Blues work the ball from the scrum and Jack Roberts finds a gap to run through and score Blues first points of the game.
Tigers win the ball the scrum but the referee calls it back and they scrum again.
Vote for your man of the match
Blues hit back with quick ball from the scrum and work the ball wide and into Tigers 5 metre before the defenders tackle them to the ground and win a penalty, opting for the scrum in front of the posts.
Blues prop Anton Peikrishvili is replaced by Keiron Assiratti
More loose ball
Some more scrappy play similar to the first-half as Tigers knock-on in a tackle to give Blues a scrum in the middle of the pitch.
Tigers put the pressure on Blues and force a knock-on to win a scrum on the 10 metre line.
Tigers quick feet
Tigers win a scrum inside the Blues half and work the ball wide for Jonah Holmes to showcase his quick feet with a break between two defenders but Tigers are penalised at the breakdown for holding on and Blues kick for a lineout just inside the Tigers half.
Some early back and forth exchanges at the start of the second-half as both teams look to kick-on after the first-half performances.
Tigers make a change at half-time as Sam Lewis comes on for Will Evans
We have kick-off
for the second-half here at Welford Road.
Tigers run into the changing rooms at half-time with a penalty and two converted tries for a lead of 17-0.
Tigers hold the ball and work phases in our 22 as the clock ticks down to half-time.
Tigers chip ahead this time and Blues look to work the ball wide but the referee calls the ball forward from the winger to gives Tigers a scrum on the 22 metre line.
Another kicking exchange between the teams as Tigers chip ahead, the Blues full-back fumbles but kicks back into Tigers territory where Charlie Thacker to chips ahead but Blaine Scully recovers the ball to call the mark and kicks to touch.
Strong Tigers defence
Tigers show a strong defence and force Blues to chip through into Tigers half, the ball goes into touch outside the Tiges 22 for a lineout.
The Blues look to hit back from the kick-off working the ball into Tigers 22 but Tigers win a turnover and kick to touch for a lineout in the Blues half.
The Blues prop returns from the sin-bin and Alun Lawrence returns for Rhys Carre.
Tigers add the extras with Joe Ford to make it 17-0 with 7 minutes remaining of the first-half.
Tigers work the ball from the lineout in phases across the pitch before Joe Ford loops around to find Jordan Olowofela on the win to score in the corner.
Tigers win a penalty at the scrum and kick for another lineout in the corner.
Tigers continue to work the Blues defence in their 5 metre channel and Jordan Olowofela looks to cross the line for a try but the referee rules it held up to give Tigers a 5 metre scrum.
Tigers look to build phases from the lineout and break through the line with Will Evans and work into the Blues 22 but the ball goes loose in the corner but Tigers work the 5 metre channel.
Tigers win a penalty at the scrum and kick for a lineout back on the Blues 10 metre line.
Rhys Carre has joined the match as Alun Lawrence leaves the field for the Blues.
What a kick
Joe Ford shows a brilliant kick as Tigers clear their lines from the kick-off for a Blues lineout in their own half. Blues try chipping ahead but knock-on as they try to collect to the ball for a Tigers scrum on Tigers 10 metre line.
A Head Injury Assessment substitution for Gareth Owen and Jordan Olowofela makes his way onto the field.
Tigers add the extras through Joe Ford to take the score to 10-0.
Tigers drive from the lineout and Will Evans secures the ball over the line for Tigers first try of the game.
Yellow Card for Blues
Cardiff Blues were shown a yellow card for another penalty at the lineout, it was shown to the prop Corey Domachowski
Another lineout penalty
Tigers win another penalty at the lineout as the referee speaks to the Blues captain for pulling down the maul and Tigers kick for another lineout in the corner.
Tigers win a penalty from the lineout and kick for another in the Blues half but win another penalty for a player tackled in the air and kick for the corner.
The Blues lock Ben Murphy unfortunately leaves the field as Owen Lloyd comes on.
Both teams are testing out the back field players as kicks and chips ahead but Tigers clear to touch for a Blues lineout just inside our half.
From Harry Wells in the Tigers defence to push back the Blues scrum-half and they chip ahead but Gareth Owen collects the ball and calls the mark.
Tigers display some good work as they try to break down the Cardiff Blues defence but the ball is ripped in the tackle and chipped ahead into Tigers half for a Tigers lineout but a loose ball puts Blues in the attack outside the Tigers 22.
Tigers build phases and territory as we work out of the 22 and up the field but get another penalty for Cardiff Blues offside and kick for the lineout just past Blues 10 metre line.
A few early knock-ons we're putting down the rain from this morning as Cardiff Blues knock-on from the lineout and give Tigers a scrum just outside the 22.
Cardiff Blues look to run quick from the scrum but are turnover by the Tigers defence, however the ref calls them back for a penalty at the scrum and Blues opt to kick for a lineout on Tigers 22 line.
Tigers in open play
Tigers look to spread the ball from the lineout and give the backs a chance to run with the ball but a forward pass on the half-way to give the Blues a scrum.
Cardiff Blues look to hit straight back from the kick-off and put Tigers defence under pressure with a chip into the Tigers 22, the ball goes into touch for a Tigers lineout and win a penalty when Cardiff Blues are called offside.
Joe Fords lands the first points of the game with an early penalty
Tigers get the ball out wide from the lineout and Blues are penalised for being offside to give Tigers a chance at the first points of the game.
Early Tigers lineout
Cardiff Blues clear their lines from the kick-off and give Tigers an early lineout inside the Blues half.
We have kick-off...
... here at Welford Road as Joe Ford gets things underway.
The teams are out
The teams are back out on the pitch to a roar from the crowd at Welford Road and we are ready for kick-off.
Nearly time for kick-off
Both teams have finished their warm-ups and have returned to the changing rooms, we will have kick-off shortly.
Warm-ups under way
HOLA ... to the newest member of the #TigersFamily, Facundo Gigena, who today makes his senior team debut for the club after being confirmed as our newest recruit a fortnight ago.
Gigena will start today's game at loose-head. You'll notice him, he's the big lad wearing number one ... and looking at the referee with a puzzled face when he makes a ruling in English.
FRIENDLY FACES AMONG OUR FOES
There are a few former Tigers among today's opposition. Blaine Scully, our friend from across the Atlantic Ocean, will lead the Blues today and former Leicester centre Jack Roberts will be on his inside in No.13 for the Welsh outfit.
You have permission to cheer for them ... but, only pre-match and following the full-time whistle. In between, we want to hear ROARS for current Tigers only!
SPIRE MAN OF THE MATCH
No, don't vote yet! The game hasn't even begun... but, this is your friendly reminder to have your Official Tigers Mobile App at the ready from half-time in today's fixture to cast your vote for the Spire Man of the Match!
While we aren't qualified to do so, we're going to give a weather report a go here from the South Stand at Welford Road.
The sun is out, just hidden behind clouds.
The air is warm, if you jump up and down for a few minutes.
The beers are cold enough. The pies are warm.
Have we missed anything?
The official team sheets have been handed in by both sides. Here are the line-ups for this afternoon's action:
WELCOME BACK TO WELFORD ROAD
Well, well, well ... here we are again! Back at the home of the #TigersFamily for this afternoon's Anglo-Welsh action between the Tigers and Blues. It just feels right, doesn't it?