Mitch Lees insists the key ingredient to Exeter Chiefs’ defence is camaraderie as he put in a man-of-the-match display to see Rob Baxter’s troops into their second straight LV= Cup final at the expense of Leicester Tigers.
The Chiefs head to Franklin’s Gardens next Sunday with a golden chance to defend their LV= Cup title – having not picked up a major piece of silverware before last year’s success – after frustrating a lively Leicester at Welford Road.
Elvis Taione and Fetu’u Vainikolo scored tries in response to Leicester prop Michele Rizzo’s opening effort, while Tommy Bell proved a consistent kicker for the hosts by collecting 17 points.
However it was tries that Leicester needed but they were thwarted time and time again by the Chiefs line, with Lees playing a starring role.
In the end Ceri Sweeney’s own kicking contribution of 14 points, and a late Greg Bateman try, sealed the victory – leaving Lees and company relishing a meeting with Saracens in the final.
“We’re delighted with the result, to get into another LV= Cup final, the boys are all really happy,” said the lock.
“The boys are all really good mates, every day we are all happy to see each other and it’s huge on the pitch – when you come out here and are in those tight situations defending your line, the boys have always got each other's backs.
“We were a bit shell-shocked (at the start), everyone was anxious to get out there and everyone had that high intensity.
“That may have made us a bit disjointed but we calmed down a lot and came through in the end. Our defence has been a huge part of our game the whole year. It was not just up front but the backs out wide – the defence was great all day.”
On another day Leicester’s explosiveness, including an eye-catching display from centre George Catchpole, would have resulted in more points on the board.
And assistant coach Geordan Murphy – who in the past so often helped Leicester convert their chances from full-back – believes his side should have shown more composure in such situations.
"We were probably a bit naive. We made eight line breaks and scored only one try. We left some points out there,” he said.
"At times we could have turned the screw but we let the pressure off them with our mistakes.
"Tommy Bell missed touch with 25 minutes to go and a penalty then would have put us one point behind. But the guys stuck at it and you can't have excuses at this level, the guys know how to play the game. I think at times we suffered from white line fever."
Leicester Tigers: Scully; Smith (Thompstone 68), Catchpole, Loamanu (Hepetema 72), Benjamin; Bell, Mele (Harrison 56); Rizzo, Thacker (Briggs 58), Balmain (Mulipola 54); Thorn (Price 68), de Chaves; Whetton (Salvi 54), Barbieri, Pearce
Replacements not used: Bristow
Exeter Chiefs: Bodilly; Vainikolo, Hughes, Naqelevuki, James; Sweeney, Thomas (Lewis 53); Sturgess (Rimmer 53), Taione (Bateman 54), Low (Brown 53); Lees, Sexton (Holmes 64); White, Simmonds (Conlon 40), Horstmann.
Replacements: Steenson, Hendrickson
Leicester Tigers 22 Exeter Chiefs 30
Penalty: Bell 4
Tries: Taione, Vainikolo, Bateman
Conversions: Sweeney 3
Penalties: Sweeney 3
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
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