Leicester Tigers ended their defence of the Anglo-Welsh Cup with a 50-28 defeat away to Wasps in Round 4 on Sunday.
Needing a big bonus-point win to overhaul Newcastle Falcons in Pool 4, a Luke Hamilton try after nine minutes gave Tigers an early lead. But two scores in four minutes in reply put Wasps ahead and they added two more before the half-hour to stretch the lead to 26-7.
Two tries in three minutes from Harry Simmons in the lead-up to half-time got Tigers right back in the game as they trailed by just five points at the break.
But the next score was always going to prove vital and it was Wasps who made the second-half breakthrough, adding two tries before Jonah Holmes claimed a bonus-point score for Tigers. There was still time for a seventh and eighth try from the home side as they reached the half-century mark.
In team news announced on Friday, Tigers handed a debut to academy lock forward Cameron Jordan in a team led by Matt Smith. Luke Hamilton, Tom Brady, Jonah Holmes and Michele Rizzo supplied the experience in a team which also included loan signings Declan Cusack and Adam Batt from Doncaster and Jimmy Stevens from Nottingham.
Wasps, meanwhile, included former Tigers academy players in fly-half Jacob Umaga and flanker Will Owen, while senior players Tommy Taylor and Josh Barrett returned to action after injury.
In a positive start from the visitors, Tigers enjoyed a dozen phases of play in the opening few minutes and thought they’d made the breakthrough from a tap penalty, only to see Simmons denied by a combination of tackler Will Owen, referee Ben Breakspear and the TMO.
After flanker Adam Batt had carried twice out wide in those opening phases, back-row partners Fred Tuilagi and Hamilton were just as prominent after the game restarted with an attacking scrum before Simmons was stopped on the tryline by the defence before the referee came back for another penalty.
Then, after Charlie Thacker and Smith had threatened the line, Hamilton had the final touch for the opening score of the afternoon. George Worth added the kick for a seven-point lead.
Wasps, though, provided an immediate response when they gained front-foot ball on the Tigers 22 and, after the forwards had carried up to the line, Marcus Watson finished on the left. Umaga was off target with the kick as Tigers led 7-5 with 13 minutes gone.
A penalty on the left gave Tigers another attacking perform, but Wasps won turnover ball and threatened a breakaway score until the defence caught up with Watson 30 metres out.
But the pressure was not alleviated totally as Wasps had a penalty and kept ball on the left. Then, with the defence stretched, a flick pass from Owen allowed Rob Miller to score and Umaga’s conversion made it 12-7.
Tigers enjoyed a good spell of possession in the Wasps half without making significant inroads and paid the price when Miller grabbed his second try moments later, finding a gap in the defence and stepping past the cover to sore under the posts. Umaga added the extras as the lead reached 19-7 on 25 minutes.
The hosts only had to wait just two more minutes for a fourth try, Taylor making the initial break and second-rower Marcus Garratt finishing from close range. Umaga made it three from four with the kick from the right of the posts.
It was third-time lucky for Simmons just after the half-hour when, after Tuilagi had carried three times in a period of Tigers pressure, the scrum-half sniped around the breakdown to score.
After Worth had added the kick, the hosts ended the half down to 14 men after Garratt was sin-binned following a tackle on Smith which the referee and TMO considered dangerous and Tigers made the most of it as Simmons darted through a gap to dive in for his second score.
Worth, after a delay for the TMO to check for a possible knock-on, made the kick and Tigers had cut the deficit to 26-21 just 90 seconds before the half-time whistle.
Smith made way for teenager Sam Wager at half-timer, with Hamilton taking over as captain and the period was just two minutes old when Jimmy Stevens took over from Jake Kerr in the front row.
There was an escape for Tigers when Wasps thought they’d scored on the right, only to be brought back for a knock-on from Miller before Owain James ran in on the right.
But respite lasted only a couple of minutes before Miller opened up the Tigers defence and released scrum-half Craig Hampson to score with the visitors outnumbered on the Wasps right. Umaga added the conversion to push the lead to 33-21.
Back-rower Jack Willis, prominent in all of Wasps’ best work, opened up the field with a big carry on halfway, but when Hampson kicked upfield, Tigers were able to shepherd the ball out.
With scrum-half Will Yarnell on for Simmons and Henri Lavin on for his debut in the back row, Tigers had two 17-year-olds on the field for the final half-hour.
Miller’s cheeky little kick into the corner had the Tigers defence in retreat but the ball just evaded the grasp of Jones. Tigers, though, were whistled for not straight at the lineout and the hosts had the platform of an attacking scrum as they looked for a sixth score.
The defence got through its work in front of the posts, but when play finally opened up Umaga showed good footwork to get through to the line against his former club. The fly-half also added the kick to make it 40-21 with 14 minutes remaining.
Tigers instantly replied, making most of a penalty on the left to set up possession at a lineout and, with the referee playing advantage, Yarnell showed good skill with a precise chip-kick which Holmes caught to dot down behind the posts for his sixth of the season and the bonus point.
Wasps were not done, though, and they ran in another try from Bassett in the left-hand corner after stretching the Tigers defence. Umaga couldn’t add the extras from near the touchline as the clock ticked into the final eight minutes.
Holmes gathered the restart to give Tigers some forward momentum and Worth pushed play into the left-hand corner when Wasps were whistled offside. Maksymiw’s lineout catch set up a strong drive which was ended only when Wasps were penalised again.
The drive looked destined for the line again, with Stevens in possession, before flanker James Seabrook was yellow-carded. From the next lineout Holmes almost made it to the line but then was called upon to chase down Bassett aftrer the Wasps wing intercepted and ran free.
Although Holmes chased down Bassett and tackled Miller in midfield, Wasps kept the ball alive. Yarnell was yellow-carded on his own line and as Wasps tapped the penalty, Bassett was able to force his way over for the hosts’ eighth of the afternoon.
Miller was off target with the conversion attempt but there was barely time for Tigers to restart before the final whistle was blown on their cup campaign.