Newcastle clung on to their place in Gallagher Premiership for another day at least after Leicester fell to an ugly 23-19 defeat by Harlequins.
The Tigers needed two points from the penultimate round of the regular season to condemn Newcastle to relegation, but fell short on a hard-fought evening at the Stoop.
Victory over Gloucester on Saturday will allow the Falcons to survive until the final weekend when they host Bristol, but they would still remain overwhelming favourites to go down.
Harlequins replaced Northampton in fourth to lift their hopes of securing a semi-final, in the process ending their five-match losing run in the Premiership.
Flanker Alex Dombrandt was a constant threat in the carry, prop Kyle Sinckler rampaged around the pitch and scrum-half Danny Care marked his return from a hamstring injury with a lively display, but it was an evening of few highlights.
Replacement lock Semi Kunatani delivered the knockout blow seven minutes from time when he scooped the ball from a ruck and galloped through a gigantic hole to finish under the posts.
All of Leicester’s points were delivered by the boot of George Ford until Mike Fitzgerald drove over three minutes into overtime, securing a bonus point that could yet be critical in condemning Newcastle to relegation.
Former Australia captain James Horwill led out Quins in his final home appearance before retiring at the end of the season and his team were quickly into their stride though a piercing attack launched by Mike Brown.
It took six minutes for the first try to come, strong carries from Dombrandt and Horwill at a line-out creating the chance for Care to cross from close range.
Two penalties by Ford kept Leicester in touch and a period of dominance followed as Quins spent increasingly lengthy spells defending in their own 22.
For all their possession, the Tigers could not breach the try-line but as half-time approached their prospects improved when opposition number eight Jack Clifford was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle on full-back Telusa Veainu.
Back chat from Quins cost another 10 metres and although the home side rallied superbly at a threatening line-out, Leicester’s assault continued with waves of attacks forcing a penalty that was landed by Ford.
Veainu departed for a head injury assessment a full two minutes after he had been flattened by Clifford, but he passed the test.
A stilted start to the second half produced few thrills but a pair of Smith penalties propelled Quins back in front and Leicester’s chances faded when Dan Cole conceded a penalty just as his side were building a head of steam.
The visitors lacked cohesion and their lack of threat was summed up when Ford sent an attacking kick straight into touch.
And typically they were at fault for the try that finished them off as they left a ruck unguarded, allowing Fijian giant Kunatani to touch down.
The last word was had by Leicester, however, as replacement second row Fitzgerald used his bulky frame to force his way over and secure the losing bonus point.
Manu Tuilagi has ended speculation about his future by signing a new deal with Leicester, the Premiership Rugby club have confirmed.
Tuilagi, the England centre, had been linked with a move to French side Racing 92 following the conclusion of this year’s World Cup in Japan, but has instead opted to remain with the club where he began his career in 2010.
The 27-year-old said on Leicester’s official website: “This was a big decision for me to make but I am very happy to be able to stay here, I have a lot of friends here, my family is happy here and the club means a lot to me.”
Tuilagi’s previous contract with the Tigers was due to expire in the summer.
The 27-year-old added: “This is a massive club and it means a lot to me and my family.
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“I love the club and I want to repay the loyalty they have shown me in my time here.
“We are all behind Geordan Murphy and his ambitions for the team and I’m very passionate about playing my part in bringing back the success we all expect at such a massive club.”
A move to France would likely have brought a halt to Tuilagi’s international career, with the Rugby Football Union only selecting players who play in England.
Leicester head coach Murphy said: “Manu is a world-class player with a real X-factor about his game and anyone would want him in their team. He’s been here a long time, his heart is here and we’re all delighted that he wants to stay with the club.
“He is at his physical peak as a player at 27, he is a leader within the squad and we look forward to seeing many more big performances from him in a Tigers shirt.”
Club chairman Peter Tom added: “It’s great news for everybody at the club that Manu is staying.
“He is a world-class player who came through our academy to make his name in professional rugby and now on the world stage.
