Tigers boss Geordan Murphy made nine changes to his squad from last week’s defeat against Saracens but, despite a dominant showing in the opening 40 minutes, they could only take a 10-6 lead into the interval.
The afternoon could not have got off to a worse start for Gloucester when they lost captain Ed Slater to the sin-bin for a shoulder charge on Tigers playmaker Noel Reid and, after Hardwick and Billy Twelvetrees had traded penalties, the young fly-half scored a solo try.
Splitting the Gloucester defence five metres out, Reid tip-toed down the blind-side before barging past Gerbrandt Grobler to score his first try for the club since joining from Leinster in the summer.
Jordan Olowofela should have added a second on the half hour mark, with the young winger on the end of a free-flowing moving instigated off a Tigers lineout – but Telusa Veaninu couldn’t hold on to his inside pass.
And, but for the rearguard efforts of the irrepressible Tom Marshall, Leicester would have been out of sight.
The Gloucester full-back seemingly covered every blade of grass as he sought to stem the Leicester tide, keeping them in touch.
It was fitting, then, that Marshall was at the heart of the Gloucester response, setting up an outstanding try for Joe Simpson.
Combining with Mark Atkinson, Marshall set away the unusually quiet Ollie Thorley, who ghosted past his man – before feeding Simpson to scamper over from 15 metres and put Gloucester three ahead at 13-10.
With the Gloucester back division beginning to flex their muscles, the famous ‘16th man’ came into full effect, and the home faithful never stopped believing.
Re-asserting their authority, Murphy’s charges drew level going into the final 10 minutes courtesy of a second Hardwick penalty as the decibel levels continued to rise.
Led on by Sam Harrison, a bundle of energy from minute one, Tigers went in search of a winner and after Sione Kalamafoni was repelled, a scrum right in front of the posts presented a clear opportunity.
The shove was textbook, giving referee Ian Tempest no choice but to award the penalty kick – which Hardwick belted over to give Tigers the lead with a minute left on the clock and the victory.
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