Radio Exe Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 29 – 10 Leicester Tigers

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A record Sandy Park crowd were sent home with an early Christmas present as a dominant and determined Exeter Chiefs side dispatched Leicester Tigers 29-10 in their return to Gallagher Premiership action.

Anyone in any doubt of the intensity of the fixture had their thoughts resolved within the opening five minutes as Chiefs and Tigers dove head-first into the crunching physicality.

The forward pack match-up – a hefty one with two big packs facing off – began with a scrum to Chiefs on the edge of the opposition 22. A penalty coming their way allowed Henry Slade to go for the set-piece in the corner.

Patience and commitment was key. The forwards made the big carries while the nifty footwork of the likes of Ben Hammersley and Harvey Skinner bought the extra yards. With an advantage coming from the breakdown two metres out, Jacques Vermeulen took the ball on himself to crash over for the opening score. Slade’s conversion rounded things out to the full seven points.

Straight back onto the offensive, Chiefs were all but immediately baring back down upon the Tigers’ 22. Rory O’Loughlin looked to combine with Skinner in the line break before a tackle off the ball forced a knock-on from the Irishman. After consulting his TMO, referee Tom Foley showed George Martin a yellow card for the infringement and stopped underneath the sticks to award the Chiefs’ penalty try.

After repeated penalties rolling the Chiefs’ way, when the chance came with the ball Handre Pollard looked to kick to touch for territory. He didn’t account on Hammersley judging the kick well tight to the touchline to send it back the South African’s way. With kicks exchanged, Tigers had to settle for calling the mark to gain a short number of yards for the lineout still within their own half.

Tigers seemed off their stride in the second quarter, Pollard visibly struggling to get his kicks off the mark. Each advance was thwarted by a handling or kicking error, allowing Chiefs the chance on the counter.

Scott Sio took his chance on the half hour. Sniping past his old international rugby adversary, Dan Cole, the Aussie scooped a loose lineout ball off the floor to storm from the halfway to the edge of the Tigers’ 22. Lewis Pearson was in support but loose ball on the floor robbed momentum, allowing Leicester to cover.

Following an injury stoppage as both Sio and Ben Youngs had to leave the field, Chiefs restarted the action with a scrum inside the Leicester 22. The penalty came from the dominant drive and a quick-tap take seemed to have gotten the Chiefs over the whitewash. Unfortunately, Jack Yeandle was deemed to have gotten there through a double movement, meaning Tigers had the chance to clear.

A minute and a half to go on the clock, Slade did what he does best – delivered for the home crowd. Tigers were on the offensive, looking for carries through Ollie Chessum and co but they were met with clinical defence. Looking to spread the ball white in hopes of a gap, Leicester let their handling get loose and Slade saw his moment. A ball dropped to the turf and the centre was the first onto it – steaming downfield to finish off with a dive underneath the posts. Converting his own score, the Chiefs were three converted tries in the lead on the halftime scoreboard.

Half-time: Chiefs 21 – 0 Tigers

Straight back into the fire, it took less than five minutes of the second half being underway for the scrum to pack down once more. Chiefs were having things their way in the weighty battle as the calls continued to come the way of Abuladze, Yeandle and Ehren Painter.

Another dominant scrum drive, this time on the edge of the opposition 22 on 50 minutes played, and Chiefs decided to go for the posts to keep the score ticking over. Slade was accurate from the boot and Tigers had another three points to overcome.

Jasper Wiese looked to be a standout for his side with a line break carry into the Chiefs 22. Bravery from Tommy Wyatt to put his body in front of the rampaging South African slowed the back rower down enough for Greg Fisilau and Tom Cairns to combine against him at the line to deny the try.

Tigers had the penalty however and had another chance off a scrum on the five metre line. Tom Whiteley first tried sniping down the shortside but found the corner blocked by Cairns and Hammersley. Moving in-field, and with an advantage in their favour, Tigers held onto ball long enough to put a pass out to Anthony Watson on the wing for the score.

On the field for less than 30 seconds, Ross Vintcent found himself barging downfield in pursuit of a chip from fellow replacement Joe Hawkins who had had a lucky interception of a pass in the Chiefs 22. Vintcent didn’t get the ball, but he got his man wrapped up confidently.

Tigers recycled ball to go for touch, but Chiefs were clinical at the lineout. Stu Townsend received the ball to send it flying downfield off the boot, drifting into touch on the Tigers five metre line – piling the pressure on the Leicester men.

Being able to deny the confrontation on their own line, Tigers steadily worked their way downfield as penalties at the breakdown cost the Chiefs territory. Working along the width of the 22 with ball in hand, in an almost mirror image of their first score, Tigers drew in the big bodies to the tight carries before floating long passes out to the wing this time for Freddie Steward to run the ball in.

As Jamie Shillcock attempted to take the conversion, the home crowd had something to cheer as Zack Wimbush came onto the field to make his Gallagher Premiership debut.

An error from Mike Brown judging a rumbling ball in his own dead-ball area nearly cost Tigers. Wimbush chased it the entire way, trying to dot it down at Brown’s feet before it was called dead. However, after a TMO check, it was found that Brown’s foot had connected before it hit touch and thus it would be a goal-line drop-out.

Gaining a penalty at the breakdown in returning the ball, Chiefs went for the corner with less than five minutes left in the encounter. The want for more points was no less fierce in the Exeter men.

Using every second up on the clock until it was in the red, the crowd – at 15,000 strong capacity – were elated when Rusi Tuima soared over for a final Chiefs try. The conversion wasn’t to be for Slade, but the record 23rd home win in a row, on the 23rd day of December to seal 2023 was secure.

Full-time: Chiefs 29 – 10 Tigers

Chiefs: T Wyatt; R O’Loughlin (Wimbush 69’), H Slade, O Devoto (Hawkins 61’), B Hammersley; H Skinner, T Cairns (Townsend 58’); S Sio (Abuladze 33’), J Yeandle (Frost 57’), E Painter (Iosefa-Scott 57’), D Jenkins (c), L Pearson (Tuima 61’), E Roots, J Vermeulen (Vintcent 61’), G Fisilau.

Tries: Vermeulen, Penalty Try, Slade, Tuima Conversions: Slade 2 Penalties: Slade

Tigers: F Steward; A Watson, D Kelly, S Kata, J Bassett (Brown 35’); H Pollard (Shillcock 67’), B Youngs (Whiteley 33’); J Whitcombe (Van Wyk 50’), J Montoya (c) (Theobold-Thomas 73’), D Cole (Heyes 46’), G Martin, H Wells, O Chessum (Hatherell), E Ilione (Cracknell 46’), J Wiese.

Tries: Watson, Steward

Yellow card: George Martin

Referee: Tom Foley

Attendance: 15,000

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