Leicester Tigers boosted their hopes of hanging onto the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP title with a bonus point 32-14 win over Bristol at Welford Road that takes them back into the top four.
They went into the game desperate for points to keep alive their play-off hopes after slipping to sixth with a trip to Newcastle and a home date against Dean Richards’ Harlequins to come.
The defending champions had claimed just 12 points from their previous seven games and were facing their third game in eight days.
They ran in three tries inside the opening half hour against Bristol and added two more after the break.
Andy Goode grabbed a try to go with a penalty and two conversions.
Martin Corry was drafted into Leicester’s second row following Tuesday night’s 26-12 defeat at Bath that came three days after the 23-6 humbling against Ospreys in the EDF Energy Cup final.
They also welcomed back Geordan Murphy after he had missed the last seven games.
Bristol head coach Richard Hill had already revealed that key players including Matt Salter had played their last game of the season and that he is already looking ahead to 2008-2009.
Hill handed 19-year-old Luke Eves his Premiership debut at centre and Lee Robinson was back on the right wing for his first start since February 17.
Bristol had won only once at Welford Road in their previous 17 visits over the last 21 years and were soon behind.
Dan Hipkiss made the break for Leicester and the ball was switched to the left for Alesana Tuilagi to send Aaron Mauger over in the corner for his first try for Tigers after six minutes.
Goode screwed his conversion wide.
Bristol fly-half Ed Barnes was off target with a 14th minute penalty attempt from near the right-hand touchline before Goode converted a simpler chance at the other end to make it 8-0 midway through the first half.
Leicester’s second try came on 24 minutes when Ben Herring was driven over. Goode’s conversion was off target again.
He converted the third try four minutes later. Harry Ellis’ quick thinking at a scrum sent Tuilagi racing away down the right wing and he passed inside for Tom Varndell to cross unchallenged between the posts.
Goode’s conversion made it 20-0.
Goode was lucky to escape a yellow card after blocking David Lemi and the resulting penalty came to nothing.
Bristol were denied a try in the dying moments of the half when full back Luke Arscott was held up by Tom Croft.
The visitors started the second half on the front foot and trimmed the gap after 49 minutes when scrum-half Shaun Perry crossed from close range. Barnes added the extras to make it 20-7.
Leicester went straight back up the other end and piled on the pressure. They got their reward on 57 minutes with a penalty try that secured the bonus point and Goode converted to make it 27-7.
Goode grabbed the fifth try on 69 minutes, but his conversion went wide.
Bristol had the final word in injury time with Graeme Beveridge’s try converted by Barnes.