Leicester Tigers suffered a second successive defeat in the Premiership Rugby Cup on Saturday when Worcester Warriors claimed a 31-12 victory at Welford Road.
Following defeat at Saracens in Round 1, Tigers retained a mix of youth and experience in the matchday squad but conceded five tries to a Warriors side who made it three wins in a row on Leicester turf.
A minute’s silence in respect of thee tragic events at Leicester City last week was observed before the game got under way in autumnal sunshine.
But it was an unhappy opening half for Tigers who conceded four tries before the half-hour mark against a strong Warriors side who had put 35 points on Sale Sharks in the opening round last weekend.
After Ted Hill opened the scoring in just the third minute, there were further tries from Duncan Weir, Francois Hougaard and Bryce Heem for the visitors without Tigers getting on the scoreboard.
Almost an hour had been played before Tigers made a breakthrough with a try from Gareth Owen, but Heem quickly added his second for a Warriors side who looked incisive in attack throughout.
Tommy Reffell ran in his first score for the club with 15 minutes left to play, but Tigers had left themselves too much to do with the slow start.
Warriors have already won at Welford Road this season, thwarting a Tigers second-half fightback to take the points in a 44-37 victory in the Gallagher Premiership during September.
A squad including 12 graduates of the Tigers academy was led on to the field by Matt Smith in his 220th first-team appearance ng Will Evans who makes his first appearance of the season.
The game was less than four minutes old when Hill scored for a third time this season at Welford Road, timing his run perfectly to latch on to Warriors possession and run in unopposed to the right of the posts.
The young back-rower had scored twice in the dramatic league win on the same turf earlier in the same season and gave the visitors just the start they would have wanted as they hunted a third successive win in Leicester.
Duncan Weir added the conversion and four minutes later knocked over another to double the score after he had run in for try number two.
The start of the game was almost an exact copy of the earlier Premiership meeting, and Tigers quickly had a mountain to climb with half of the team still not having touched the ball.
Some continuity in possession finally gave Tigers some impetus, only for Warriors to interfere with the ball along the backline, though the referee gave a knock-on rather than anything more serious.
But Warriors almost sniffed out a third try before the quarter-hour mark when the kicked along the left touchline, only for Jonah Holmes to win the race for the ball on his own goalline.
On 15 minutes they did have the score, Francois Hougaard running in the last 35 metres of a length-of-the field break after Holmes had initially forced them back to their own tryline. Fly-half Weir fell short with the conversion but Warriors still led by 19 points.
Tigers, with Mapapalangi and Evans looking to get on the ball, made four or five trips to the Warriors 22 but were closed out or were guilty of losing possession cheaply, including from a attacking lineout after playing a penalty down the left touchline.
Warriors were defending strongly on the floor too, with flanker Sam Lewis winning a penalty at the breakdown after a strong lineout drive from the Tigers pack.
The fingertips of Jake Kerr brought a dangerous break from Chris Pennell to an end, with the covering defence forcing Bryce Heem into touch as the full-back offloaded the ball, with hooker Kerr still hanging on to his shirt tail.
The referee pulled up Warriors for obstruction in midfield as they launched another counter-attack and Tigers used Joe Heyes and Mapapalangi to punch holes in the defensive line before the visitors won turnover ball.
It was costly too as they raced out on the right and Heem ran in to score their bonus-point try with the crowd calling for a forward pass back on halfway. With no TMO in the Cup tie, referee Hamish Smales had to make the decision himself before Weir made it 0-26 with the conversion.
Skipper Matt Smith was replaced on the half-hour by Joe Ford as Tigers had to reshuffle the backline, with Hardwick and Gareth Owen operating at centre.
But there was no change to flow of the game, with Warriors looking to attack at pace, though the home crowd did make their feelings known when referee Smales called a forward pass against the Warriors on their own 10-metre line, the ironic applause rippling around Welford Road.
The half closed though with Tigers penalised at the breakdown and Weir pushed play into the left-hand corner to set up an attacking lineout. The throw was not straight, though, and Tigers elected to go for a scrum in the last play. After the strike from Kerr, Tuilagi got the ball of the field with Warriors 26-0 in front.
Evans got through 44 minutes in his game of the season before Tommy Reffell was given a run at openside.
Warriors lost lock Anton Bresler on 49 minutes for a no-arms tackle on Sam Harrison, but when Tigers set up a lineout drive from the penalty, they were pushed into touch.
They set to again but this time the drive for the tryline ended in a knock-on and a heated exchange which ended with prop Heyes being yellow-carded for throwing a punch.
Tigers, though, remained close to the Warriors tryline, drawing another couple of penalties but not finding a decisive gap.
Warriors continued to infringe at their defensive lineouts until lock Darren Barry was sent to the sin-bin, but Tigers missed the next set-piece and the visitors were finally able to kick clear.
This time, though, Tigers returned and clinched a first score from Gareth Owen.
After Hardwick had picked his way up towards the line, Owen picked up a dived over. Hardwick’s kick screwed across the posts with the score at 5-26.
But Heem held off the Tigers defence in the corner to score his second before Ford put Reffell on a run through to his first senior try around the 65-minute mark. Hardwick added the kick to make it 12-31.
Former Tigers centre Andrew Forsyth, who came through the academy and made 24 first-team appearances before moving on to Yorkshire Carnegie and Sale Sharks, made a re-appearance in club colours as a late replacement for Owen, but neither side was able to create another scoring opportunity in the closing stages as Warriors celebrated a Welford Road hat-trick.
A penalty against Tuilagi kept Tigers close to their own tryline as the clock ticked into the final minute and they finished the game there, penned back by four more whistles from the referee in defence of the line.