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Leicester Tigers 32 Worcester Warriors 15
THE Dean Ryan Sixways regime began in familiar fashion with defeat to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, but there were plenty of positive signs for the new Warriors director of rugby.
Leicester were good value for their 32-15 win, yet Ryan will have been encouraged by the heart and commitment shown by his players, although the match was no great spectacle.
A superb individual try from Worcester centre Josh Matavesi was the highlight for the visitors, but Vereniki Goneva’s score from the final play was harsh on Warriors, who gave last year’s champions a real battle.
As is the case with most sides who come to the Tigers’ lair, possession of the ball was in short supply for Worcester and, when they did have it, a wall of green prevented them from making significant inroads.
Worcester had the first opportunity to open the scoring when Jordan Crane was penalised as Tigers made a mess of clearing their lines.
However, fly-half Ignacio Mieres fluffed his penalty attempt and, soon afterwards, Leicester took the lead when Ryan Lamb slotted a three-pointer.
Tigers continued to ask questions of the Worcester defence and the hosts should have extended their lead, but Lamb’s strike was poor.
Welford Road has never been a happy hunting ground for Worcester and the travelling fans might have feared the worst when Lamb added a penalty following Adam Thompstone’s early try to make it 11-0.
Lamb escaped a possible yellow card when he appeared to knock down what would have been a scoring pass from Matavesi to Josh Drauniniu after good work by Chris Pennell, but Warriors opened their account with a Mieres penalty.
Tigers were hit for not rolling away after Tom Youngs overthrew a line-out, Sam Betty snaffled the loose ball and the former Exeter man did the rest.
Just as Goneva would do from the final play of the game, the last move of the opening 40 minutes resulted in a try for the hosts.
Crane burst powerfully into the Warriors’ 22 and scrum-half David Mele was on hand to take the off-load and dive over. Lamb added the extras to make it 18-3 at the break.
Worcester’s hopes of getting back into the contest were delivered a blow in the 44th minute when otherwise-impressive lock Mike Williams was sin-binned for illegally checking Lamb, who was in pursuit of his own chip over the top.
There was a sense of inevitability about Leicester’s second score as they set up the catch-and-drive and 14-man Warriors could not prevent Crane from touching down.
Lamb’s conversion made it 25-3 and Worcester were staring down the barrel of a real hiding, but Ryan’s troops gathered themselves and staged something of a comeback.
Firstly, replacement lock Chris Jones crashed over after scrum-half Jeremy Su’a had sent Matavesi close, while Mieres’ conversion made it 25-10. Matavesi was in the thick of the action minutes later, throwing an outrageous dummy to flummox the Tigers defence and his diagonal run was rewarded with a try following consultation with the TMO.
Mieres missed the conversion and that was as close as Worcester got to snatching an unlikely point from the home of the champions.
Tigers had the final say with Goneva’s converted try setting the seal on a convincing home win, but there were a few glimmers of what may be to come from Ryan’s Warriors.