Leicester Tigers’ winning start to the season continued after they showed champion qualities to stun Bristol Bears 28-26 at Ashton Gate.
Steve Borthwick’s men were looking for their 10th Premiership victory in a row in 2021/22, but they came up against a much-improved Bristol side and appeared to be heading for a defeat.
With Jasper Wiese in the sin bin and the Bears 26-23 ahead, the visitors were on course for their first loss of the campaign, but the Tigers are made of stern stuff this season.
They mounted one last attack and opened the space for Guy Porter to touch down and dramatically claim yet another win.
Bristol were the last team to defeat Leicester in a Premiership game, claiming an away success almost seven months ago, and they nearly repeated that feat through tries from number eight Fitz Harding and wing Ioan Lloyd, while fly-half Callum Sheedy kicked 16 points.
Porter, wing Nemani Nadolo and hooker Julian Montoya touched down for the Tigers, with fly-half George Ford adding three penalties and two conversions as Leicester shaded a thriller.
Fijian star Semi Radradra made his first start of the season after being sidelined by a knee injury suffered during the Tokyo Olympics while Lloyd, centre Sam Bedlow and flanker Sam Jeffries were also among seven changes from Bristol’s last outing three weeks ago.
Ellis Genge, meanwhile, led a Leicester team boosted by his England colleague Freddie Steward’s return at full-back, with Matias Moroni recalled alongside Dan Kelly in midfield.
Leicester made a bright start, assisted by Bristol conceding two penalties in quick succession, with Genge prominent in loose exchanges but the home team’s defence held firm.
Ford kicked the Tigers into a 15th-minute lead after Bristol conceded a scrum penalty, yet there was precious little to choose between the sides as they sparred for early supremacy.
Bristol breached Leicester’s defence midway through the first half when Radradra claimed a high ball from Ben Youngs and surged clear to touch down but the referee ruled it out for a knock-on by the centre after consulting with television match official Luke Pearce.
Bristol only had to wait another two minutes for an opening try, though, following a superb break by scrum-half Harry Randall and despite Lloyd being tackled short of the line, Harding crashed over and Sheedy added the conversion.
It lifted Bristol’s collective effort and Sheedy extended their advantage by kicking a penalty following a Leicester lineout infringement.
Leicester continued to concede penalties and another Sheedy three-pointer opened up a 13-3 advantage before Tigers hit back two minutes before the break.
Good build-up play from Moroni created an opportunity and Nadolo applied a quality finish, gathering his own kick inside Bristol’s 22 and claiming the try that Ford converted.
Sheedy and Ford exchanged penalties early in the second period, then Bristol struck with a second try after Radradra sent Lloyd over, and Sheedy converted, yet back came Leicester as Ford added the extras to Montoya’s touchdown with 23 minutes left.
Ford landed an equalising penalty to set up a tense final quarter but Sheedy missed two kicks in six minutes before finding his range again after Leicester substitute Jasper Wiese was yellow-carded for a late challenge on the Bristol number 10.
It appeared to have proved costly from Leicester’s viewpoint as Bristol were heading for an outstanding victory only for Porter to deny them in the final seconds.
A first-half blitz laid the platform as Saracens secured a dominant 61-29 victory over Worcester Warriors at StoneX Stadium.
The Londoners were excellent in the opening period but Worcester were embarrassingly bad as the hosts scored at a point a minute.
Alex Lewington (twice), Billy Vunipola, Alex Goode, Nick Tompkins and Nick Isiekwe all touched down to open up a 40-7 lead at the interval.
Vunipola completed his brace in the second half, while Ben Earl and Max Malins also went over, as Sarries dominated the first hour.
Worcester did respond through tries from Joe Batley, Francois Venter, who crossed the whitewash twice, Gareth Simpson and Ashley Beck for a try bonus-point, but it was another poor afternoon for the Warriors.
Wasps ended a run of six successive defeats after their injury-stricken side overcame London Irish 38-30 in Coventry.
The Midlanders were excellent in the opening half-hour and eased into a 22-8 lead thanks to tries from Ali Crossdale, Dan Frost and Alfie Barbeary.
It was an advantage they would not relinquish, despite Agustin Creevy twice adding to Ollie Hassell-Collins’ earlier try to keep the Exiles in the contest at the break.
Irish added another score in the second period via Tadhg McElroy but Frost’s second try, allied by the accurate boot of Jimmy Gopperth, who kicked three conversions and four penalties, sealed the win for the hosts, despite Ben White’s late consolation.
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