Gloucester inflicted a sixth GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP defeat on leaders Leicester to strengthen their own challenge at the top of the table.
Both sides were forced into multiple changes due to RBS Six Nations commitments, Leicester having five men on England duty and making eight changes while Gloucester coach Dean Ryan made three changes.
Leicester’s Ireland international Geordan Murphy was a substitute just hours after being on the bench against Scotland and the visitors did not have to wait too long for their first try.
Ian Humphreys tried to feed wing Alesana Tuilagi from a ruck in midfield only to see the ball bounce out of his grasp.
Fortunately, Tuilagi seized it then beat the floundering Iain Balshaw to go over for the touchdown which Humphreys converted.
The home crowd were then in uproar as Varndell was put in for Leicester’s second try only for television replays on the big screen to show the final pass looked forward.
Gloucester’s New Zealand full-back Willie Walker finally got his team’s first points with a 35-metre penalty and, as the match began to buzz, the Cherry and Whites hit back.
Full-back Sam Vesty kept a touchline kick in play but that only put his team under pressure as James Bailey kicked on to the Leicester line.
And, after two rucks, England scrum-half Peter Richards beat the cover on the right to go in for an unconverted try.
Leicester’s defence made a crucial interception on home hooker Olivier Azam as the Frenchman was about to touch down but referee Sean Davey awarded a penalty against the Tigers for offside and Walker added another three points.
But the Tigers inflicted a sucker punch right on half-time as Vesty put through a lovely grubber kick for Tuilagi to dive on for his second try, which Humphreys converted.
Gloucester’s response was clinical and immediate after the break.
Richards this time was the provider as he burst 40 metres down the blindside to give flanker Andy Hazell, on his 100th appearance for the club, a simple run in.
And when Leicester infringed twice, Walker booted the penalties to give the home side the advantage.
Leicester regained the lead with 15 minutes to go, replacement scrum-half Scott Bemand feeding Murphy, who had only been on the pitch for two minutes as a replacement for Vesty, and the Irishman sprinted through a midfield gap to score and secure Leicester’s bonus point.
That put the league leaders 24-22 ahead but Gloucester retook the lead with Walker kicking two more penalties.
England centre Anthony Allen was sin-binned with two minutes left for dumping an opponent on the ground illegally and Leicester had one last shot at getting a match-winning try.
However, after pressurising Gloucester in their 22, referee Davey awarded a penalty to the home team, who cleared the ball to seal the win.