“He was very keen to stay and wants to play his part in what Geordan is building for the future.
“We appreciate that Manu can attract offers from elsewhere in the rugby world – who wouldn’t want him in their team? – but we also know the love and the passion he has for the Tigers after nearly 10 years in the team.”
There were just two games in the Gallagher Premiership but both were absolute thrillers.
Below you can see the best of the action from Bath vs Leicester Tigers and Bristol vs Newcastle Falcons.
Bath 23-16 Leicester Tigers
Determined Bath climbed back into fifth place by beating Leicester 23-16 in the Gallagher Premiership.
Tries from Jamie Roberts, Mike Catt and Ruaridh McConnochie gave the home side enough of a platform to see off a Tigers comeback which earned a losing bonus point.
Buoyed by the bonus-point win over Harlequins that ended a run of seven defeats, Leicester took the lead after just two minutes as Jonny May latched on to a grubber kick by England team-mate George Ford, who also landed the conversion.
Bath responded with a sustained attack which earned a succession of penalties and a hard look from the TMO, but no try. Leicester had some respite when Ellis Genge won a scrum free-kick on his own line.
There was no let-up though and Francois Louw thought he had scored against the post on 19 minutes, only to be denied again by the TMO. Referee J P Doyle had been playing advantage so Burns kicked the penalty.
As Bath were enjoying nearly 80 per cent of territory and possession, skipper Will Chudley was stripped of the ball on the goal-line by Manu Tuilagi. Tigers won the scrum but hooker Jake Kerr spilled a pass from the resulting ruck and this time the home side were not to be denied.
Steady scrum ball allowed Chudley to feed Roberts on the crash ball on 27 minutes and Burns converted for a 10-7 lead.
Five minutes later he chased down Jonah Holmes deep into the visitors’ 22 and Catt was driven over for a second unconverted try to establish a two-score lead at the break.
A fast and furious start to the second half saw England flanker Sam Underhill helped off with his foot heavily strapped as Leicester started to threaten, eventually earning a penalty kicked by Ford.
But Bath’s riposte was immediate as Louw again broke the defensive line and swift passing gave McConnochie just enough space to evade Genge and score in the corner.
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That third unconverted try made the score 20-10 on 55 minutes but Leicester looked dangerous on the break as Ford continued to sniff out opportunities for his runners.
Ford twice brought the visitors into losing bonus-point range with two penalties while Rhys Priestland came off the bench to kick a goal from 45 metres for Bath.
Bristol 35-28 Newcastle Falcons
Bristol stormed back from a half-time deficit to pick up a valuable five Premiership points with a thrilling 35-28 victory against Newcastle at Ashton Gate.
Tom Pincus scored the match-winner three minutes from time with Bristol’s other tries coming from Charles Piutau, Luke Morahan and Harry Randall. Ian Madigan converted two and kicked two penalties with Callum Sheedy adding a penalty and a conversion.
Newcastle’s tries came from Vereniki Goneva, Adam Radwan and Callum Chick with Toby Flood converting two and kicking three penalties.
Bristol made an explosive start to take the lead after only 75 seconds with a brilliant try. A neat handling move saw Morahan make the crucial break before Randall showed strength to fend off the cover defence and force his way over.
Madigan converted before Falcons responded with a sustained period of pressure. Stern defence from the hosts kept their try-line intact but Flood put his side on the scoreboard with a simple penalty.
However, the visitors maintained their territorial dominance for the remainder of the first quarter and were rewarded with their first try when their pack drove Goneva over.
Flood converted before he extended the lead with his second penalty after Bristol wing Pincus was penalised for not releasing.
Newcastle then lost two players simultaneously with both Micky Young and John Hardie leaving the field for injury assessments before they suffered a further setback when Madigan knocked over a penalty.
The injury disruption did not stop Falcons’ momentum as their pack possessed too much power for Bristol, illustrated by their second try. The lively George McGuigan burst away from a line-out giving Chick the easy task of picking up and driving over.
