Tom Varndell scored a try on his return to Leicester Tigers as he featured in the Development XV’s 22-34 loss to Newcastle Falcons in their final Premiership Shield game of 2018 on New Year’s Eve.
The experienced wing was on the end of a play from the Tigers midfield to go over in the corner in the second half, adding to hooker Ross McMillan’s first half score from a driving maul.
Tigers academy graduate Harry Mahoney scored the home side's third try of the game, but it wasn’t enough as Falcons came out on top at Loughborough University.
More than 600 fans watched Tigers Development XV in action, which included a mix of youth and experience with McMillan and Tonga internationals David Feao and Valentino Mapapalangi leading the likes of academy graduates Sam Lewis, Henri Lavin, Taylor Gough and captain for the game Wales U20s international Tommy Reffell in the pack.
Tigers were at an early disadvantage as new signing and Italy international Leonardo Sarto was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock on in the third minute after an end-to-end start at Loughborough University.
Tigers defended well before the game was stopped as centre Tom Hardwick was stretchered off just a few minutes later following a collision in the middle of the park.
It was Falcons who scored the first points of the day as full-back Josh Hodge kicked a penalty.
Just as Sarto returned to the field of play, Tigers were dealt another blow as fullback Sam Aspland-Robinson was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on, as Leicester battled on with one less man.
Newcastle added to their points in the 25th minute as the visitors found their way through the Tigers defensive line and flanker Ryan Burrows got on the end of a pass to race away. Hodge added the extras from the boot.
Tigers hit back immediately driving a maul over the line which was then touched down by Ross McMillan. Fly-half Joe Ford kicked the conversion as the home side chased the game.
Tigers academy player Freddie Steward came on in place of the injured Charlie Thacker to make his debut and the scores stayed at 7-10 as the referee blew the half-time whistle.
In the 45th minute, Joe Ford levelled the scores to 10-all as Newcastle were penalised for not rolling away and moments later, Tigers took the lead through Varndell after some hard running from the pack to go over.
The game swung back in Newcastle’s favour in the 54th minute as second row Will Montgomery went over for Falcons and Hodge kicked the extras to give Newcastle the lead 17 points to Tigers 15.
With over an hour played, Tigers pushed up the field gaining territory and Joe Ford was unsuccessful in a goal attempt following a penalty kick for not releasing.
Newcastle then extended their lead further with two quick-fire tries in the 65th and 69th minutes through wing Morgan Passman and Tom Maeshall which Josh Hodge successfully kicked making the score 15-31 with ten minutes to play.
A late rally from Tigers saw another powerful driving maul following a line-out deep in the Falcons half, which Harry Mahoney squeezed over and Ford adding the points from the boot to make it 22-31.
But a late penalty in the last minute of the game was kicked by Hodge to secure a 12-point victory for Newcastle, 22-34.