Leicester overcame 14-man Worcester 20-29 to secure a bonus-point victory in an extraordinary encounter at Sixways.
The Warriors has led 17-7 at the break thanks to tries from Wynand Olivier and Matt Cox
Worcester Warriors were left to reflect on what might have been after Donncha O’Callaghan’s red card played its part as Leicester Tigers secured a dramatic 29-20 bonus-point win at Sixways.
Worcester stormed into a 17-0 lead early on courtsy of tries from Wynand Olivier and Matt Cox, both converted by Tom Heathcote, on top of his earlier penalty.
But Graham Kitchener’s try, converted by Owen Williams, cut the gap to ten points at half time.
O’Callaghan was dismissed soon after the restart and Telusa Veainu took full advantage, scoring within five minutes, but Heathcote put Warriors eight points up with a penalty as the final quarter approached.
However, Tigers had the final say, a penalty try plus a late effort from Lachlan McCaffrey, Williams with the two each time, handing the visitors a remarkable win, after the Welsh fly half’s ultimately crucial penalty with 12 minutes to play.
Worcester, who were looking to protect their 100 per cent home record, made an almost perfect start.
Heathcote had already kicked the Warriors three points ahead when Olivier got over for the game’s first try, the 38-cap South African backing up a searing break from fellow centre Ryan Mills to stroll over.
Heathcote’s improved to make it 10-0 and when Leicester’s former Worcester star Mike Williams had his game ended by injury, it looked lie Worcester were all set for a memorable win.
And they soon notched their second try, Cox this time taking advantage of some static defending as he bundled his way over under the posts.
Heathcote was again successful with the conversion and Dean Ryan’s promoted side were suddenly looking at a stunning 17-0 scoreline after just 22 minutes.
Then Greg Bateman went down with injury for Tigers, a setback which saw England’s Tom Youngs enter the fray. He soon made his mark on proceedings as Leicester stabilised their flailing scrum and looked to limit the damage going into the break.
Though his lineout work left a lot to be desired, Leicester’s Youngs-inspired enthusiasm soon brought a reward as former Warrior Kitchener tore over from close range with O’Callaghan in the sin bin.
Owen Williams added the extras and Leicester went in at the break only 10 points down at 17-7, an almost unthinkable scoreline from 20 minutes earlier.
Tigers went into half time the more buoyant of the two sides and their lead-eroding task got easier within minutes of the restart as O’Callaghan was penalised after a dangerous-looking driving maul from Leicester, leaving the former Ireland lock to trudge back down the tunnel for an early bath.
When Gareth Milasinovich saw just three minutes after coming off the bench, Warriors were left lean up front and with just 13 men, but they battled manfully and Tigers were left frustrated after racking up just five points over the next ten minutes, Veainu scorching in down the right flank.
And when Heathcote kicked the hosts back into an eight-point lead, a stunning Worcester win seemed to be on the cards.
But the Tigers pack didn’t read that script and their burly front men soon turned the tide, squeezing out a hard-earned penalty try, which brought up Worcester’s fourth yellow card of the day, Cox this time sin binned.
That, after Williams’ successful penalty kick and resulting conversion, put Leicester ahead for the first time in the match.
As Worcester toiled desperately to regain their lead late on, further heartbreak was to follow as McCaffrey sealed a four-try bonus point on the hooter, denying Worcester a losing one in the process.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Leicester: Tom Youngs
Despite some ragged initial work in the line-out, the hooker was superb with the ball, helping Leicester back into the game. Tigers’ distribution was notablely cleaner following his introduction off the bench mid-way through the first half.
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Ryan Mills, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Tom Heathcote, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 Phil Dowson (c), 7 Sam Betty, 6 Matt Cox, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan, 3 Joe Rees, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Na’ama Leleimalefaga
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Tevita Cavubati, 20 Marco Mama, 21 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Ben Howard
Leicester: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone , 13 Peter Betham , 12 Seremaia Bai , 11 Vereniki Goneva , 10 Owen Williams, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Tom Croft, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Ed Slater (c), 3 Dan Cole, 2 Greg Bateman, 1 Matias Aguero
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Dom Barrow, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Jono Kitto, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Matt Smith
Date: Saturday, December 5
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Paul Burton, Andrew Pearce
TMO: Sean Davey