Exeter Chiefs kept up the pressure on Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders Wasps as they produced a bonus-point win at Leicester Tigers with a hugely impressive pack performance.
Tries from Kai Horstmann, Stu Townsend, Mitch Lees and a penalty score handed the Chiefs a crucial win as Rob Baxter’s side demonstrated a powerful forward showing and disciplined defensive effort to take the five points.
The Chiefs are now a point off table toppers Wasps – who head to Bath Rugby on Saturday – while the Tigers’ top-four challenge takes a hit.
Leicester started like an express train and took the early initiative as prop Michele Rizzo barged his way over from close range for a try after only three minutes after a series of catch and drives from the Tigers.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) March 3, 2017
Fly half Owen Williams was unable to add the extras for the in-form Tigers and his nightmare start to the game got worse just minutes later as his error led to an Exeter score.
After England international Henry Slade missed a sixth minute penalty attempt for the Chiefs, Williams took too long over a defensive clearance and saw his kick from hand charged down by the rampaging Horstmann.
The ball ricocheted perfectly for Horstmann and bounced up for the Exeter forward to collect the ball and dive under the posts; Slade this time was successful with his kick at goal.
Despite dominating territory and possession, Exeter were behind again as a needless lack of discipline allowed Williams the opportunity to kick Leicester back in front with a penalty after 15 minutes.
However, the lead lasted just two minutes as Leicester, whose only defeat in their last seven Premiership Rugby home games was to Saracens on New Year’s Day, failed to deal with the restart, allowing Slade the chance to slot a penalty and put Exeter 10-8 back in front.
Leicester’s evening took a turn for the worse just past the 20-minute mark as they conceded a penalty try after a period of Exeter pressure, the Chiefs’ tenth of the season so far, with Tigers’ skipper Tom Youngs receiving a yellow card in the process – Slade once again added the extras.
FT – Leicester Tigers 15 Exeter Chiefs 34
Report and Reaction to follow shortly pic.twitter.com/58KdauKN1p
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) March 3, 2017
Leicester Tigers had won their last three Aviva Premiership Rugby fixtures, but had not won four in a row in the tournament for two years – and the departure of Youngs left the Midlands club with a mountain to climb against the Chiefs.
And Townsend scored Exeter’s next try after 32 minutes; the visitors went out wide and the Chiefs, who are unbeaten in their last nine Aviva Premiership Rugby matches since Bath defeated them at Sandy Park in October, took advantage in the corner, with Slade again adding the extras to make the score 24-8.
The Tigers were now in disarray and they conceded yet more points before the break as a needless penalty in front of the posts handed Slade the opportunity to extend his side’s advantage further off the kicking tee.
“This is a massive night for Exeter!”
Parling reacts after his Man of the Match performance against his old side. https://t.co/S6p5y4sDrq
— BT Sport Rugby (@btsportrugby) March 3, 2017
The next try was always going to be crucial and it was Leicester who got it, just six minutes after the break as Maxime Mermoz scored for the Tigers, with Williams closing the gap even further with his successful conversion.
The score suddenly changed the balance of play and Leicester found themselves camped in the Exeter 22 for the next ten minutes but despite the sin-binning of former England international Geoff Parling; the Chiefs held firm under intense pressure.
And the visitors scored their fourth try of the evening after 57 minutes, Lees rumbled over from close range, with Slade stretching the Chiefs lead to 34-15.
And despite late Leicester pressure, Exeter maintained their charge for a top-two finish as they racked up a tenth straight win.