Laurence Pearce’s double early in the second-half proved the difference, as Leicester Tigers survived a half-time scare to overcome London Welsh and keep their hopes of a top-four Aviva Premiership Rugby finish alive.
Chris Elder’s penalty separated the sides at the interval, with Koree Britton’s late score cancelling out Ben Youngs’ try.
But two scores in quick succession from Laurence Pearce put the Tigers back in front, and after Chris Hala’ufia saw red, Sam Harrison, Jamie Gibson, and Tom Youngs also touched down to send a packed Welford Road into raptures despite Opeti Fonua’s consolation.
Leicester have scored the fewest first-half points of all the Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs this season, but showed no signs of starting slowly when Youngs touched down inside four minutes.
The Tigers moved up the field after a quick tap-and-go following an Exiles infringement at the scrum, and after they found touch with another penalty, Youngs darted through from the set-piece.
Freddie Burns added the extras, and Leicester had the wind in their sails with another attack on the Welsh line moments later.
But after a Tigers knock-on allowed them time to regroup, two humongous kicks from Olly Barkley moved the Exiles up the field and when the Tigers infringed at a line-out Elder had the chance to close the gap.
And while his 16th minute kick from 40-metres out sailed wide of the mark, Welsh kept up the pressure.
Ben West made a charge for the line after a huge hit from Richard Thorpe forced a turnover in the Tigers’ 22, but the youngster lost the ball forward in the tackle.
And when Elder got a second chance to reduce the deficit he made no mistake, landing a sweet kick from just inside his own half.
Leicester looked to respond immediately, and after Burns put a penalty into the corner on 32 minutes, Welsh produced some brilliant defending to haul down the maul and win a scrum at the breakdown.
Elder missed another penalty from distance with Welsh on top before half-time, but after winning turnover ball on the Tigers 10-metre line Hala’ufia offloaded to Britton who ran in under the posts for his first ever Aviva Premiership Rugby try.
Will Robinson added the extras to give his side a 10-7 lead they probably deserved, a first win at Welford Road since 1987 looking possible for Welsh at half-time.
But a determined Tigers side came out after the interval with the bit between their teeth, and after Burns kicked an early penalty in front of the posts into the corner, Pearce touched down at the back of a catch-and-drive to put the hosts back in front with the try awarded via TMO.
And the 24-year-old darted over for his second try just seven minutes later, after some superb play between Burns and Mathew Tait put him in to score in the left corner – but with Burns missing both conversions Welsh remained within a converted score at 17-10.
Their task got an awful lot harder on 55 minutes however when Hala’ufia was dismissed after a dangerous tackle on Pearce, and despite the introduction of Fonua the Tigers secured the bonus point ten minutes later.
Niall Morris made the initial break for replacement Harrison to cross the whitewash, and it was the same old story for London Welsh when Gibson bundled over in the corner soon after.
There was some joy for the Exiles at the end of the game when Fonua scampered through after a tap-and-go from five metres for a 73rd minute try, but it was too little too late and Tom Youngs came off the bench to add insult to injury with the final play of the game.
And with the victory Leicester – having not missed out on the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-finals since 2004 – leapfrogged Exeter Chiefs into the all-important fourth spot.