Leicester ensured a winning start for new boss Heyneke Meyer as the Tigers reeled off a third successive GUINNESS PREMIERSHPI victory at Kingsholm.
South African Meyer, in charge following Marcelo Loffreda’s short-lived reign last term, saw his team win an error-strewn tussle thanks to late tries from Geordan Murphy and Toby Flood.
England back Flood kicked two early penalties on his Premiership debut for Leicester and claimed a late interception try that he also converted, leaving Gloucester to reflect on a dire season opener.
Gloucester saw their title hopes destroyed by the Tigers four months ago. And while there was none of the nailbiting drama that culminated in Flood’s fly-half predecessor Andy Goode sending Leicester to Twickenham through an injury time drop-goal this time around, Gloucester felt similar misery.
Both teams struggled for fluency following the summer break – and they could not even hide behind the contentious experimental law variations as an excuse.
Predicted problems with the so-called ELVs did not materialise, as basic handling and kicking mistakes compounded the struggle.
Flood and opposite number Ryan Lamb missed seven shots at goal between them, although Lamb’s solitary successful strike before he was substituted 18 minutes from time looked to have made the difference before Murphy struck.
Gloucester full-back Olly Morgan, comfortably the best player on view, scored his team’s solitary try just two minutes after Leicester flanker Ben Herring was yellow-carded.
And Morgan, who won England honours under Brian Ashton’s coaching regime, also produced a solid defensive display, highlighted through a crunching tackle on blockbusting Leicester wing Alesana Tuilagi.
But Leicester were streetwise when it mattered, expertly closing the game out as suffocating pressure forced the mistake from which Flood prospered.
Leicester, who were already without injured captain Martin Corry, lost stand-in skipper Aaron Mauger because of a knee problem, so centre Matt Smith made only his third Premiership start and England lock Ben Kay took over leadership duties.
Kay’s 2003 World Cup-winning colleague Mike Tindall captained Gloucester, whose only notable absentee was new signing Olly Barkley while he continued his recovery from a wrist injury.
Both packs sparred for early supremacy, but Leicester took the initiative through two Flood penalties, his second strike following a trademark charge by Tuilagi.
Gloucester were slower into their stride, not helped by Lamb missing two penalties from comfortable range, but the home prospered when referee Dave Pearson’s patience snapped.
After repeatedly penalising Leicester’s technical indiscipline, Pearson sin-binned Herring and Gloucester made their temporary one-man advantage count.
Hooker Andy Titterrell was agonisingly close to claiming a touchdown on the back of Morgan’s approach work, but Gloucester pounced barely 60 seconds later when Morgan gathered wing James Simpson-Daniel’s pass to score.
Lamb completed a hat-trick of missed kicks by rifling the conversion attempt wide, yet Gloucester had finally stirred, putting Leicester under sustained pressure.
The Tigers though, successfully preserved their one-point advantage until the end of a turgid opening period, which ended when Flood’s ambitious long-range penalty landed well short.
Leicester made an interval shuffle behind the scrum as Smith moved to the wing instead of Tuilagi and Tom Youngs teamed up with Dan Hipkiss in midfield.
But it was Gloucester who struck the opening blow when Lamb finally found his range at the fourth attempt, slotting an angled penalty that inched the home side ahead.
Gloucester huffed and puffed for a clinching second try as the game entered its closing quarter, but Leicester’s superior counter-attacking game resulted in a clinching score for Murphy that substitute scrum-half Julien Dupuy converted.
Gloucester threw everything at their opponents during the closing seconds – centre Anthony Allen was injured and carried off during a late blitz – yet Leicester prevailed as Flood sealed the deal to ensure Meyer began GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP life as a winner.