Tigers 20 Chiefs 52
Leicester Tigers 20
Exeter Chiefs 52
Mark Stevens at Welford Road
Cast your minds back to September 11, 2010.
To many folk, it’s just another date in the yearly calendar, but for the Exeter Chiefs it was the day they tackled the mighty Leicester Tigers in their first-ever away game in the Aviva Premiership.
Having arrived in the East Midlands on the back of victory against Gloucester in their maiden top-flight outing, Rob Baxter’s side were given little to no hope of reward from their trip to Welford Road.
The Devonians, however, had clearly not read the script and for an hour at least they went toe-to-toe against English rugby’s most decorated side, before eventually succumbing to the might of Richard Cockerill’s side in the final quarter.
Fast forward the clocks to present day and how the picture has changed somewhat. Now, it’s the Chiefs who are ruling the roost, sealing themselves a home semi-final with this comprehensive, seven-try success. Not only did they maul the Tigers into submission, but at the same time they heaped further misery on their rivals, who remain just five points off the foot of the table.
Matt Kvesic started the try fest after just ten minutes, before Jack Yeandle, Olly Woodburn, Henry Slade, Ollie Devoto, Santiago Cordero and Jack Nowell all got in on the scoring act themselves.Fly-half Joe Simmonds dispatched conversions to all seven scores, as well as adding a second half penalty, to seal an unblemished display from the kicking tee.
The Tigers offered resistance during the first half, scoring tries through England duo Jonny May and Tom Youngs, while international colleague George Ford kicked the remainder of their points.However, that was the highlights of their day, which turned even worse in the second period when Youngs was sent off by referee Tom Foley for a head-high hit on Exeter lock Ollie Atkins.
It summed up a miserable day for the hosts, who know they still have plenty to do if they are to escape the seemingly unthinkable thought of relegation.
With a place in the play-offs already assured following their victory against Bath last time out, Baxter had challenged his Chiefs squad to use the final few games of the regular season to not only bank home advantage in the last four, but at the same time create some real momentum that they could use to the full in the knock-out stages.
Injuries to Dave Dennis, Jonny Hill and Sam Skinner in the build-up to this match meant there were starts for both Sean Lonsdale and Atkins in the pack, as well as a first-ever Premiership call-up for England Under-20s international Richard Capstick. Behind the scrum, the Exeter back division - which included England international Slade on his 100th top flight appearance - was unchanged.
The Tigers, meanwhile, welcomed back Matt Toomua and Mike Fitzgerald to their starting line-up, the latter replacing Tongan international Sione Kalamafoni, who was serving his suspension following his red card away to Sale Sharks.
Personnel in place, it was the table-toppers who started the contest brightly. Cordero and Woodburn instigated the first Exeter attack of the day, only for the latter to be bundled into touch as he charged deep into enemy territory.
It was, however, the sign of things to come from the Devonians, who broke the deadlock on 10 minutes when Kvesic was the scorer, the No.8 latching onto a pass from Nic White, who had exploited a gap on the blindside before delivering the pop pass to his team-mate. Simmonds obliged with the touchline conversion to ensure a maximum haul for the Chiefs.
At the other end, Kyle Eastmond released Jordan Olowofela down the left at a rate of knots, as the winger cut in side he was hauled to the deck, but in the ensuing ruck, referee Foley pinged the Chiefs for going off their feet, gifting Ford the simplest of penalties from in front of the Exeter posts.
Home cheers proved short-lived, though, as moments later the Chiefs were back on the offensive, bagging their second try of the afternoon through skipper Yeandle. Having declined two kickable penalties for kicks to the corner, it was off the second of those opportunities that the visitors were able to strike.Using their pack to punch holes into the home defence, it was the Exeter hooker who drove with purpose for the line, Simmonds once more converting with ease.
Again, the Tigers countered in attack - and again they made their pressure pay - claiming their opening try through the dangerous May. The England winger was able to latch onto a pass from Toomua before applying a trademark finish in the corner. As May celebrated, so he got embroiled in a spate of handbags, which after Ford had converted from wide out, saw the officials call Kvesic and Tuilagi in with their respective captains and the Chiefs awarded a penalty from the restart for the actions of the latter.
