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Match Report: Leicester Tigers 31 Exeter Chiefs 27

06 Mar 2016
Match Report: Leicester Tigers 31 Exeter Chiefs 27

Leicester Tigers weathered a second-half storm to notch their second bonus-point victory on the spin, at the expense of high-flying Exeter Chiefs.

A penalty try and scores from Manu Tuilagi – who impressed in his bid to earn a spot in England’s next Six Nations squad – Peter Betham, and Adam Thompstone all before the 50-minute mark were ultimately enough for the hosts.

But Exeter made them work for it, and it was a nervy final 20 minutes for the Tigers after Dave Lewis and Ian Whitten both dotted down in response, before Kai Horstmann's last-gasp score earned them a bonus point of their own.

Harry Thacker made some of the early running for Tigers, stealing the ball and making 30 metres to get the Welford Road crowd going.

Leicester were putting Exeter’s Phil Dollman under a lot of early pressure on his 100th Aviva Premiership Rugby appearance, regularly box-kicking high for the fullback to gather and clear.

And while the Chiefs defence were resolute for the first 14 minutes, when Moray Low was eventually pinged for not rolling away, Freddie Burns made no mistake with the first kick of the afternoon to make it 3-0.

But Exeter were back on level terms just three minutes later when Lachlan McCaffrey was penalised while battling for the ball, and Gareth Steenson did the honours from the tee.

The Chiefs could not punish Burns for putting the restart straight out, and it was Leicester who had the next shot at goal on 22 minutes when Matt Jess was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on, but Tommy Bell’s long penalty attempt sailed left of the posts.

Tuilagi was doing plenty of damage in the midfield, with Leicester looking to be the side in the ascendancy – and so it proved when Exeter spilled the ball and Burns chipped through.

Lewis was able to collect on the 5-metre line but under pressure had nowhere to go other than touch, and from the resulting line-out and maul the Tigers had a 29th-minute penalty try, Geoff Parling seeing yellow through the TMO for being in an illegal position.

Burns’ conversion was good, and just one minute later they had doubled their try tally, and it was that man Tuilagi again.

A brilliant flowing move from Leicester saw him go over in the corner, after Betham, Mike Fitzgerald and Marcos Ayerza all combined to send the centre clear.

Burns’ kick from the touchline was perfect again, and with Exeter struggling to draw breath the hosts were 17-3 ahead.

Steenson was able to add one more penalty before half-time after Chiefs built the phases, but they had all the work to do in the second period.

Their task was made even more difficult when Betham sped through to score five minutes after the interval; Exeter loosing the ball after a period of pressure before the centre took full advantage.

And the job was seemingly done for the hosts as they scored a bonus-point try just four minutes later, as a perfectly executed lineout routine straight off the training ground put Adam Thompstone in to score under the posts.

Exeter were awarded a kickable penalty straight afterward but had no choice but to go for the corner, and after a succession of penalties that saw Dom Barrow sin-binned, Lewis finally rumbled over at the back of a Chiefs maul.

After Steenson had converted, Exeter gave the hosts a taste of their own medicine and hit them with another sucker-punch straight after – Whitten finishing off a length of the field move to make the scoreline a nervy 31-20 with 20 minutes remaining.

Jess was then the next man to see yellow for playing Burns in the air, but dogged defence from Leicester almost kept the Chiefs at bay for the remainder of the contest as they desperately searched for a bonus point.

And as the clock ticked into the red, Horstmann finally burrowed his way over to make sure Exeter did not leave empty-handed.

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