Chiefs 40 Tigers 6
Exeter Chiefs 40
Leicester Tigers 6
Mark Stevens at Sandy Park
Start as you mean to go on.
Well, if this display is anything to go by, then Exeter Chiefs supporters can look forward to another big season ahead as Rob Baxter’s swept aside the challenge of visiting Leicester Tigers at Sandy Park.
Last season’s beaten finalists were in rampant mood on opening day, running in six tries and denying English rugby’s most decorated club side a crumb of comfort to take back up the M5 post-match.
Having trailed to two penalties from England international George Ford during the opening half-hour, Devon’s finest clicked into gear just before the break to claim converted scores through Olly Woodburn and Sam Simmonds.
After the break, the Tigers threatened briefly to counter those first half scores, but once Luke Cowan-Dickie rumbled over for a third try there was no looking back for the Chiefs.
Replacement Henry Slade, flanker Matt Kvesic and centre Ian Whitten all added their names to the try-sheet with fly-half Gareth Steenson plundered five conversions out of six on a decent afternoon for the Dungannon-born marksman.
In truth, it was no more than the Chiefs deserved on a day when they were not only deadly in attack, but equally miserly in another powerful defensive display.
Having wrapped up their pre-season programme with a dogged 12-0 victory away to Munster, Baxter stuck with many of those who started that tussle over in Cork.Captain Jack Yeandle led the troops in the back, while the experienced Steenson and half-back partner Nic White controlled proceedings for much of the contest.
The Tigers, meanwhile, paraded a powerful array of talent - particularly in their back division - where Aussie Matt Toomua started having been rushed back, along with compatriot Tatafu Polota-Nau, from Championship Rugby action with the Wallabies.Toomua was given the nod over summer signing Kyle Eastmond and lined-up alongside the hulking frame of Manu Tuilagi in a powerful Leicester midfield.
Around them, the Youngs brothers - Tom and Ben - both started, as did experienced prop Dan Cole and the fleeted foot back three of Adam Thompstone, Jonny May and Telusa Vaeinu.
Overseeing proceedings was the the vastly experienced Wayne Barnes, whose last action in the Premiership, was to oversee the Chiefs in last May’s final, where they surrendered their crown to Saracens.
Still hurting from that setback, the hosts - up against a stiff first half breeze - began brightly with Argentinian winger Santiago Cordero to the fore in the opening exchanges. The Pumas star was popping up seemingly everywhere and with seven minutes elapsed, he caused panic in the visiting ranks when his fast feet got him to within strike range of the Leicester line.Thankfully for the visitors, they were able to scramble sufficiently to cover the danger.
Moments later and Cordero, this time with Whitten, combined down the right flank, the latter chipping over the top only for May and Ford to cover the threat with relative ease.
Threat averted, it was the Tigers who proceeded back down field, breaking the game’s deadlock on 15 minutes through Ford. The Leicester No.10 thundered over a lengthy penalty after home prop Alec Hepburn had been penalised by Barnes for dropping his bind at a scrum.
The Chiefs looked to counter almost immediately as link-up play through Sam Simmonds, Cordero and Ollie Devoto helped to release Woodburn, but again the visitors were able to snuff out the threat, piling numbers across the line to form a powerful defensive wall.
Although the Chiefs were dominating possession, they fell further behind on 26 minutes when Ford doubled his tally with a second successful penalty, this time punishing Chiefs tight-head Tomas Francis for playing the ball on the deck.
Little did the Tigers know, that would be the best return they would have for the remainder of the game. Undeterred, the Chiefs stuck to their game plan and when they threatened again, this time the Tigers could do little to halt their charge.Kvesic - who would later be named man of the match - instigated proceedings with the initial break, after which Hepburn and Woodburn took up the charge. As bodies flew into a ruck right by the post, Barnes was unsure as to the end outcome.
A quick conflab with David Rose, the TV match official, soon rectified matters as the score was awarded, much to the delight of the majority packed inside Sandy Park.
