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.
Next home game
Tigers are back at Welford Road on Sunday, November 19 for an Aviva Premiership clash with Sale Sharks. The game is on the Tigers season ticket. Match tickets are on sale now. See you there!
Spire Man of the Match
Fans have voted Charlie Thacker their Spire Man of the Match. Well done Charlie. And thank you for voting.
As the muck and bullets are flying around him, Ford keeps his cool to end the game and get Tigers' Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign up and running with a win. Tigers win 26-24.
That should be that
With the clock heading into the red zone, Tigers win a penalty as Gloucester go off their feet. Ford pumps his kick into the Gloucester 22. Tigers have one last attack.
Last two minutes
Tigers are winding down the clock in the Gloucester half. Knock-on against a tiring Fred Tuilagi. Scrum is 70m from the Leicster line.
... but Lloyd Evans has mishit has kick across the posts and Tigers breathe again. Last three minutes, Tigers lead 26-24.
Penalty chance for Gloucester
Tigers come under pressure at a scrum and are pinged as the set-piece splits ...
A huge cheer, arguably the biggest of the afternoon, as referee Craig Evans pulls Gloucester back for a forward pass.
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The try goes unconverted as we head into the final few minutes. It's tense around Welford Road. Come on boys.
Thommo is back!
Try time for Tigers and it's last season's Player of the Year, Adam Thompstone, on his return from injury. Ford and Pakalani held the defence for Thommo to score on the left. Welcome back Thommo!
What a kick!
Joe Ford has just launched a penalty from inside his own half to within 5m of the Gloucester line. Cracking kick!
Jake Kerr is on for his debut, for McGuigan. Joe Maksymiw also on, for Tuohy.
Home fans in full voice
There is a cracking noise around Welford Road now, inspired by the try decision, with the home fans getting right into the game.
Boos around Welford Road
The try is converted and play has resumed, and still the home fans are not happy with that decision to award the try.
Much to the dismay of the Welford Road crowd, the TMO and referee have awarded the try, even though there was a big hint of a forward pass to put Tom Hudson over.
Gloucester smash through to score next to the posts but referee Craig Evans consulting his TMO. Is that forward?
Tigers change their No9. Ben White on for Harry Simmons.
Tigers make their first replacement, Chris Baumann on for his debut in place of Pat Cilliers
Four points in it
Lloyd Evans's conversion cuts the Leicester lead to 21-17. It's going to be a tense final quarter.
Try for the visitors
Gloucester are back in this. The Cherry and Whites control the drive and scrum-half Vellacott peels off to dive over for their second try.
Tigers are pinged for kicking the ball out of a ruck, and Gloucester now have a 5m lineout. Key moment coming up.
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Holmes heavily involved
Moments after scoring his try, Holmes teams up with McGuigan to force Will Safe into touch and earn his side a lineout on halfway.
More on Holmes's try
Holmes collected Worth's lovely inside ball and stepped through the tackle before powering over from the 22. Lovely finish from the winger.
Ford adds an easy conversion for the full seven points. Tigers lead 21-10.
Try time Tigers
Jonah Holmes on his debut scores his first try for Tigers to put daylight between the teams.
Chance goes away
Tigers over-complicate things from the scrum, and Pakalani knocks on Thacker's flicked pass.
Play to restart
The game will resume with a Tigers scrum put-in, centre-field, 15m out.
Applause for Evans
A lengthy stoppage with every care being taken over Gareth's well-being. He is sitting up, and now being helped from the pitch. Good to see he is up and walking.
Gloucester medics on quickly to treat Gareth Evans after he was hurt tackling Tuilagi. The game has stopped for the moment.
Tigers turn up the pressure
Good defence on the Gloucester 22, led by McGuigan and Thacker, forces Vellacott into a knock-on. Tigers have a good attacking position here.
Charlie Thacker has Tigers fans purring with an out-the-back pass to Jonah Holmes. Lovely stuff again from Charlie.
Ford kicks us off
Joe Ford, with his brother George watching from the stands, gets the second-half going with Tigers attacking the Mattioli Woods Stand end.
We're back out
Tigers are first out for the second-half, followed by our visitors from Gloucester. Tigers lead 14-10.
Half time at Welford Road
It's half-time in this afternoon's Anglo-Welsh Cup clash with Gloucester. Charlie Thacker scored the opening try, his first for the club, and team captain Joe Ford has kicked three penalties.
No problem for Fordy
... Ford makes it look easy again as he slots the kick to extend the Leicester lead.
Tigers have a penalty advantage ... but they can't make headway and play comes back for the kick. It's a tester from the right to end the half ...