Slade drilled a precision kick to the right corner, the Chiefs won the resultant line-out and, in the blink of an eye, they worked the ball across the field to Woodburn, who applied a sublime finish in the left corner for a third converted try.
With the bit firmly between their teeth, the Chiefs continued to go about their work, claiming the bonus point score just past the half-hour mark. Slade was the beneficiary, ghosting in around the blindside after Messrs Simmonds, Armand and Woodburn had sliced open the home defence with another slick attack.
Seemingly in cruise control as the half time whistle approached, the Tigers were handed a boost when Nowell was shown yellow for a professional foul in front of his own posts. Ford slotted the easy penalty and then added the extras to a score from Youngs deep into added on time, after May had initially been held up on the try-line but some stout Exeter defence.
HALF TIME LEICESTER TIGERS 20 EXETER CHIEFS 28
The hooker’s score right on the stroke of half time had ignited the masses inside Welford Road nicely for the second period, but the half was only two minutes old when the Chiefs struck through the boot of Simmonds. A brilliant turnover from Yeandle on Olowofela gifted the visitors a penalty straight in front of the sticks - from which the young playmaker made no mistake, extending Exeter’s lead to 11 points.
The natives were far from happy with the decisions being handed out to them, but the Chiefs did not care one bit. Instead, they continued to go for the exposed Leicester jugular, hitting them with a fifth try just two minutes later.Working possession back inside to Simmonds, he fizzed a pass to the onrushing Slade, who sped right through the middle of the home rearguard before drawing in the cover and feeding the ball to fellow centre Devoto.
Simmonds obliged with the extras to that score and Exeter’s next, which arrived through the magic of Argentinian full-back Cordero.Not for the first time this season, his fancy footwork helped his cut a swathe to the try-line, leaving a trail of defenders in his wake. His departure next season will certainly be felt, but before then he is hell-bent on helping the Chiefs to claim a second Premiership crown.
With the Chiefs cranking up the gears, things turned from bad to worse for the Tigers, who having appeared to score a try through Toomua in the corner, had play called back on the intervention of the TV match official.In the build-up to the score, Youngs had thundered into Atkins at high speed, flooring the Aussie in the process. Subsequent replays ensued, the results of which were that the try was chalked off and the home skipper was dispatched to the sidelines permanently.
Now up a man, as well as significantly on the scoreboard, the Chiefs showed their ruthless side when Nowell picked off a loose Toomua pass to race over half the field for a seventh converted try.
Home and dry, all that was left for the Chiefs to do in the final quarter was to showcase their talents some more, as well as hand a Premiership debut to youngster Capstick. He impressed on his first outing, as did his fellow replacements who underlined the supremacy of this Exeter 23.
Exeter could - and probably should - have added to their tally in the dying minutes.Woodburn had a second chalked off for a knock-on by Simmonds, who himself threatened to go close, only to be collared by a last-ditch tackle from Tuilagi.
It mattered not, the home semi-final was assured and the Travelling Tribe were given plenty to rejoice ahead of their trek back down to the Westcountry.
Tigers: M Toomua (G Owen 69); J May, M Tuilagi, K Eastmond (S Aspland-Robinson 40, J Kerr 58), J Olowofela; G Ford, S Harrison (B White 53); E Genge (F Gigena 72), T Youngs (capt), D Cole (J Heyes 72); W Spencer, G Kitchener; M Fitzgerald (V Mapapalangi 73), M Williams (G Thompson 62), B O’Connor.
Tries - May, T Youngs; Conversions - G Ford (2); Penalties - G Ford (2)
Red Card: T Youngs
Chiefs: S Cordero; J Nowell, H Slade (I Whitten 66), O Devoto (S Hill 55), O Woodburn; J Simmonds, N White (J Maunder ; A Hepburn (B Moon 48), J Yeandle (capt, L Cowan-Dickie 48), H Williams (T Francis 48); S Lonsdale, O Atkins (T Salmon 56); D Ewers (R Capstick 66), D Armand, M Kvesic.
Tries - Kvesic, Yeandle, Woodburn, Slade, Devoto, Cordero, Nowell; Conversions - J Simmonds (7); Penalty - J Simmonds
Yellow Card: Nowell
Referee: T Foley