In the end, four tries from Ollie Thorley were just about enough. The Gloucester winger broke Premiership records in the first-half, but his stunning efforts almost counted for nothing as Leicester launched a 24-point comeback.
Thorley could not have banged much harder on Eddie Jones’ door, although the England coach will be just as pleased by the way George Ford and Ben Youngs marshalled a stunning turnaround.
Leicester were chewed up and spat out in the early exchanges.
Steve Borthwick named another young starting XV and, for 36 minutes, it was like watching lambs being sent to slaughter. Gloucester’s pack bossed proceedings. They went almost unchallenged at the breakdown, with their speed of ball providing Danny Cipriani with a platform to unleash his speedsters.
Joe Simpson scored the opening try after seven minutes, before it turned into the Thorley show. Only Tom Voyce and Christian Wade have scored four first-half tries in the Premiership, but Thorley soon joined the hall of fame with the fastest ‘quadruple’ in league history.
Leicester’s inexperienced defenders slipped off tackles and left too much space out wide. All eyes were on Jonny May’s encounter against his former employers, but it was Thorley who stole the headlines on the opposite wing.
Gloucester’s lineout provided clean ball for first-phase strike moves. Quick hands set up Thorley’s first after nine minutes, before Cipriani’s deception created the hole for the second. Zach Henry put Leicester on the scoreboard with a brace of penalties, but Thorley seemingly put the hosts out of side when he chased Jason Woodward’s kick for his hat-trick.
‘I have my team mates to thank for putting some of the tries on a plate for me,’ said Thorley. ‘I have worked hard over lockdown on my speed and power.’
Thorley ran in his fourth and Leicester’s coaches called an impromptu crisis meeting at the top of the stand. Chris Harris scored another long-range try whilst they were talking and the took drastic measures: sending on George Ford for Tom Hardwick after just 35 minutes.
Ford’s introduction coincided with Leicester’s first ty, with Henry immediately dancing through defenders to set up Harry Potter.
Leicester added Ben Youngs and Jordan Taufua to the mix – and the class of their bench made all the difference. Their noise and tempo doubled after the break, spreading their defence across the width of the pitch and increasing the physicality.
‘We know that George, Ben and Jordan can add a bit of nous to any performance,’ said Tigers director of rugby Geordan Murphy. ‘They did a big job. The half-time message from the coaches was pretty composed. We made some subtle defensive adjustments to put Gloucester under pressure. We were pretty confident they would want to express themselves so we shut them down.’
Gloucester lost both Thorley and Cipriani to injuries – as Taufua crashed over from a lineout. Ford and Youngs won territory through their kicking and, off the back of another lineout, Cameron Henderson crashed over for his side’s third.
Leicester’s newfound pressure forced Gloucester mistakes and the hosts let their discipline slip. Ford kicked a penalty to narrow the deficit to six, with Leicester threatening the biggest comeback in the Premiership’s annals. But Billy Twelvetrees’ 70th minute penalty provided some Gloucester breathing space, before Lloyd Evans’s try ensured Thorley’s early haul was not in vain.