Tigers 13 Chiefs 35
Leicester Tigers 13
Exeter Chiefs 35
Mark Stevens at Welford Road
Three rounds into their title defence and the Exeter Chiefs are continuing to pack a punch as a powerful second half showing saw them floor Leicester Tigers.
Although down on points at the break - the Tigers led 13-7 thanks to a converted Calum Green try and two penalties from Zack Henry - Rob Baxter’s champions bossed the second half, adding converted tries from
Jannes Kirsten, Ian Whitten, Sam Simmonds and Ollie Devoto to that of a fIrst half effort from skipper Jack Yeandle.
Having collected maximum reward from their first two fixtures of the season, Director of Rugby Baxter saw little reason to tinker too much with his winning formula. Up front, Will Witty was restored to the starting line-up in place of Sam Skinner, who was on international duty with Scotland, while behind Stu Townsend and Tom Hendrickson were also in from the outset.
The Tigers, meanwhile, were looking to bounce back to winning ways after going down to London Irish last time out. Head coach Steve Borthwick made three changes himself, drafting in Fijian powerhouse Nephi Leatigaga at loosehead, while George Porter and Harry Simmons filled the wing spots vacated by Harry Potter and Kobus van Wyk.
With conditions nigh on perfect in the East Midlands, it was the hosts who were first to show, breaking the game’s deadlock inside two minutes as Henry slotted a routine penalty after Chiefs scrum-half Townsend had been penalised for infringing at the ruck.
It was an early setback for the Chiefs, but it wasn’t too long before they were up and running themselves. Yeandle threatened first with a raid from a close-range penalty, before his fellow forwards - on the rumble behind - were deemed held up on the line.
The Tigers may have survived that threat, but when Baxter’s side pushed again, this time there was no mistake as Yeandle - celebrating his 150th Premiership appearance - caught the home side napping, tapping from a penalty five metres out to drive over for the opening try, converted by the metronomic boot of Joe Simmonds.
It was no more than the Chiefs deserved for their dominance and they continued to apply the greater attacking threat as the half ticked along at a rate of knots. Hendrickson was next to show, the centre bursting his way through the heart of the home defence, only to be turned over in the shadow of the Tigers den.
At the other end, Henry reduced the arrears to a point when he landed a second penalty of the afternoon - and he was on hand to add the extras to Leicester’s opening try, which came just five minutes before the break.
Witty’s indiscretion on the left touchline allowed Henry to pin the Chiefs back deep inside their own 22 - and from the resultant five-metre line-out, it was the hulking frame of Green that emerged from a mass of bodies to take the acclaim of his fellow Tigers team-mates.
The Chiefs could - and probably should - have scored with the final action of the half. Having won two quick fire penalties deep inside the Leicester half, they were unable to barge their way over from close range, again turning over possession with the try-line in sniffing distance.
HALF TIME LEICESTER TIGERS 13 EXETER CHIEFS 7
No doubt warmed by some home truths from Baxter during the interval, the Chiefs wasted little time in setting out their second half intentions. The visitors spent the opening ten minutes literally camped inside the Tigers 22, laying siege on the Leicester line with a succession of robust raids.
To their credit, the Tigers were holding firm - albeit not always legally - as a succession of penalties awarded by referee Craig Maxwell-Keys meant the Chiefs were able to apply some notable pressure.
In the end, the Tigers - still English rugby’s most decorated club side - could stand no more, caving in as the force of South African flanker Kirsten saw him rumble over from just a few yards out.
Back in front, it was a position the Chiefs would not squander. Indeed, just four minutes after the flame-haired Kirsten had worked his way over, Townsend’s clever grubber kick in behind offered winger Whitten the opportunity to claim his second try of the campaign.
This was more like it from the visitors, but the Tigers were far from finished and in their next meaningful foray forward they should have cut the Exeter lead. Jordan Taufua’s charge down the right flank saw him ship the ball inside to Henry who, with a two-on-one break with Richard Wigglesworth, somehow managed to butcher a certain try.
Instead of simply offloading to the veteran scrum-half as Facundo Cordero closed in, instead he opted to try and round the Argentinian full-back. The Exeter man sized up his rival, bundled him into touch, and the chance was lost, much to the approval of the raucous Chiefs bench.
If that was bad enough, things got decidedly worse for the hosts as a minute later winger Simmons was shown a yellow card for a deliberate trip on Townsend as he looked to clear the danger from his own try-line.
Simmons’ needless actions kind of summed up how the half was developing for Borthwick’s side as they conceded a string of further penalties that allowed the Chiefs to not only clear their own lines, but in turn set up chances of their own at the other end.
As has been the case so far this season, there is never an air of panic within this Chiefs mix and although they huffed and puffed in search of a fourth try, their efforts were finally rewarded when Sam Simmonds - aided by a forceful latch from Dave Ewers - found his way over for his sixth try in just three games.
The contest was effectively over there and then, but the Chiefs weren’t finished, bagging a late fifth when Devoto beautifully red Diaz Bonilla’s intended chip over the top, plucking the ball out of the night air and racing unopposed to the sticks.
His ’Alan Shearer-like’ try celebration would have been more akin across the road at Leicester City’s King Power Stadium, but it kind of summed up the joy and confidence that is currently being exuded by Baxter’s band of brothers.
Aussie rookie Jack Walsh bagged the extras to wrap up the victory for the Chiefs, who having started their Premiership defence so well, but must now look to do the same next week when their European escapades start with the visit of Glasgow Warriors to Sandy Park.
Tigers: F Steward; G Porter, J Taute, M Scott, H Simmons; Z Henry (J Diaz Bonilla), R Wigglesworth (B White 65); N Leatigaga (R Bower 48), T Youngs (capt, C Clare 47), D Cole (J Heyes 53); H Wells, C Green; H Liebenberg, C Brink (J Taufua 47), J Wiese (T Reffell 61-62). Replacements (not used): B Enever, T Reffell
Try - Green; Conversion - Henry; Penalties - Henry (2)
Yellow Card: Simmons
Chiefs: F Cordero (J Hodge 64); I Whitten, T Hendrickson, O Devoto, T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds (J Walsh 73), S Townsend (J Maunder 60); B Moon (J Kenny 76), J Yeandle (capt, J Innard 76), H Williams (M Street 53); W Witty (T Price 61, R Capstick 64), D Armand; D Ewers, J Kirsten, S Simmonds.
Try - Yeandle, Kirsten, Whitten, S Simmonds, Devoto; Conversion - J Simmonds (4), Walsh
Referee: C Maxwell-Keys