Leicester Tigers Development XV were beaten 26-32 by Worcester Cavaliers in the second round of the Premiership Shield on Monday evening.
After picking up a consolation point in a 19-18 defeat by Northampton in Round 1, Tigers got off to a flying start in Round 2 at Loughborough University with Robbie Povey and Sam Lewis dotting down in the opening five minutes.
But Worcester clawed their way back into the game as Tigers led 20-17 at half-time and then went ahead for the first time as the game entered its final quarter.
They scored their fifth and final try in the last minute but failed to add the conversion which would have denied Tigers any reward.
Eight of the club’s academy graduates – including six of the forward pack – started the clash on a bright but breezy evening in Loughborough, with Tigers also including Coventry duo Robbie Povey and James Neal in the backline. There were five guests players among the replacements, too, including former academy centre Sam Wager, now with Doncaster Knights.
Cavaliers included Carl Kirwan on his return from long-term injury in an experienced back row as part of a team roughly evenly split between first-team squad and younger prospects.
They were also searching for a first win of the campaign after taking two bonus points from defeat by Newcastle Falcons last week.
It was wing Povey who gave Tigers a dream start, getting on the end of an exchange of passes on the left to claim the opening points. And better was to follow when England Under-20s lock Lewis powered through the centre of the field to dive in under the posts just a couple of minutes later. Joe Ford kicked both conversion as Tigers led by 14 points.
Cavaliers got on board with a Luke Scully penalty and then the fly-half converted after wing Tom Howe had intercepted on halfway and run clear for their first try of the evening.
Ford struck two penalties to take the lead back up to 20-10, but smart work on the Worcester right from Howe put centre Ollie Lawrence in for a try and Scully’s conversion brought them to within three points of their hosts at the break.
Tigers extended the lead early in the second half when good work from Taylor Gough on the floor brought a penalty which Ford despatched from fully 40 metres.
But the visitors quickly responded when a big scrum on the right gave them front-foot ball and, with the referee signalling a penalty advantage, they quickly went wide and wing Mason Tonks went over in the corner. Although Scully was unable to land the conversion from out wide, it was now a one-point ball game at 23-22.
A lineout drive took Tigers up to the tryline soon afterwards but they lost ball at the crucial moment and the chance was gone. The forward pack, though, refused to let Worcester out easily and kept up the pressure as the visitors had put-in at a scrum and eventually won back possession, allowing Ford to make the call, drop deep and land a well-struck drop goal.
Two last-ditch tackles from the Tigers defence kept the lead intact with Worcester almost on the tryline before they finally took the lead for the first time in the game on 62 minutes when a break from full-back Nick David set flanker Ted Hill in to score. Scully’s conversion attempt drifted wide but the Cavaliers had the advantage at 26-27.
Fords, having landed six out of six previous attempts, called for the tee again on 66 minutes but this time the troublesome wind won the contest as his kick from the left touchline drifted wide, and opposite number Scully also pushed an attempt well wide from 40 metres with the clock entering the final 10 minutes.
Tigers were pushed on to the defensive and, although they retained their discipline while continuing to make their tackles, Worcester almost claimed a fifth try when David broke through, only for his final pass to evade the support on the right.
They did not have long to wait, though, for a decisive score as replacement prop Farai Mudariki stretched out from close range.
With time up, Scully lined up his conversion, only for Povey to run out and block his attempt to rescue the bonus point for Tigers.