Leicester Tigers are Premiership Rugby’s Under-18s Academy Finals Day champions for the first time following a 43-21 victory over Gloucester Rugby on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams went into Finals Day unbeaten in their league programme, and Tigers looked determined to retain that record with four first-half tries for a 29-7 lead at the interval.
Freddie Steward (2), Cameron Jordan and Andrew Dunn provided the scores, with Sam Costelow adding the rest of the points at Allianz Park, home of Saracens.
Henri Lavin and fellow forward George Martin added further scores in the second half as Tigers showed a precision in attack to match their determination in defence, though their rivals claimed two scores of their own in the final 10 minutes..
Wearing traditional lettered shirts, Tigers got immediate go-forward with a catch from kick-off by Martin before Costelow put a second-minute penalty wide of the posts.
A minute later Tigers were given another penalty after a smart kick-chase on the left and this time Costelow pushed play into the corner. After setting up a lineout drive and then seeing the forwards stopped just short of the tryline, Tigers worked the ball to the right and full-back Steward powered his way over the line to a big cheer from the travelling support.
Costelow’s kick came back off the upright as Tigers led 5-0 on six minutes.
Gloucester almost supplied an instant response with a break on their left but put a foot in touch just five metres out from the tryline.
Tigers then made good use of possession to set up Costelow for a three-pointer and even better followed when skipper Jordan forced his way over from close range after some strong carries among the forwards.
Dunn and scrum-half Jonny Law threatened the Gloucester line again before the Cherry and Whites finally got on the scoreboard with a try from centre Jack Reeves. The conversion was taken by replacement Tommy Mathews after fly-half George Barton had been stretchered off following a big hit in midfield.
But Tigers came right back with Steward scoring a final individual try, chipping over the Gloucester defence on their 22 and winning the race to the bounce to score. Costelow’s conversion made it 22-7 with 26 minutes played.
Tigers claimed a fourth score on the stroke of half-time when Dunn provided the finish following a lineout drive on the left. After the forward pack had pushed Gloucester back at the lineout, the backs took over and Dunn showed clever footwork and strength to step three defenders and then fend off a final tackler to score under the posts. Costelow’s kick made it 29-7 and brought the first half to a close.
Possession and territory was more evenly spread in the opening stages of the second half, with Jordan winning important turnover ball near his own line which then led to a 60-metre break from forwards colleagues Keston Lines and Lavin to set up another score.
Although the break stopped just short, Gloucester were penned back and from a five-metre scrum, Lavin handed off his opposite number to score and Costelow added another conversion.
Strong work at the breakdown gave Tigers the ascendancy in the contact areas and from one, Costelow tried his luck with a 55-metre penalty only to see the ball drop short.
A sixth try, though, came after 55 minutes, Tigers showing patience in possession near the line before second-row Martin timed his run on to a Costelow pass to perfection and ran in under the posts. The fly-half’s extras stretched the lead to 43-7 with 15 minutes left to play.
There was still time for Gloucester to run two quickfire tries, their first points since the 23rd minute. First, wing Louis Rees-Zammit finished a counter-attack started by Jack Curtis and then Alex Hunt got the important touch at the end of the forward drive. Mathews added both conversions to make it 43-21 with four minutes left on the clock.
Costelow put a late long-range penalty wide of the posts, but Tigers remained in opposition territory before being penalised in possession. The Cherries cleared up to the Tigers 22 in the final phase of the game but were closed out as the defence forced an error and cleared into touch to bring the game to a close.