As half time approached, the Chiefs doubled their advantage when more good approach work from Devoto, Simmonds and Don Armand, created the platform from which Simmonds was able to burrow his way over from afive-metre pick-and-go.Steenson again added the extras with his trusty right boot.
Ford had the chance to cut the deficit with the last action of the half, but his long-range penalty sailed wide of the mark.
HALF TIME EXETER CHIEFS 14 LEICESTER TIGERS 6
On the resumption, it was the Tigers who were first to crank into gear, threatening initially through their heavyweight pack, before the backs took charge.Tuilagi was used as the battering ram through the middle, but he was continually chopped down by a plethora of home defenders.Equally, out wide, the dangerous May was given short-change from the Chiefs and the threatening Youngs and Ford were often forced to live up scraps as the hosts blitzed the breakdown area.
With the scoreboard untouched for the opening quarter of the half, it was the Chiefs who extended their lead when replacement Cowan-Dickie got in on the scoring act.The England hooker was able to rumble over from another well-drilled pick-and-go drive close to the line, after Ollie Atkins, Stu Townsend and Whitten had forged a decent foundation from which to build.
Record points-scorer Steenson converted that score and Exeter’s bonus point score, which arrived on 66 minutes.Another slick attack from the home side saw them drive deep behind enemy lines, from which Sam Skinner latched onto a pass, drove determinedly for the line, before shipping a simple pass to Slade to score from close range.
It was two hammer blow for the Tigers, who were physically wilting on their feet.
Sadly for them, there was to be no let-up from the Chiefs who were determined to inflict yet further misery on them in the dying embers of the game.
A line-out move five metres from the Leicester line gave the Chiefs another decent scoring opportunity, but this time they made a hash of the set-piece, allowing their rivals to clear the ball down field.
Sadly, they didn’t do a great job in the clearance as Steenson picked up possession to release the marauding Phil Dollman down the left flank. Now into his 10th year with the club, the Welshman looked odds-on to add another five-pointer to his name, only to be denied by a cracking cover tackle just inches out.The calvary was close at hand, though, and it was fitting that Kvesic was the closest man on the scene, the all-action flanker picking up and driving over for a fifth score.
The Chiefs rightly emptied their bench in the latter stages, handing a Premiership debut to young forward Sean Lonsdale, and he was able to join in the celebrations for Exeter’s sixth try, which came via the final play of the game.
A stunner counter from midway inside the Tigers half, the ball was worked out to Cowan-Dickie, whose lopping pass found club-mate Slade on the charge.With plenty still to do, the Plymouth-born back dropped his shoulder, powered off his left leg, leaving a trail of destruction before offloading to the waiting Whitten, who won’t get an easier score this season.Steenson duly completed the job, landing the conversion to give the Chiefs the dream start.
Chiefs: P Dollman; S Cordero, I Whitten, O Devoto (H Slade 56), O Woodburn (J Simmonds 68); G Steenson, N White (S Townsend 56); A Hepburn (G Holmes 58), J Yeandle (capt, L Cowan-Dickie 50), T Francis (H Williams 51); O Atkins (T Salmon 67), S Skinner; D Armand, M Kvesic, S Simmonds (S Lonsdale 67).
Tries - Woodburn, S Simmonds, Cowan-Dickie, Slade, Kvesic, Whitten; Conversions - Steenson (5)
Tigers: T Vaeianu; A Thompstone, M Tuilagi, M Toomua (K Eastmond 67), J May; G Ford, B Youngs (S Harrison 67); G Bateman (D Feao 62), T Youngs (capt, T Polota-Nau 53), D Cole (G Cortes 77); M Fitzgerald (M Williams 67), W Spencer (H Wells 51); D Denton, B O’ Connor, S Kalamafoni.Replacement (not used): J Olowofela.
Penalty - G Ford
Referee: W Barnes