Leicester Tigers were beaten 32-31 by a last-minute converted try from Newcastle Falcons in the Premiership Rugby Cup at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Wednesday evening.
The visitors led by 10 points at half-time but Tigers fought their way back into the game after the break, finally taking the lead in the final quarter of an hour and claiming five tries in total before Falcons grabbed a winning score in the final minute.
Falcons had led from the eighth minute of the third-round fixture before a score from hooker Tim Horton, but Tigers trailed 15-5 at the break.
A succession of scores ticked over in the second half as tries from Sean Jansen and Joshua Manz were matched by the visitors and two scores in just over two minutes from replacement hooker Archie Vanes at lineout drives finally put Tigers in front with less than quarter of an hour remaining before the final response from the visitors.
After a home win over Wasps in the previous round, Tigers made just two changes to the starting line-up, with Kini Murimurivalu and Tom Manz coming into a team captained by prop James Whitcombe for a third successive cup tie.
Making a third trip to Leicester since the end of August, Falcons were captained by former Tigers scrum-half Michael Young and included the experience of Alex Tait and Tian Schoeman in their line-up.
Tigers spent the early period of the game on the attack, with testing carries from Murimurivalu and No8 Jansen before Josh Manz proved a nuisance at a ruck on the edge of the Falcons 22, helping to keep play in that area of the field.
But the visitors broke out on nine minutes to claim the opening points of the evening as Alex Tait followed an awkward bouncing ball in-goal to get the final touch.
Tigers were held up over the tryline as they looked for a response from kick-off, but a try did come moments later, with Horton capitalising on the strength of Murimurivalu and then Hosea Saumaki who fought off a queue of would-be tacklers on the touchline to set up the hooker’s run-in.
There was barely time for the scoreboard to record it before Falcons added their second, full-back Elliott Obatoyinbo providing the finish on the left and Schoeman’s conversion gave them a seven-point lead by midway through the opening half.
Sam Edwards had to clear up a teasing kick towards the Tigers tryline and the left boot of Murimurivalu took play out of the danger area, though Tigers had to spend a spell in defence as Schoeman added a penalty for a 10-point lead on the half-hour.
Jansen took three defenders with him as he picked up at a scrum and Falcons were penalised for offside as they retreated, giving Tigers the chance to play into the opposition half. A second whistle followed but Walsh was off target with his place-kick.
Back-rower Jansen prevented Falcons progress after the restart as he wrapped up ball at their lineout 10 metres out, but Tigers were penned back as Obatoyinbo found his way through broken field, only to see the chance lost when George Wacokecoke dropped the pass in front of the posts.
A good scrum provided an opening for Joseph Woodward to attack on the right and, with no advantage coming, the referee brought play back for Walsh to put the ball into the right-hand corner and the forwards took charge with a big drive to the line as Jansen made the score.
The whistle blew at the other end moments later and Schoeman kicked the three-pointer for a 10-18 lead.
But Tigers used another lineout to create a position for a third try, with Jansen carrying strongly again before the younger Manz brother arrived to score next to the posts and Walsh added the extras to put a single point between the teams.
That margin lasted just a few minutes as Alex Tait scored a third for Falcons following a smart exchange of passes with hooker Charlie Maddison, and the conversion was added by Schoeman.
But another lineout and another drive, finished by replacement hooker Vanes, banked a bonus point for Tigers and the kick from Walsh brought the margin back to one point with 15 minutes remaining.
Tigers repeated the drill from further out just two minutes later, Vanes again on the ball for a full 20 metres to add his second try and put his team in front. Walsh kicked to make it 31-25.
Vanes sensed a hat-trick as he peeled off the side of a maul and took play 30 metres upfield on a solo run, but Falcons blocked out the next phase to clear their lines and they were rewarded with one final chance following a penalty near halfway as the clock ticked into the 79th minute. They kicked to the right and, playing with another penalty advantage from a collapsed maul, kept the ball until hooker Ollie Fletcher made the score and gave Louie Johnson the opportunity to win the game with the conversion from the right-hand side.
Replacement fly-half Louie Johnson makes the kick to win it for Falcons, 31-32. Tigers take 2 points, Falcons 5.
Lineout drive for Falcons leads to score by Ollie Fletcher. It's 31-30 on 80 minutes with the conversion to come...
Walsh converts again and it is 31-25 to Tigers.
Tigers repeat the move, this time from 20 metres out, Vanes is the van at the wheel and scores to put Tigers in front at 29-25.
Walsh kicks conversion, it's 24-25.
Archie Vanes it is who scores from a forward drive on the left, with some assistance from Joseph Woodward. 22-25. Bonus point score.
