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Review

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Team 1

Team Icon
Team Name
Leicester Tigers
Team Score
15

Team 2

Team Icon
Team Name
Exeter Chiefs
Team Score
34
Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/Pinnacle Photo Agency

Pictures: Exeter Rugby Club/Pinnacle Photo Agency

Leicester Tigers 15

Exeter Chiefs 34

Mark Stevens at Welford Road

Exeter’s Premiership history maybe in its infancy when compared to that of hosts Leicester Tigers, but the Chiefs showed they are maturing into a formidable force with this impressive victory at Welford Road.

Rob Baxter’s side maintained their pursuit of table-topping Wasps by taming the Tigers in their own lair, recording a maximum haul of points courtesy of a penalty try and further touchdowns from Kai Horstmann Stuart Townsend and Mitch Lees.

England international Henry Slade weighed in with the remainder of the points for the visitors, who despite trailing in the early stages to a Michele Rizzo try, had too much in every department for their hosts.

Alongside Rizzo’s score, the Tigers countered with a second half touchdown from Maxine Mermoz, and a further five points from the boot of Owen Williams. It was, however, never enough to halt the rampaging Chiefs.

Unbeaten in the Premiership since Bath won at Sandy Park in late October, Baxter knew this latest trip to the East Midlands would provide an acid test in terms of where his side stood as the race for play-off places intensifies.

Fresh from collecting maximum reward against Newcastle Falcons last time out, the visitors made a number of changes to their winning formula.  In the front-row, Carl Rimmer and Luke Cowan-Dickie were both added, while there was a first-ever Premiership start for Stuart Townsend, who provided a new-look half-back partnership alongside England international Slade.

The Tigers, meanwhile, welcomed back England internationals Tom Youngs and Tom Croft to their pack, along with Italian prop Rizzo, while behind Matt Smith was brought into their midfield alongside experienced Frenchman Mermoz.

Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs, Leicester, UK - 3 Mar 2017With personnel in place, Baxter was targeting a fast start from his side against English rugby’s most decorated club side. Instead, it was the home side who were first to show, breaking the deadlock inside five minutes.

Having positioned themselves deep inside the Chiefs 22, they used a simple, yet effective, pick-and-go game through their forwards to get within strike range. Initially, the Chiefs did well to hold the home surge, but when the Tigers pressed again, this time it was Rizzo who squirmed over from five metres out.

Home joy would prove short-lived as within three minutes Baxter’s side had not only drawn level, but were in front with the first of their four tries on the night.

Looking to clear their lines after Olly Woodburn had caused problems at the restart, Horstmann did brilliantly to charge down Williams’ intended clearance. As the ball spewed loose, the back-row forward – who on Thursday penned a new one-year deal with the Devon club – latched onto the ball to score under the posts. Slade converted with ease to put his side in front.

With little to choose between either side at that stage, Williams and Slade exchanged successful penalties, before the visitors began to click into overdrive.

Kicking a penalty to the left corner, the initial catch-and-drive attempted was thwarted, but when they had a second attempt, the Exeter eight combined as one to deadly effect. Merging together as a mass force they seemed destined for the line, only for Youngs to illegally bring their maul to the deck.

The England and British Lions hooker was duly dispatched to the sidelines for ten minutes, while referee Matt Carley ran in under the sticks for Exeter’s tenth penalty try of the season, again converted by Slade.

Still with the man advantage, the Chiefs continued to exert the pressure and they were rewarded with further points before the break

Phil Dollman instigated things with a powerful charge down the left, the Chiefs worked the ball back infield through Lees and then Slade, whose looping pass to the right found former Tiger Geoff Parling in space. The towering lock burrowed low towards the line and although he was stopped, Townsend reacted quickest to snipe over for his maiden top flight score.

Slade banged over a sublime touchline conversion from the right flank, before adding a penalty with the last action of the half to put the Devonians firmly in control at the turn.

HALF TIME LEICESTER TIGERS 8 EXETER CHIEFS 27

With the home faithful in a state of shell-shock following Exeter’s ferocious first half display, both in attack and defence, the Tigers knew they needed to come out firing on the resumption.

It was the Chiefs who were first to show, creating a series of attacking waves that got them deep inside enemy territory. The build-up was nice and neat, but on this occasion the final execution was missing as Slade’s attempted grubber was lapped up by Thompstone.

The Tigers duly made the most of the missed opportunity, clearing down field and setting up camp themselves in the Exeter half.  As they had done in the first half, the home pack used brute force to punch holes into the Chiefs rearguard, before the ball was eventually spun out wide to Mermoz, who showed some handy footwork to dart in under the posts for Williams to convert.

Ignited by the score and with the decibel levels inside Welford Road lifted a few notches, the Tigers threatened again. Choosing to kick a penalty to the right corner, the first attempted was halted illegally by the visitors.

Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs, Leicester, UK - 3 Mar 2017They tried again, this time winning another penalty – but choosing to play the advantage, Williams went cross-field with a kick to the right corner. It looked near enough on the money for the experienced winger, but under pressure from Dollman he was adjudged to have been in touch before grounding.

Back they came for a third penalty, which this time saw Parling sent to the cooler for collapsing the maul, but the Tigers were unable to strike. The Chiefs repelling them with a determined defensive action that was greeted by audible groans from all four corners of the ground.

Turning defence into attack, the Chiefs then preceded to march down field where, unlike their rivals, they were able to make significant inroads. The forwards did the donkey work, piling through the heart of the Leicester defence, before one final drive saw Lees bulldoze his way over from a yard out. Slade converted once again to put his side in charge at 34-15.

Leicester’s cause was further hampered when they lost replacement scrum-half Sam Harrison to injury, so it meant Freddie Burns was shunted from the playmaker role to that of No.9 for the final quarter.

Although the home side huffed and puffed late on, the Chiefs were proving ruthless in defence, smashing them back with a plethora of bone-crunching hits.  In truth, the Tigers had nothing left to throw at Baxter’s side.

With mission accomplished, it was left to the travelling Tribe to merely rub salt into the gaping Leicester wounds. As the ‘Tomahawk Chop’ rang out from the famous Crumbie Terrace, the natives were already heading for the exit door.

The Chiefs will now take a short two-week break from the rigours of the Premiership, instead focusing their minds on next week’s Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final with Harlequins, after which it won’t be long before they welcome Sale Sharks to the Westcountry.

Tigers: T Veainu; A Thompstone, M Smith (F Burns 56), M Mermoz, JP Pietersen (G McGuigan 27-37); O Williams; J Kitto (S Harrison 46, P Betham 58); M Rizzo (E Genge h/t), T Youngs (capt, G McGuigan 55), G Bateman (P Cilliers 55); M Fitzgerald, D Barrow; T Croft (M Williams 46), B O’Connor, L Hamilton (L McCaffrey 74).

Tries – Rizzo, Mermoz; Conversion – O Wiliams; Penalty – O Williams

Yellow Card: T Youngs

Chiefs: P Dollman; O Woodburn, I Whitten, O Devoto, J Short (S Hill 70); H Slade (J Simmonds 79), S Townsend (J Maunder 60); C Rimmer (B Moon 49), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 60), H Williams (T Francis 49); M Lees (S Simmonds 70), G Parling (J Hill 64); D Armand (capt), K Horstmann, T Waldrom.

Tries – Horstmann, Penalty Try, Townsend, Lees; Conversions – Slade (4); Penalty – Slade

Yellow Card: Parling

Referee: M Carley

Attendance: 20,434