Leicester Tigers scored four tries in a 31-20 win over Wasps in the third round of the Premiership ‘A’ League at Welford Road on Monday evening.
Wasp did close to within two points midway through the second half but Tigers added converted tries from Loughborough Students duo Sam Bailey and Ben Pointon, with Hardwick adding the conversions and a penalty.
Summer signings Gareth Owen, Jonah Holmes and Chris Baumann were included in the Tigers line-up by coach Brett Deacon for the opening home game of the Premiership ‘A’ League season.
USA international prop Baumann made his first appearance in a Tigers shirt and was joined in the front row by Kyle Traynor and Jake Kerr, whose signing was officially announced last week.
The team is captained by flanker Will Evans and included Wales Under-18s captain Tommy Reffell who makes it his start at this level.
Loughborough duo Archie MacPherson and Will Foster were also in the starting line-up as part of the club’s links with the university and there were four more students among the replacements, including scorers Bailey and Pointon.
Tigers were on the charge from the off with Holmes winning the ball from Hardwick’s kick-off and a succession of penalties kept them in Wasps half. Evans made a break into the 22 but was stripped of the ball on the tryline before White secured the loose ball to dot over the line for the first try of the evening. Hardwick added the conversion.
The Tigers defence was immediately tested as Wasps looked to respond, running the ball wide, and Holmes as the last defender made a try-saving tackle in the corner.
Wasps were able to build phases in Tigers 22, though, before centre Will Millett found a gap to run through and score. Fly-half Connor Eastgate pushed the conversion wide.
Tigers camped themselves in Wasps 22 for the remainder of the half before Jordan Olowofela capitalised on loose ball and made a break through the middle, reaching the tryline with the last defender holding him back from the tryline and offloaded to Simmons in support who crossed the line. Hardwick added the conversion to push the lead to 14-5 at half-time.
Wasps looked to open the scoring in the second half with a penalty from the halfway line but the kick was pushed wide.
Tigers showed some strength in defence as Wasps pushed them back and then gained enough territory upfield to gain a scrum penalty and captain Evans pointed straight to the posts, with Hardwick adding the points.
Wasps, though, came back in attack and looked to score with a chip ahead from Jacob Umaga, but Simmons showed his pace and covered to take the ball into touch. Tigers’ defence held out from the lineout and were able to clear loose ball.
Olowofela then made an impressive break on the right, stepping the defenders, on his way to the corner, only to be forced into touch.
Wasps secured the resulting lineout ball and cleared to halfway before a run of penalties put them into the corner. A driving maul from the lineout took them to the whitewash as replacement hooker TJ Harris dotted down to score. Eastgate pushed the conversion wide to keep seven points in front at 17-10.
Two minutes later Harris added a second score from a driving maul but Eastgate was wide with a kick which would have levelled the scores.
Tigers looked to hit back in the last 10 minutes and worked the ball out to George Catchpole who chipped ahead and chased it down on the left but the ball bounced into touch in the Wasps 22.
Wasps knocked the ball on in the lineout and Tigers pushed the ball wide but Gareth Owen was stripped of possession just short of the line. The referee, though, called the teams back after playing advantage and Tigers went for a scrum on the five-metre line.
After controlling possession at the base, the ball was passed out to the backs who ran the ball up to the line, only to be held short. But at the next phase the forwards retained ball before replacement Bailey stretched out to score next to the posts. Hardwick added the conversion to extend the lead to 24-15.
As Wasps looked for another score, Tigers had to defend again and Owen’s immaculate clearing kick took ball right up to the Wasps five-mentre line to set up a bonus-point score for the busy Pointon and Hardwick added the extras.
Wasps hit back from the kick-off and, after Umaga had been stopped in front of the posts, they got the ball wide to prop George Thornton to cross in the corner for a bonus-point score of their own. Eastgate, though, was unable to add the conversion and the game finished 31-20.
Tigers return to Welford Road in the next round of ‘A’ league action with a match against Newcastle Falcons this Sunday (October 1).