Leicester Tigers opened their defence of the Anglo-Welsh Cup title with a 26-24 victory over Gloucester Rugby at Welford Road on Saturday.
Charlie Thacker’s first senior try gave Tigers the breakthrough in the first half but they had to come from 8-10 down to lead 14-10 at half-time with fly-half Joe Ford providing the rest of the points.
Jonah Holmes, with a score in his first senior appearance since his summer move from Yorkshire Carnegie, stretched that advantage in the third quarter before two tries in six minutes from Gloucester gave the visitors the lead, the second coming after lengthy consultation between the officials regarding a possible forward pass just 10 metres from the Tigers tryline.
Tigers trailed again entering the last 10 minutes before Adam Thompstone provided a score on his return to the team and survived when visiting fly-half Lloyd Evans missed a late penalty to get their cup campaign off to a winning start.
The clubs were meeting for the 220th time in more than 125 years of rivalry, and with Gloucester ahead by 106 to 105 in terms of wins ahead of kick-off.
Both teams made significant changes to their squads after important league victories a week earlier, with Tigers giving debuts to Holmes, Afa Pakalani, Harry Simmons and Sam Lewis in the starting line-up. Jake Kerr and Chris Baumann also made their club debuts as second-half replacements while development squad trio Tommy Reffell, Tom Hardwick and Jordan Olowofela were included in the matchday squad for the first time.
Gloucester included a pair of Tigers academy graduates in skipper Charlie Beckett and centre Tom Hudson, with the latter able to make his return with a try.
The visitors kicked off and had the first opportunity with a penalty from the first scrum of the game, but fly-half Lloyd Evans kicked wide from the tee.
Pakalani earned the backing of the home crowd with a big hit on scrum-half Ben Velllacott who had broken free from his own 22, and Tigers gave the crowd more to cheer as a chip by Simmons gave Thompstone something to chase as they turned up the pressure in the Gloucester 22.
Thompstone was again involved on the right when Holmes was stopped just short, but when ball was recycled, Thacker wrestled his way to the tryline in the left-hand corner for the opening points of the afternoon.
The referee consulted his assistant and the TMO before awarding the score, checking if Thacker had been held in a tackle, giving skipper Ford the conversion attempt from out wide, but he pushed it across the face of the posts.
Evans got Gloucester on the board with a penalty on 16 minutes, but Ford responded with a kick from 30 metres to make it 8-3 on 23 minutes.
Gloucester took the lead for the first time in the afternoon when Evans then converted a try from prop Paddy McAllister who dived over at the foot of the right-hand post after a number of phases of possession from the forward pack just short of the line.
Thacker threatened to exploit a gap in the midfield on the edge of the Gloucester 22, but the offload just failed to stick with Fred Tuilagi arriving on his shoulder. Gloucester, though, failed to clear the loose ball as they were determined to keep play alive rather than kick, allowing Tigers to remain in their territory.
At the next stoppage, Tigers were awarded a penalty after a big push in the scrum 30 metres out and Ford knocked over the kick to regain the lead at 11-10 with 36 minutes played.
Thacker was again heavily involved as Tigers ended the half in the visitors' 22, carrying on three separate occasions as the home side looked for a breakthrough before play was brought back for a penalty on the right just five metres shy of the tryline.
With the clock already beyond the 40-minute mark, Ford called for the tee and kicked to make the score 14-10 at half-time.
There was a lengthy stoppage in the early exchanges of the second period when Freddie Clarke stayed down after a heavy collision with Tuilagi but the Gloucester No8 earned warm applause when he managed to walk off and play restarted with a Tigers scrum 15 metres out from the posts
A solid platform from the forwards created an opportunity on the right but Thacker’s pass was spilled by Pakalani just a few metres out on the right-hand side.
Gloucester, though, still struggled to play their way out of their own 22 and Tigers scored a second try as Holmes ran in a debut score.
After attacking on the left, ball was recycled centrally and George Worth timed his inside pass perfectly for Holmes to run through and dot down. Ford added the extras for a 21-10 lead.
The Cherry and Whites were finding it increasingly difficult to escape from their own half, but finally gained field position and the opportunity to claim their second try of the afternoon just after the hour mark.
An attacking lineout on the left gave the forwards the chance to wrap up the Tigers defence and a short pass to the blindside gave Vellacott a route to the line. Evans added the conversion as the Tigers lead was cut to 21-17.
And they took the lead for the second time with quarter of an hour left to play, but only after lengthy discussion between referee Craig Evans and the TMO as centre Hudson beat two tacklers to score after latching on to a Vellacott pass. After numerous replays, the officials agreed there had been no proof of a forward pass and the try stood, with Evans adding the conversion to make it 24-21 in the visitors’ favour.
Encouraged by the home crowd, Tigers were quickly back on the offensive, with Tuilagi carrying strongly before spilled ball on the 22 allowed the visitors to clear.
The to-and-fro of the half continued when Thompstone marked his return to the starting line-up with a try on the left with just nine minutes still to play.
Patient work from a lineout on the right and some good handling along the backline provided the chance on the opposite flank and Thompstone, last season’s top try-scorer, finished smartly. Ford was unable to add the extra two points, though, as Tigers led 26-24.
After earlier allowing the Hudson try, the referee earned ironic cheers from a large part of the 18,000 crowd entering the last five minutes when he pulled back play for a forward pass from Gloucester just inside the Tigers half.
But from the scrum, the visitors piled on pressure on the Leicester eight and were rewarded with a penalty, only to see Evans screw it wide of the right-hand post.
Both sides still had half-chances to trouble the scoreboard in the couple of minutes which remained, but a penalty in defence with just seconds left on the clock allowed Tigers to clear up to opposition territory and then scramble into touch to herald the final whistle.