Leicester Tigers were beaten 32-31 by a last-minute converted try from Newcastle Falcons in the Premiership Rugby Cup at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Wednesday evening.
The visitors led by 10 points at half-time but Tigers fought their way back into the game after the break, finally taking the lead in the final quarter of an hour and claiming five tries in total before Falcons grabbed a winning score in the final minute.
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Falcons had led from the eighth minute of the third-round fixture before a score from hooker Tim Horton, but Tigers trailed 15-5 at the break.
A succession of scores ticked over in the second half as tries from Sean Jansen and Joshua Manz were matched by the visitors and two scores in just over two minutes from replacement hooker Archie Vanes at lineout drives finally put Tigers in front with less than quarter of an hour remaining before the final response from the visitors.
After a home win over Wasps in the previous round, Tigers made just two changes to the starting line-up, with Kini Murimurivalu and Tom Manz coming into a team captained by prop James Whitcombe for a third successive cup tie.
Making a third trip to Leicester since the end of August, Falcons were captained by former Tigers scrum-half Michael Young and included the experience of Alex Tait and Tian Schoeman in their line-up.
Tigers spent the early period of the game on the attack, with testing carries from Murimurivalu and No8 Jansen before Josh Manz proved a nuisance at a ruck on the edge of the Falcons 22, helping to keep play in that area of the field.
But the visitors broke out on nine minutes to claim the opening points of the evening as Alex Tait followed an awkward bouncing ball in-goal to get the final touch.
Tigers were held up over the tryline as they looked for a response from kick-off, but a try did come moments later, with Horton capitalising on the strength of Murimurivalu and then Hosea Saumaki who fought off a queue of would-be tacklers on the touchline to set up the hooker’s run-in.
There was barely time for the scoreboard to record it before Falcons added their second, full-back Elliott Obatoyinbo providing the finish on the left and Schoeman’s conversion gave them a seven-point lead by midway through the opening half.
Sam Edwards had to clear up a teasing kick towards the Tigers tryline and the left boot of Murimurivalu took play out of the danger area, though Tigers had to spend a spell in defence as Schoeman added a penalty for a 10-point lead on the half-hour.
Jansen took three defenders with him as he picked up at a scrum and Falcons were penalised for offside as they retreated, giving Tigers the chance to play into the opposition half. A second whistle followed but Walsh was off target with his place-kick.
Back-rower Jansen prevented Falcons progress after the restart as he wrapped up ball at their lineout 10 metres out, but Tigers were penned back as Obatoyinbo found his way through broken field, only to see the chance lost when George Wacokecoke dropped the pass in front of the posts.
A good scrum provided an opening for Joseph Woodward to attack on the right and, with no advantage coming, the referee brought play back for Walsh to put the ball into the right-hand corner and the forwardss took charge with a big drive to the line as Jansen made the score.
The whistle blew at the other end moments later and Schoeman kicked the three-pointer for a 10-18 lead.
But Tigers used another lineout to create a position for a third try, with Jansen carrying strongly again before the younger Manz brother arrived to score next to the posts and Walsh added the extras to put a single point between the teams.
That margin lasted just a few minutes as Alex Tait scored a third for Falcons following a smart exchange of passes with hooker Charlie Maddison, and the conversion was added by Schoeman.
But another lineout and another drive, finished by replacement hooker Vanes, banked a bonus point for Tigers and the kick from Walsh brought the margin back to one point with 15 minutes remaining.
Tigers repeated the drill from further out just two minutes later, Vanes again on the ball for a full 20 metres to add his second try and put his team in front. Walsh kicked to make it 31-25.
Vanes sensed a hat-trick as he peeled off the side of a maul and took play 30 metres upfield on a solo run, but Falcons blocked out the next phase to clear their lines and they were rewarded with one final chance following a penalty near halfway as the clock ticked into the 79th minute. They kicked to the right and, playing with another penalty advantage from a collapsed maul, kept the ball until hooker Ollie Fletcher made the score and gave Louie Johnson the opportunity to win the game with the conversion from the right-hand side.
Leicester Tigers beat Newcastle Falcons 36-21, scoring five tries, in the opening home game of the season on Saturday.
