Leicester Tigers moved into the Aviva Premiership Rugby top four with a narrow win against Gloucester thanks largely to the boot of fly-half Freddie Burns.
In testing conditions, Burns landed six penalties as Leicester ensured their impressive home league form – they have not lost at Welford Road since September 27 – was maintained.
Despite an impressive kicking display from Gloucester fly-half James Hook – who kicked five penalties as well – the Cherry & Whites’ winless run at Welford Road, dating back to 2007, continues.
Not since 2004 have Gloucester beaten Leicester home and away in Aviva Premiership Rugby and that statistic didn’t look like changing in the early minutes as Freddie Burns – deputising for the injured Owen Williams – successfully landed a sixth minute penalty.
Hook – dispensed with by Wales boss Warren Gatland for this weekend’s Six Nations – levelled with a kick of his own after nine minutes.
In appalling conditions in the Midlands, free-flowing rugby was at a premium in the opening quarter of the game as both sides favoured the boot and with it field position.
On 11 minutes Burns landed his second penalty of the game but Leicester ill-discipline soon after saw Hook knock over penalties on 15 and 25 minutes to edge Gloucester in front.
After playing second fiddle in the early stages, the Gloucester pack started to get on top and more-importantly get the nudge on at the set piece and with their drives.
Gloucester should have scored the first try of the game just before the half hour mark; Freddie Burns – playing against his former employers – was caught in his 22 and compounded his error further by knocking the ball on.
The Cherry & Whites turned the ball over and should have scored in the corner but Mark Atkinson overran the ball and Henry Purdy was penalised for a forward pass as the try line beckoned.
Gloucester’s John Afoa was fortunate to avoid a card on 31 minutes as he hit Leicester flanker Jamie Gibson – who will move to Northampton Saints in the summer – in the air but referee JP Doyle adjudged the prop to have done nothing wrong despite strong protests from the Tigers.
It took Leicester until the 32nd minute to enter Gloucester’s 22 for the first time and their pressure was rewarded soon after as a penalty was handed to the Tigers and Freddie Burns levelled the scores at 9-9.
Leicester looked much-improved after the break and started to move the ball through the hands and it was from one of these attacks that Gloucester skipper Tom Savage was penalised for straying offside, allowing Burns to add his fourth penalty of the evening via the upright.
And on 47 minutes he extended Leicester’s lead to 15-9 with his fifth successful kick as Gloucester started to lose their discipline at the breakdown. But the six-point advantage only lasted less than two minutes as hands in the ruck by the Tigers saw Hook narrow the gap once more.
The Cherry & Whites are a team high on confidence presently; a clean sweep of their European and LV= Cup games over the last month, off the back of two heart-stopping Aviva Premiership Rugby victories over Exeter Chiefs and Saracens, mean life is very sweet indeed for Gloucester at the moment.
And while lesser teams may have crumbled after the break in the face of heavy Leicester pressure, Gloucester dug deep and ensured they remained in an arm wrestle in the difficult conditions.
Time and time again Leicester attempted to puncture the Gloucester backline but the Cherry & Whites stood firm despite Burns expertly orchestrating things for the Tigers.
Despite the second half dominance of Leicester, Gloucester drew level on 64 minutes as Hook landed a huge penalty from the left touchline to tie the scores at 15-15.
Charlie Sharples was sin-binned for Gloucester on 68 minutes for a needless trip and from the resulting penalty Burns landed his sixth kick of the evening to put Leicester back in front 18-15.
Hook missed his first kick at goal of the evening on 75 minutes – his attempt from inside his own half landing comfortably short of the Leicester posts.
In the dying minutes Leicester put heavy pressure on the Gloucester line – scrum half Sam Harrison went particularly close – but the game ended try-less.
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