Tiiigggeeerrrsss rings round Welford Road with Leicester camped on the Gloucester line
Man of the match
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Seismologists might be looking at their instruments after Harry Wells's run is stopped head-on by Ross Moriarty! A shuddering collision.
Tigers lead again
... Ford makes it look easy as he slots the penalty to move Tigers into a one-point lead.
Scrum on down
The Tigers pack have Gloucester under all sorts of pressure at that scrum, so much so that No8 Tuilagi struggled to keep control. But it's a penalty and Ford to go for the posts again ...
Charlie Thacker punches a hole in the Gloucester defence but Fred Tuilagi can't quite gather the offload. Thacker gets back up to block Vellacott's clearance.
A mo-ment from two mo bros
Harry Wells and Paddy McAllister, both sporting Movember moustaches, have a few words in midfield. Sir has a word with both to calm down and mo-ve on!
Lloyd Evans lands a simple conversion to give Gloucester the lead for the first time in the contest.
Try for the visitors
Paddy McAllister burrows over from close range to score under the posts for the visitors after a sustained period of pressure on the Leicester line.
It's good from Ford
Fordy lands his kick from a central position to restore Tigers' five-point lead.
Tigers, who lead 5-3 going into the second quarter after Charlie Thacker's first try for the club, have a penalty thanks to the scrum. Ford to go for goal ...
Tigers fans claimed a penalty as Gareth Denman overshoots the ball into a tackler in midfield. Instead, Will Evans is pinged for going off his feet. His Gloucester namesake Lloyd lands the kick for their first points.
Ford doesn't let it affect him, instead launches a beautiful kick to force Gloucester into a lineout inside their 22.
Ford pushes his conversion from the left across the posts. Tigers lead 5-0.
It's a try!
Three Gloucester defenders get in each other's way and none grab a hold of Thacker. He scrambles back to his feet to score his first try for Tigers. Well done Charlie!
... Tigers probe the Gloucester defence and Worth finds Charlie Thacker on the left. He steps inside, is felled but goes again to do down. Referee Craig Evans now consulting his TMO.
Tigers win their own lineout ball for the first time to launch their first real attack ...
Pakalani announces himself to the Crumbie Stand with a huge tackle on Vellacott. Will Evans steals possession and Thompstone forces Penny into a shanked clearance.
Thommo is back!
Adam Thompstone feeds Afa Pakalani for his first touch in a Tigers shirt. Thompstone then chases an up-and-under to take Carwyn Penny man and ball. Good stuff Thommo.
Tigers are pinged for pulling down the scrum giving Evans a shot at goal. But he clubs his kick wide of the posts from 40m out.
Welford Road welcome
Dan Tuohy comes flying through the lineout to take scrum-half Ben Vellacott by surprise. Knock-on called against the Tigers lock.
Gloucester kick off
Gloucester fly-half Lloyd Evans gets the game going, with Tigers attacking the Robin Hood Stand at the Aylestone Road end of the ground.
Tigers' defence of the Anglo-Welsh Cup has begun.
Welford Road observes an immaculate silence. Thank you all.
... before falling silent to remember members of the armed forces killed in action.
Welford Road stands for the Last Post ...
What a roar!
Great noise around Welford Road to greet the Tigers, led out for the first time by Joe Ford. Good luck boys.
Here come the Cherry and Whites
Our visitors Gloucster Rugby are led out by Charlie Beckett, who came through the academy at Tigers.
Kick-off this afternoon will follow the playing of Last Post and a minute's silence in remembrance of the armed forces killed in action.
Warm-ups are over
Joe Ford leads the Tigers off the pitch for their final preparations before kick-off.
There's plenty to read on the club website in the run-up to kick-off, including the thoughts of Joe Ford on his first appearance as captain at https://www.leicestertigers.com/news/unexpected-honour-says-skipper-ford
WELFORD ROAD WEATHER UPDATE
The forecast for today is tries, tries and (hopefully) some more tires ... with both sides naming exciting, young outfits for this Anglo-Welsh Cup opener.
Oh ... there's some sun too!!
YOU CHOOSE MAN OF THE MATCH
In an exciting new addition to the Mobile App experience, we're asking you to decide who is today's Man of the Match. For details on how to vote, head to 'news' section on your Official Tigers App or club website.
Voting is OPEN from half-time through until the full-time whistle, with the winner announced minutes after the whistle.
TODAY'S TEAMS CONFIRMED
WELCOME TO WELFORD ROAD
Wherever it is you're joining us from today and on whatever device, mobile app or website, we're glad to have you here with us for this Anglo-Welsh Cup opener!