Just before the interval, error-ridden Bristol rose from their slumbers with a free-flowing 60-metre move with Piutau, Dan Thomas and Chris Vui all making telling contributions but they lacked the accuracy to finish, leaving the hosts trailing 20-10 at half-time.
After the restart, Bristol continued their improvement to reduce the arrears when Madigan’s pass sent Piutau over.
The score galvanised Bristol, who regained the lead with their third try. Morahan secured a vital high ball to give his side a platform from which Harry Thacker sent Morahan sneaking over.
Madigan missed the touchline conversion but succeeded with a penalty to give transformed Bristol a 25-20 lead going into the final quarter.
Newcastle responded with their third try when Radwan won the race to touch down a well-judged kick from Flood for the wing to celebrate his 21st birthday in style.
Bristol immediately changed their half-backs with new fly-half Sheedy kicking a penalty. That was soon nullified by one from Flood, before a superb burst from Ed Holmes set up the winner for Pincus.
Saracens held off an incredible Leicester Tigers fightback to maintain their winning start to the Gallagher Premiership campaign, keeping pace with Exeter with a 27-22 success.
The hosts had made a promising start, dominating most of the first quarter, but could only put three points on the board and were undone by a three-try salvo late in the half.
Two tries from Brendon O’Connor and Matt Smith’s score saw the home side cut the deficit to two points but Saracens held on for an eighth straight league victory.
Leicester strung together 16 phases from the kick-off and although they could not breach the visitors’ defence they were rewarded with a penalty in front of the posts, which fly-half Joe Ford dispatched.
Twice Leicester thought they had crossed for tries with referee Karl Dickson consulting the big screen on both occasions before ruling them out.
First Jonah Holmes’ rampaging run down the left wing ended with the combined efforts of Max Malins and Alex Lozowski saving a try because of an inconclusive grounding.
From the resulting five-yard scrum Leicester switched the ball from one side to the other and back again before centre Gareth Owen crashed over – only to see his effort ruled out because of hands in the ruck.
Saracens’ Ben Spencer scored the opening try of the game after 25 minutes against the run of play, the scrum-half racing 80 metres to the right corner after charging down a kick.
Moments later the visitors had their second try as Malins sold a dummy in midfield before cutting inside and finding Alex Lewington with a looping pass that allowed him to go over unopposed.
And a third try in six minutes followed as Lozowski finished off a break down the right hand side with a blistering turn of pace.
Spencer converted both tries to make it 21-3 to the visitors at the break.
The second half started with the home side once again in the ascendancy as Saracens conceded a series of penalties – Leicester took full advantage with their pack driving flanker O’Connor over for a try at the second attempt.
Saracens restored their 14-point lead when Spencer kicked a penalty from in front of the posts, after Ben Earl’s powerful run put Leicester on the back foot and drew an infringement at the breakdown.
The visitors were reduced to 13 men after Earl halted a promising Tigers attack with a deliberate knock-on and from the resulting pressure Schalk Burger strayed offside once too many times.
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The home side made their two-man advantage pay, with O’Connor touching down for the second time of the afternoon and Ford converting.
The Tigers struck again immediately as Smith collected a kick and touched down – but Ford pushed the conversion wide.
Saracens then made light of their numerical disadvantage to drive forward and win a penalty between the posts that Spencer converted as the visitors closed out the win.
The European Champions Cup is back for another season and it was certainly a day to remember.
Here is the best of Saturday’s action from the competition.
Bath 20-22 Toulouse
Freddie Burns was guilty of two late blunders as Toulouse continued English clubs’ painful start to the Heineken Champions Cup by claiming a 22-20 victory over Bath.
Less than 24 hours after European title holders Leinster crushed Wasps under a half-century of points in Dublin, Toulouse clinched a crucial Pool One win at the Recreation Ground.
And they were helped by Bath full-back Burns, who missed an easy 74th minute penalty chance and then blew a try barely 60 seconds later after crossing the Toulouse line before losing control of the ball under pressure from Toulouse defender Maxime Medard.
