Sixteen unanswered second-half points gave GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP champions Leicester the perfect start to the defence of their crown and ended Bristol’s record of never being beaten in a GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP opener.
Both sides last met in May in the championship semi-final with Leicester winning 30-23 at Welford Road before the Tigers went on to beat Gloucester at Twickenham.
Bristol exceeded all expectations to finish third in the league last season, but there was no repeat of last April’s 30-13 defeat of the Tigers at Ashton Gate.
Both sides were depleted, with the champions without 12 players on World Cup duty and the hosts four players down plus England number eight prospect Dan Ward-Smith, who should make a comeback to action on Monday week in a second team game against Leinster.
Bristol dominated the early stages, pinning the Tigers back in to their own half, and the home side had the first opportunity but fly-half David Hill’s long-range kick fell short though the former New Zealand half-back found his target from 25 metres out to put Bristol in front after 11 minutes
Leicester gained the lead a couple of minutes later when centre Sam Vesty fed wing Ayoola Erinle who scrambled over the line to score under the posts after a weak tackle from Bristol hooker Scott Linklater. Burke added the simple conversion.
The advantage was short-lived when full-back Josh Taumalolo broke down the right before the ball was fed back into the middle where wing Lee Robinson popped up to score Bristol’s opening try despite the attempts of three Leicester players to stop him touching down.
Hill added the extras only for Burke to level the scores with a 22-metre penalty close to the right touchline but he failed to add a second to restore the lead from a similar distance from the opposite side.
Hill landed a 22-metre penalty on the stroke of half-time to give Bristol a 13-10 lead Leicester wasted no time getting back on level terms in the second half.
Full-back Johne Murphy, deputising for Burke who was receiving treatment, landed a 45-metre kick from in front of the posts for his first points for the Tigers with the boot.
Vesty slotted a 35-metre drop-goal between between the uprights and then midway through the half Burke fed left wing Tom Varndell, who raced down the touchline from halfway for Tigers’ second try.
Murphy converted from out wide and stretched the lead further with a penalty from a similar position.
Leicester were forced to defend solidly in the closing five minutes but early season jitters saw Bristol spoil their opportunities with simple handling errors allowing the Tigers to break away in the final minutes.