Leicester make numerical advantage count to snatch late win over Gloucester
Leicester full-back Tommy Bell kicked the Tigers to a dramatic 19-18 Aviva Premiership victory at Kingsholm as Gloucester folded after their England international number eight Ben Morgan was sin-binned.
Morgan saw yellow following an off-the-ball challenge on Leicester wing Telusa Veainu with just four minutes left, and Tigers made their one-man advantage count when substitute prop Logovi'i Mulipola crashed for a try that Bell converted with barely a minute left.
Gloucester looked to have transferred strong European form into the domestic arena as they resumed Premiership business.
The west country club, unbeaten in this season's European Challenge Cup competition in relentless pursuit of a successful title defence, saw international cast-offs Morgan and James Hook score tries as Leicester were nudged on to the back foot.
Fly-half Hook, who failed to make Wales' RBS 6 Nations squad, also added two penalties and a conversion, while overlooked England forward Morgan touched down midway through the first half.
Leicester, minus England squad members Ben Youngs and Dan Cole, in addition to suspended hooker Tom Youngs, saw prop Marcos Ayerza score a close-range try that their former Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns converted in the first half, before Veainu finished off a brilliant long-range move 11 minutes from time that sparked Tigers' fightback.
Leicester dominated initial possession and territory, keeping Gloucester pinned in their own half, but they missed a fifth-minute chance to go ahead when Burns rifled a straightforward penalty attempt wide.
And that was the cue for Gloucester to embark on a sustained spell of pressure themselves, with wing Charlie Sharples brought into play from deep on several occasions.
Leicester's impressive defensive organisation initially proved enough, but Gloucester finally found a way through after 21 minutes - and then added a second try barely 60 seconds later.
Hook eluded four tacklers on a jinking, short-range dart to the line for a try that he also converted, then centre Billy Meakes made initial headway after the restart before Gloucester shipped possession wide and Morgan touched down wide out.
Hook saw his touchline conversion attempt bounce back off the post, yet Gloucester were off and running, 12-0 ahead and seemingly in control.
Burns, though, had other ideas, and his quick-witted kick and chase into Gloucester's half caused disarray, allowing his team-mate Tom Croft to take the move on before Ayerza dived over unmarked and Burns' conversion cut the deficit to five points.
But Gloucester finished the half on top, with Hook kicking a penalty after Bell was punished by referee JP Doyle for not releasing possession following his initial misjudgement of a testing Hook up and under.
Hook continued to challenge the Leicester defence by cleverly mixing his attacking game, and he was largely responsible for ensuring that Gloucester maintained front-foot control.
A heavy playing surface did little to encourage the attacking instincts of either side, yet Hook retained a spark of creativity that Leicester often struggled to contain, even if the third quarter proved scoreless.
But Leicester guaranteed the game would have a tense finale when Bell caught the ball deep inside his own half, and wing Peter Betham set off on a mesmerising run before substitute back-row forward Jordan Crane linked impressively and Veianu claimed an outstanding try.
Burns again failed to find his range off the tee, and Hook showed him how it should be done when he rifled over an angled penalty nine minutes from time that meant Gloucester led by six points.
Morgan was then yellow-carded, though, for an off the ball challenge on Veainu, which meant Leicester had numerical supremacy that they emphatically made count.