Leicester Tigers survived a real scare against Italian side Benetton Treviso in their first match of this season’s Heineken Cup.
Alesana Tuilagi powered through for a face-saving winning try in the 77th minute to finally steer the Tigers to victory at Stadio Comunale di Monigo. Leicester also claimed a bonus point following earlier scores from Matt Smith, Craig Newby, Martin Castrogiovanni and Ben Youngs.
The home side had led 29-27 before Tuilagi's late score, thanks to two tries by centre Tommaso Benvenuti and 19 points from the boot of Kristopher Burton.
The result was heartbreaking for the majority of a sell-out crowd at Treviso who were eyeing a first victory over English opponents in 11 meetings. But a victory and bonus point was just what Leicester were looking for at the start of their campaign in Pool Five.
Leicester were forced to make late changes when Toby Flood and Dan Hipkiss were both ruled out so Billy Twelvetrees was promoted from the bench to outside-half and Horacio Agulla started at centre. The visitors made an ideal start when Smith broke through to score inside two minutes. The centre showed good pace to beat his man before showing a clean pair of heels to the line.
Twelvetrees missed the conversion and Treviso wasted no time in hitting back with Benvenuti's first try after 10 minutes. Alberto Sgarbi made the first break, Paul Derbyshire followed before the young centre raced through to score close to the posts. Burton's conversion put Treviso ahead 7-5, only for them to slip behind after Twelvetrees' penalty moments later.
Burton struck the post with a penalty and Leicester extended their lead when Newby finished a series of thrusts when he picked up and dived over on 20 minutes. However Twelvetrees was again off the mark with the conversion and a penalty and drop goal from Burton saw the teams finish the first half tied at 13-13.
Treviso started the second half with 14 men after Robert Barbieri was shown a yellow card on the stroke of half-time, and although Burton kicked a further penalty, Castrogiovanni crashed over and Twelvetrees converted to hand Leicester a 20-16 lead after 47 minutes.
Within minutes of Barbieri returning to the field, Treviso were back in front when Benvenuti again darted through some soft Leicester defending. Burton's conversion put Treviso ahead 23-20 but in a game of fluctuating fortunes, that lead only lasted seven minutes before Youngs peeled off the back of a scrum to score his first try in the competition.
Twelvetrees added the extras but a penalty from Burton and a drop goal by Benvenuti put the home team ahead and in sight of victory, only for Tuilagi to strike late on. Tom Croft sparked a counter-attack from deep inside his own half that ended with the big Samoan wing charging in from 30 metres out, Twelvetrees converting, to finally settle the game in Leicester's favour.