Centre Sofiane Guitoune scored two tries for Toulouse, including a clincher 17 minutes from time, while wing Medard also touched down and full-back Thomas Ramos kicked two conversions and a penalty.
Exeter 10-10 Munster
Exeter’s European Champions Cup campaign got off to a disappointing start after they were held to a 10-10 draw in a titanic struggle at Sandy Park.
Exeter had only lost once in their last 17 games but came perilously close to losing this one as Munster had the lion’s share of possession and territory.
Luke Cowan-Dickie scored Exeter’s only try with Gareth Steenson adding a penalty and a conversion.
CJ Stander scored for Munster with Joey Carbery kicking a penalty and a conversion.
Ulster 24-10 Leicester
Second-half tries from Alan O’Connor, Will Addison and Jacob Stockdale earned Ulster a 24-10 win over Leicester in their Heineken Champions Cup opener.
Ulster’s John Cooney kicked all three conversions and a penalty to complete the Irish province’s scoring in the Pool Four clash at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
The Tigers led at half-time thanks to a George Ford penalty but failed to score again until Manu Tuilagi’s 75th-minute converted try.
Montpellier 21-15 Edinburgh
Referee Wayne Barnes ruled out two tries for Edinburgh as they fell just short of a famous Champions Cup victory over Montpellier on French soil.
Montpellier, coached by the former Scottish national coach Vern Cotter, scored three first half tries on the way to a 21-15 victory, but it was Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh who dominated the final 40 minutes.
Edinburgh crossed for a try in each half and would have won the game if Barnes not ruled out a Hamish Watson try at the posts for offside and another by Magnus Bradbury for obstruction.
In the end they had to settle for a losing bonus-point, although they had to scramble to keep hold of it after home skipper Louis Picamoles intercepted 30 metres out and almost reached the line for what would have been an extra point for the hosts.
Scarlets 13-14 Racing 92
Racing 92 opened their Heineken Champions Cup Pool Four campaign with a dramatic and controversial 14-13 victory over Scarlets.
The French side were trailing 13-7 in the final minutes when referee Matthew Carley awarded Racing a penalty try and also sent scrum-half Gareth Davies to the sin bin, and from there, Racing held on to win.
Racing’s two tries came at the end of the first and second halves with a losing bonus point being little consolation for Scarlets, last year’s semi-finalist’s, who led for most of the match.
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Leicester piled more misery on the Gallagher Premiership’s bottom side Sale with a narrow 19-15 victory at Welford Road.
The Tigers went into the game having lost their last two league matches but avoided a third when centre Kyle Eastmond went over in the first-half, while George Ford got four penalties and a conversion.
Sale took an early lead when wing Marland Yarde rounded off a flowing move, while hooker Rob Webber and substitute Curtis Langdon touched down during the final quarter, but the Sharks are still without a Premiership away win since March and it is 10 years since they triumphed on Leicester soil.
It could, though, have been a different story if scrum-half Will Cliff had not missed all three of his kicks at goal, and a losing bonus point proved scant consolation after they outscored Leicester 3-1 on tries.
The game proved to be a pale shadow of most league games so far this season – high-scoring contests littered with tries – but Leicester will just be relieved to have rediscovered a winning formula.
It was not pretty, and they often had to defend for long periods, yet Leicester jumped above Northampton and Bristol in the table ahead of tackling Saints at Twickenham next Saturday.
Manu Tuilagi missed out for Leicester due to a leg injury, so Eastmond partnered Gareth Owen in midfield, with fit-again Adam Thompstone returning on the wing and England Under-20 international scrum-half Ben White making his first Premiership start.
Webber and lock Andrei Ostrokov returned for Sale, while Sam James replaced AJ MacGinty at fly-half, with James’ brother Luke starting alongside centre colleague Mark Jennings.
