by Ethan Harris
TOM Hardwick kicked a last-gasp penalty to hand Leicester Tigers a dramatic 14-11 win over Cardiff Blues in the Challenge Cup.
With the game level at 11-11, the hosts were penalised for a ruck infringement, and Hardwick showed nerves of steel to slot the goal and spark wild scenes among his teammates and their travelling supporters.
Jarrod Evans kicked two penalties to put the Blues 6-0 ahead, before the the sides exchanged tries, firstly through Tigers back-rower Jordan Coghlan, and then Blues wing Aled Summerhill.
A penalty goal from Hardwick in either half meant the game was level heading into the closing stages. John Mulvihill’s side were wasteful, spurning numerous opportunities, and were ultimately made to pay the price.
The Blues put the pressure on early, and No 8 Nick Williams showed sumptuous skill, throwing an eye-catching offload in the opening five minutes to push the home side forward.
Pressure turned into points moments later, as an early Evans penalty split the uprights to give the Arms Park side a 3-0 lead.
Leicester, currently second-bottom of the Gallagher Premiership, were unable to make decent field position count in what seemed the story of the first-half, giving away far too many penalties early on with the Blues scrum providing some strong competition.
The boot of Evans pushed the home advantage to six just before the half-hour mark, as Geordan Murphy’s side gave away yet another penalty – this time in their own half.
Slow work at the breakdown and a lack of momentum from their ball carriers severely hampered the visitors within the first half-hour, and the Blues scrum was exceptional when called upon.
Although, after 34 minutes, the Welford Road outfit finally broke through for the first try of the night after testing the Blues out wide.
Coghlan, formerly of Nottingham, scored his first try since joining the East Midlands side. A quick attack down the left saw Andy Forsyth feed the No 8 who crossed unopposed, but a poor Hardwick conversion attempt kept the home side narrowly ahead.
The one-point gap would not last long. The Blues replied just three minutes later when Summerhill was found in acres of space from a cross-field kick, which the wing gathered to cross for the easiest of scores.
Evans missed the chance to push the lead to eight with a conversion attempt placed well wide.
Leicester almost responded with a try of their own, but an excellent recovery from centre Rey Lee-Lo meant the Tigers had to settle for three points.
Hardwick’s second attempt found the mark to bring the half to a close with just three points between the sides – the score set at 11-8 at the end of the first period.
The second-half did not continue with the flurry of points the first ended with, a Hardwick penalty on the hour mark being the only score in the opening twenty minutes as the Tigers levelled the game.
Another penalty gave the home side the chance to restore their lead, the visitors penalised after George Worth went off his feet at the breakdown, but Evans hooked his attempt wide from distance.
Summerhill looked to have given the Blues a big advantage with a tight finish in the corner with just nine minutes remaining.
The winger’s right-leg clipped the touchline before he could ground the ball, however, and the Tigers recovered from what seemed a certain try.
The visitors would steal the game in the final moments, as the Blues lost the ball in their own half and gave away a needless penalty moments later.
The ice-cool Hardwick made no mistake from the tee, leaving Mulvihill’s side to rue what might have been, with Pool 5 now firmly alive after Pau beat Calvisano earlier in the day.
Cardiff Blues: 15. Hallam Amos, 14. Owen Lane (Matthew Morgan 57), 13. Rey Lee-Lo, 12. Willis Halaholo (Jason Tovey 32), 11. Aled Summerhill; 10. Jarrod Evans; 9. Lloyd Williams; 1. Corey Domachowski (Brad Thyer 19), 2. Liam Belcher (Kirby Myhill 64), 3. Scott Andrews (Keiron Assiratti 63), 4. Seb Davies (Macauley Cook 69), 5. Josh Turnbull, 6. Shane Lewis-Hughes, 7. Will Boyde, 8. Nick Williams (James Botham 41)
Replacement not used 21. Lewis Jones
Leicester Tigers: 15. George Worth, 14. Adam Thompstone, 13. Joe Thomas, 12. EW Viljoen (Sam Costelow 69), 11. Andy Forsyth; 10. Tom Hardwick; 9. Ben White (Harry Simmons 67); 1. Ellis Genge (Facundo Gigena 67), 2. Jake Kerr (Charlie Clare 65), 3. Joe Heyes (Nephi Leatigaga 53), 4. Tomas Lavanini (Cameron Jordan 69), 5. Harry Wells, 6. Sam Lewis, 7. Guy Thompson, 8. Jordan Coghlan
Replacements not used: 20. Thom Smith, 23. Freddie Steward