Leicester Tigers started life in the post-Richard Cockerill era with a 22-16 defeat to Wasps at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday.
The match was also the first time Wasps have had James Haskell available this season. Haskell, sidelined since suffering a toe injury during England's successful tour to Australia last summer, appeared as a second-half substitute, but he was forced off almost immediately following a tackle on Tigers' Freddie Burns.
Wasps, 19-0 up before half-time, courtesy of tries by Christian Wade, Tommy Taylor and Dan Robson, found themselves hanging on as Leicester began life after Cockerill by responding superbly in front of a 27,930 Ricoh Arena crowd.
Cockerill lost his job as rugby director last Monday, with head coach Aaron Mauger taking interim charge, and the New Zealander will have been thrilled by Tigers' second-half response. Centre Peter Betham scored a try, with Owen Williams adding two penalties, while Burns slotted a penalty and conversion before Wasps edged a gripping encounter through a late Jimmy Gopperth penalty -- following two earlier conversions -- immediately after a yellow card for Tigers' England prop Dan Cole to see Wasps home.
Wasps showed three changes from the side that accounted for Newcastle nine days ago, including returns for Gopperth and Kurtley Beale, while Haskell took his place on a powerful replacements' bench alongside the likes of Danny Cipriani, Joe Simpson and Rob Miller. Leicester were without long-term injury victim Manu Tuilagi, so Betham and Matt Smith forged the midfield partnership -- Smith was a late replacement for Jack Roberts -- with Tom Brady taking Betham's usual spot on the wing and flanker Will Evans also gaining a start.
Wasps, protecting an unbeaten 10-match run at the Ricoh Arena, rocked Leicester back on their heels by scoring two tries inside the opening 10 minutes. Wade pounced for the first, capitalising on hesitancy in the Leicester defence to finish in trademark poacher's fashion, with Gopperth converting, then Wasps displayed impressive forward power after lock James Gaskell won lineout possession five metres out and Taylor was driven over.
Leicester spent almost the entire opening quarter in defensive mode, although there were glimpses of what they could do with quality ball, but just when it looked as though Tigers might have found a way back, Wasps struck again. And their third try came after a brilliant move sparked by Wales Six Nations squad hopeful Thomas Young, who ran from inside his own half and found wing Josh Bassett in support before Robson applied an effortless finishing touch, sniping over from close range.
Gopperth's conversion made it 19-0, and although a Williams penalty belatedly opened Leicester's account, there was no disguising Wasps' overall control and supremacy. A second Williams penalty shortly after the break doubled Leicester's points tally, but it proved to be the Welshman's final scoring act as he left the field injured just five minutes later.
Leicester enjoyed a degree of control and territorial dominance during the third quarter, with prop Ellis Genge and lock Ed Slater prominent, yet the Wasps defence did not appear unduly troubled until a brilliant piece of skill by Brady set up a golden opportunity. And the Leicester forwards did not require a second invitation to capitalise, setting up a quality platform from which Betham prospered, claiming a touchdown that referee Craig Maxwell-Keys awarded following consultation with television match official Stuart Terheege.
Burns kicked the conversion, and the game grew increasingly fractious up-front as Wasps -- 19 points up after 35 minutes -- continued to see that healthy advantage eroded. Haskell made his long-awaited return to action with 18 minutes left, but it proved a short-lived stay as he went down after tackling Burns and then departed for further assessment.
A Burns penalty brought Leicester back to within striking distance, but Gopperth had the final say following Cole's sin-binning, and Wasps moved back on top of the Premiership, three points above second-placed Saracens.