And Sale settled quickly, impressively going through attacking phases before Yarde launched a counter-attack and after important contributions by his fellow wing Denny Solomona and full-back Byron McGuigan, the former Harlequins speedster crossed unmarked for a try.
Cliff’s conversion hit the post, but Leicester responded strongly and unlocked Sale’s defence following a smart Owen half-break and clever pass that gave Eastmond his first Tigers try since he joined them from Wasps.
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Ford’s conversion edged Leicester ahead, but while there was plenty of attacking intent from both sides, their league positions – both were in the Premiership’s bottom third before kick-off – underpinned two teams striving for confidence.
A Ford penalty nudged Leicester five points clear after 24 minutes, and they looked to have increased their lead when England wing Jonny May sprinted clear from 60 metres, but the final pass to him was rightly ruled forward.
Ford’s second successful penalty opened up an eight-point advantage just before the break, but it was not a half to live long in the memory.
Despite conceding an interval deficit, Sale were far from out of the contest and they went through 17 phases inside Leicester’s 22 at one stage as they strived to reduce their arrears.
But they were not helped by making numerous mistakes, especially in the lineouts, where misdirected throwing-in twice cost them promising attacking positions.
A forward surge resulted in Webber touching down to keep pressure on Leicester, before Ford completed his penalty hat-trick and then landed a 50-metre kick to seal the points, although Langdon touched down late on to give Sale a point.
Wasps laboured to a 41-35 victory over Leicester at the Ricoh Arena in a game that was marred by the sending off of Tigers lock Will Spencer.
Spencer was sent off in similar circumstances to that of Bristol flanker George Smith was dismissed for a dangerous tackle at Saracens eight days ago.
He caught Tommy Taylor with a shoulder to the head and his afternoon was over, but in his defence he was dipping low to make the tackle against a player who stands six inches shorter.
Leicester interim head coach Geordan Murphy shook his head at referee Ian Tempest’s decision and Spencer trudged off, another victim of the game’s zero-tolerance policy on high tackles in the hope of reducing instances of concussion.
The incident happened in first-half injury-time and despite being a man down for the remainder of a pulsating Gallagher Premiership clash, Leicester produced their finest moments to lead twice, with the outstanding George Ford instrumental in their comeback.
Jonny May’s second try was dubious due to a forward pass by Ford but it set up a grandstand finish that was settled by three penalties from Wasps full debutant Lima Sopoaga.
Leicester’s sense of grievance was at least eased by their haul of two bonus points, but from the start it looked like it might not be their day.
Full-back Telusa Veainu charged down a clearance by Elliot Daly but unluckily the ball squirted to Josh Bassett who charged forward in broken play before Juan De Jongh crossed via a pass from Dan Robson.
Wasps stepped up the onslaught when Daly lofted a perfect kick to the left wing where Bassett outjumped Adam Thompstone to catch and score.
Leicester’s response was rapid as England duo Ford and May combined, with the former chipping ahead for the wing to grab and touch down for an expert finish.
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But the try only briefly stemmed the flow of home points as Wasps turned to the bludgeon for their next breakthrough, Nathan Hughes carrying hard twice and forcing his way over the line the second time.
The Tigers continued to snap at Wasps’ heels and were rewarded when Ford accelerated on to the ball and released Veainu for a score under the posts that was made possible by an excellent pick-up by Tom Youngs.
The lead had been reduced to four points but Leicester suffered the hammer blow of seeing Spencer sent off and to compound their misery Daly landed the penalty from 53 metres.
The misfortune only served to inspire the visitors, however, as a Ford penalty was followed up by a powerful Sione Kalamafoni try from close range.
For the first time Leicester led, but the advantage quickly vanished as De Jongh weaved a path infield, beating four defenders en route to racing over the line.
Controversy reigned as Ford appeared to give a forward pass to May for the England wing’s second and Ford delivered a quickly-taken drop-goal for the conversion to suggest he did not want referee Ian Tempest to intervene.
Sopoaga swept Wasps to victory, however, with his three late penalties.
