By Ali Stokes
A result that will spark no shortage of debate throughout the week saw Dai Young's Wasps deny Geordan Murphy's Tigers the chance of an odds-defying victory while playing with one less man for 41-minutes following Will Spencer's 39th minute red card for a hit on Wasps' hooker Tommy Taylor.
A storming start for Leicester as they looked to have solidified their rousing victory over Newcastle Falcons the previous week, with England stars George Ford, Manu Tuilagi and Jonny May taking the game to their hosts during the first ten minutes with a direct carrying game paired with regular, accurate offloads, keeping the ball alive and Wasps' defence scrambling.
Murphy's charges did, however, fail to capitalise on their opening salvo, with their opposition tearing into the lead with two tries courtesy of Springbok outside centre Juan de Jongh and left winger Josh Bassett.
While de Jongh's score came as a direct result of a midfield break from Bassett and some interplay with scrum-half Dan Robson, Bassett's featured a stunning, pinpoint cross-field kick from England and Lions star Elliot Daly.
For all their ambitions and much-improved physicality going forward from last season, Leicester were guilty of errors and indiscipline in the first quarter, with Dan Cole escaping a yellow card for a late hit on Robson, Ford throwing an intercept pass to Bassett shortly prior to the latter's score and Ben Youngs firing a pass across the face of his backline straight into touch; all within 90 seconds of play.
Wasps pushed their advantage and looked to emulate Leicester's early directness in contact, paired with an offloading game their adversary's had found much success with, for a time.
Leicester returned fire with some intelligent interplay between Ford and right winger Jonny May, with the England duo identifying space and communicating well enough to fire the kick through and see May touch down in the corner for Leicester's first points of the day. 14-5 in Wasps' favour.
Two penalties for Ford and one for Sopoaga preceded Leicester's return serve. A reappearance of the visitors’ early directness, paired with some handy interplay, saw Youngs take the ball to the line and delay the pass long enough to see Ford slice through Wasps' defence.
The England fly-half emulated Youngs' delayed pass to allow fullback Telusa Veianu to dot down and see Leicester four-points adrift of Wasps, once Ford slotted his first conversion of the day.
Two minutes after Veianu's morale-boosting score, Spencer's red card incident reared its head.
The coming together of Taylor and Spencer saw the former's shoulder connect with the latter's head, seeing referee Ian Tempest adjudicating the hit to have been high and with force, meriting a sending off for the former Worcester lock.
A decision that may have sat uncomfortably with Leicester's playing and coaching staff, but seemed to galvanise the visitors during the half-time break.
A ferocious start to Leicester's second 40 saw Wasps and England number eight Hughes sent for a ten-minute spell on the sidelines.
Tempest showed the Fijian-born backrower yellow for collapsing Leicester's maul five metres out from Wasps' line after repeat penalty offences.
Hughes’ opposite man, Sione Kalamafoni, crashed over a minute later from yet another Leicester maul, taking Tigers ahead by three points after the conversion. 25-28 in Tigers' favour with half an hour to go.
Both sides seemed set on making the most of the space freed up by the absence of Spencer and Hughes, with a series of spectacular, open field attacking play from all involved at the Ricoh.
After multiple thrilling displays, de Jongh ripped through the Leicester defence to cross for his second score of the day, beating a third of his opposition’s defence to dot down for Wasps' bonus point try.
Soon after Wasps took back their lead, the scoreboard tennis resumed when May crossed for his second score of the day after Veianu and Ford linked to put the England winger over the line in the 56th minute.
Travelling fans at the Ricoh Arena would then be treated with the arrival of some of England's most promising young talents, with both sides deploying the cavalry in the final 20 minutes.
While Dai Young sent on 22-year-old tighthead prop Will Stuart, Murphy handed ample game time to wing Jordan Olowofela (20), inside centre Tom Hardwick (19), scrum-half Ben White (20) and tighthead prop Joe Heyes (19) during the closely fought final quarter.
Momentum swung from one side's favour to another, with Lima Sopoaga slotting three penalties during the final 15 minutes to seal the deal and escape the clutches of a wounded, yet dangerous Tigers side.
A man of the match performance from England man Hughes, who seems back to full fitness after a torrid 2017/18 season plagued by injuries and rushed return dates.
Leicester will likely feel hard done by following Spencer's first-half red, but should take significant comfort in the performances of their young bench arrivals.
In particular, Olowofela proved his worth as a defensive component and fleet-footed runner during his appearance, working closely alongside scrum-half Youngs to prevent Wasps from seeing the game out of sight in the 69th minute through a Sopoaga score.