Schoeman conversion makes it 17-25 on 61min.
Three tries each as sharp interplay between hooker Maddison and wing Alex Tait sets up the latter to score. 17-23
Walsh adds the conversion of the Manz try and now there is a single point between the teams at 17-18 with 20 mins to play.
Third try for Tigers, looks like Josh Manz makes the final push next to the posts. 15-18.
Schoeman kicks penalty for the visitors, Falcons lead 10-18 on 53min.
Conversion is off target, Tigers trail 10-15 with half an hour to play.
Sean Jansen scores for Tigers at the back of a big drive from the forwards on the right. 10-15. 50mins
Missed chance for Falcons as Wacokecoke spills ball 10 metres out, but they still lead 5-15.
Tigers kick off the second half, Falcons lead 15-5.
Tigers 5-15 Falcons at half-time with a home score from hooker Tom Horton.
Some good phases in attack from Tigers rewarded with a penalty, Walsh mises. Still 5-15 on 38min.
Tian Schoeman penalty gives Falcons a 5-15 lead on 30mins.
Schoeman adds the conversion and Falcons lead at 5-12 on 18min.
Full-back Elliott Obatoyinbo scores for Falcons on 18mins. 5-10.
Tom Horton supports a run from Saumaki on the left to score and level the scores at 5-5. Great strength from Murimurivalu and then Saumaki, fending off a queue of tacklers in the build-up. Conversion missed.
Conversion missed, so Falcons lead 5-0 on 10mins.
An opportunist try for Falcons, with wing Alex Tait following a kick in-goal and diving on the loose ball for the opening points. 0-5
HERE WE GO...
Tigers fly-half Jed Walsh will get the action started. Tigers are in green, playing left to right as we look from the dugouts.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Elliott Obatoyinbo, 14 Alex Tait, 13 George Wacokecoke, 12 Ewan Greenlaw, 11 Iwan Stephens, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Michael Young (captain); 1 Phil Brantingham, 2 Charlie Maddison, 3 Mark Tampin, 4 Matthew Dalton, 5 George Merrick, 6 Marcus Tiffen, 7 Matt Deehan, 8 Tom Marshall.
Replacements: 16 Ollie Fletcher, 17 Conrad Cade, 18 Conor Kenny, 19 Luke Coulston, 20 Vereimi Qorowale, 21 Josh Barton, 22 Louie Johnson, 23 Zach Kerr.
HOW TIGERS LINE-UP
STARTING XV: 15 Kini Murimurivalu , 14 Lachlan Shelley , 13 Jacob Cusick , 12 Joseph Woodward , 11 Hosea Saumaki , 10 Jed Walsh , 9 Sam Edwards (vc) ; 1 James Whitcombe (c) , 2 Tom Horton , 3 Will Hurd , 4 Tom Manz , 5 Lewis Chessum , 6 Joshua Manz , 7 Emeka Ilione , 8 Sean Jansen (vc) 
REPLACEMENTS: 16 Archie Vanes , 17 Nephi Leatigaga , 18 Tim Hoyt , 19 Rob Carmichael , 20 Finn Carnduff , 21 Josh Goodwin , 22 Morgan Meredith , 23 Joe Browning 
MATCH PREVIEW | Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons
Leicester Tigers host Newcastle Falcons in the third round of the Premiership Rugby Cup at Mattioli Woods Welford Road this evening.
Tigers opened the campaign with a losing point in defeat at Sale Sharks before beating Wasps in Round 2 with five tries in a 38-17 victory in Pool 2.
In team news, Tigers make two changes to the starting line-up from the win in Round 2, with Kini Murimurivalu at full-back and Tom Manz in the second row.
Falcons, who have visited Leicester in pre-season and in league action already during this campaign, hand the captaincy to former Tigers scrum-half Michael Young and include the experience of Alex Tait, George Wacokecoke and fly-half Tian Schoeman in their line-up.
The coaching team is led by head of academy James Ponton who said: “We are going to Leicester with a strong side, and it’s great to have plenty of experience in there as well as a number of our promising young players. The experience the lads get from it will be massive.”
The clubs have met on 66 previous occasions with Leicester winning 49 to 14 and three games drawn. Leicester and Newcastle's only previous meeting in the Premiership Cup was in March at Kingston Park, where the home side won 36-28. The Falcons have won just once at Welford Road since 1997 – 25-23 in April 2018.
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Keep up to date with the action from Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons in the Premiership Rugby Cup this evening with Matchday Live on the Tigers App and website at www.leicestertigers.com. Kick-off is at 7.00pm.