Here is the best from Saturday’s action in the Gallagher Premiership.
Saracens 44-23 Bristol
Billy Vunipola made a try-scoring comeback as Saracens pulled clear of Bristol in a dominant second half that underpinned a 44-23 Gallagher Premiership victory at Allianz Park.
Vunipola’s first appearance since re-fracturing his arm against South Africa in June totalled 36 minutes and the injury-ravaged England number eight was a menace throughout.
Saracens needed his firepower to subdue a resilient Bristol who led 18-13 at half time and suffered the injustice of seeing George Smith harshly sent off for a tackle on Jackson Wray when the score was delicately poised at 18-18.
Smith’s challenge was at shoulder height and there was a clear attempt to use his right arm, but after repeated viewings referee Andrew Jackson reached for the red card. Wray departed for a head injury assessment and was unable to return.
The Australia Test centurion stared at Jackson in disbelief, received a sympathetic pat on the head from his head coach Pat Lam upon reaching the dugout and then watched as Saracens powered clear with tries from Vunipola and Liam Williams.
England lock Maro Itoje was lucky to escape punishment for a high tackle on Joe Joyce under the posts as Bristol staged a final-quarter comeback that ended when Williams plundered two additional tries to complete his own successful return from a groin problem.
Wasps 31-42 Exeter
Exeter beat Wasps 42-31 in an enthralling contest at the Ricoh Arena to continue their impressive start to the Gallagher Premiership season.
After last week’s 40-point demolition of Leicester at Sandy Park, the visitors overcame a 24-21 half-time deficit to run out deserved winners.
Sam Simmonds and Henry Slade both scored two tries for Chiefs, with Santiago Cordero and Don Armand also crossing and Gareth Steenson converting all six.
Elliot Daly, Josh Bassett, Dan Robson and Nathan Hughes scored Wasps’ tries, with Billy Searle adding three conversions and a penalty. Lima Sopoaga added a conversion.
Bath 31-31 Gloucester
Matt Banahan denied his former Bath team-mates a remarkable Gallagher Premiership victory as his late converted try secured Gloucester a 31-31 draw.
Ex-England wing Banahan, who joined Gloucester this summer following a long Bath career that saw him more than 250 appearances, struck two minutes from time, with Billy Twelvetrees’ conversion ensuring the points were shared.
Leicester 49-33 Newcastle
Leicester gave Geordan Murphy the perfect start as interim head coach as they came out on top in a thrilling 49-33 victory over Newcastle.
It had been a turbulent week for the Tigers with Matt O’Connor sacked on Monday following their 40-6 humiliation to Exeter in their Gallagher Premiership opener, leaving former Ireland and British & Irish Lions full-back Murphy in command on a temporary basis.
But the 40-year-old, who made 316 appearances for the Tigers, watched his men get off to a winning start against his old coach Dean Richards.
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Matt O’Connor has left Leicester Tigers as Head Coach with immediate effect after just one game of the Gallagher Premiership season.
Geordan Murphy will make a temporary step up from assistant manager alongside coaches Mark Bakewell, Boris Stankovich and Brett Deacon.
O’Connor had been in charge at Welford Road since April 2017 following a spell as a player at the club, but leaves after a 40-6 thrashing at the hands of Exeter on the opening day of the season.
Leicester chairman Peter Tom said: “Matt was appointed head coach in April 2017 on the basis of his previous Premiership experience and his knowledge of the club. But we believe the time is right to make this change in the best interests of the Tigers moving forward.”
In his first season at the club, O’Connor took the Tigers to the Premiership semi-finals, before finishing fifth last season.
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Chairman Peter Tom added: “As a club, Leicester Tigers will always aspire to challenge for major honours in the incredibly competitive arena of professional elite club rugby and everyone at the club will fully support Geordan and the management group in driving the team forward.
“Geordan knows the expectations and ambitions of the Tigers as well as anyone after more than 20 years here as player and coach, and we wish him and the team the very best for the challenges ahead.”
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