After both teams picked up a single point in Round 1 of the Gallagher Premiership campaign, Tigers collected the maximum five on their return to Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
Tigers celebrated tries from James Cronin and Nemani Nadolo in the opening quarter of an hour, but they were pegged back as Falcons found two of their own to lead 14-12.
Then, though, two tries in two minutes from Nadolo again and Chris Ashton wrapped up one bonus point by half-time, but Falcons still stayed in the game, bringing the score back to 26-21 early in the second half before Tigers finally put some daylight between the teams with an Olly Cracknell try.
Head coach Steve Borthwick welcomed back England internationals Guy Porter, Ollie Chessum, Joe Heyes and Jack van Poortvliet for the first time after their summer tour in Australia and gave Jimmy Gopperth and James Cronin their home debuts.
After tributes to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the singing of God Save The King, the game started with Tigers attacking the Beehive Money Stand end on a clear and bright afternoon.
The game was just two minutes old when Cronin grabbed the first home try of the season and his first on his Mattioli Woods Welford Road debut, barging over on the right after Nadolo had been dragged down by three defenders in the opposite corner and Harry Potter stopped just short as play spread across the pitch. Gopperth added the kick.
Five minutes later, Nadolo extended the score after Porter had crated the opening, the big wing diving into the left-hand corner for a 12-0 advantage.
Falcons had barely touched had a touch at that stage, but when they did gets hands on the ball from a set-piece, they gained a penalty on halfway and, after two lineouts on the left, thought they had scored with a quick exchange at the front of the set-piece, only for referee Craig Maxwell-Keys to signal they had been held up.
Another penalty on halfway on 18 minutes led to a score for Falcons, attacking quickly on the left where scrum-half Josh Barton added the final run to the line from George Wacokecoke’s pass. The referee checked replays on the pass and proximity of the touchline before confirming the score.
Kickchase from the forwards won turnover ball for Tigers in the opposition 22, but the TMO called for a neck roll, giving Falcons a chance to clear their lines.
The visitors lost wing Nathan Earle to injury in their next phases of possession, holding his right arm carefully as play continued upfield, until Tigers forced ball loose in contact.
Tigers were playing with penalty advantage from the set-piece back in their own 22 as Youngs and Gopperth combined to set Nadolo down the left. But as Falcons covered, Chris Ashton’s chip ahead was too strong for the chasers.
Falcons were enjoying some decent possession, helped by a 50-22 kick from Connon which pinned back Tigers on to their own five-metre line, and they made it count with a second try as McGuigan burrowed his way over. The kick from Connon gave them a 14-12 lead on 33 minutes.
Alex Tait narrowly missed another 50-22, seeing the ball bounce on the touchline as he prodded down the Newcastle left, but when Tigers got back up to halfway, quick thinking from Ben Youngs – in his 200th Premiership appearance – broke the defensive line and Nadolo was on his shoulder to beat the final two defenders for his second try of the day.
Just a minute later, Falcons were back under the posts as Harry Wells caught the restart, Nadolo carried again and there was no catching Ashton as he raced to left corner. Gopperth added both conversions for a 26-14 lead at half-time and a bonus point in the bag.
The home side were quickly on the attack at the start of the second half, but after missing a chance from lineout ball on the right, it was the visitors who got the first points, with Mateo Carreras weaving his way to the tryline under the posts. The conversion by Connon narrowed the gap to 26-21.
More followed as Falcons opened up play for Adam Radwan to run in on the right. But, after TMO Ian Tempest checked replays with the referee, the scoring pass was given as forward.
Nadolo forced his way over in the left-hand corner for what would have been a hat-trick score on 57 minutes, but after numerous replays, play came back for a knock-on given against replacement Tommy Reffell as ripped possession in the build-up.
Tigers had to wait until 71 minutes for their next points, though they were important ones from a Gopperth penalty as they increased the hap to 29-21.
When van Poortvliet raced after his own kick to collar Carreras, the whistle went again and this time Tigers kept play tight, going for the set-piece on the left. Charlie Clare’s charge took play up to five metres and, when it was recycled again, it was Cracknell who made the line under a pile of tacklers. Gopperth added the kick to make it 36-21.
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