Leicester 37-27 Exeter, Welford Road, September 11
Tigers battle past brave Chiefs
September 11, 2010
Leicester centre Dan Hipkiss races clear for a crucial score
© Getty Images
Defending champions Leicester Tigers survived a scare against Premiership new boys Exeter to register a hard-fought 37-27 victory in their clash at Welford Road.
Tries from captain Geordan Murphy, fullback Scott Hamilton, centre Dan Hipkiss and a late penalty try saw the Tigers bounce back from their opening round defeat to Northampton but they were pushed all the way by the Chiefs who led 20-7 midway through the first half. The visitors threatened a major upset with a brace for centre Phil Dollman and another try for wing Mark Foster but they eventually ran out of steam as the hosts cranked through the gears.
The Chiefs sounded an early warning with a powerful driving maul in the opening moments of the game and their impressive physicality drew the first penalty of game just a minute later with Gareth Steenson delivering a nerve-less kick to give his side the lead.
And Exeter were soon knocking on the door again with a chip through from Steenson causing all sorts of problems for the Leicester defence but the Chiefs' enthusiasm got the better of them at the breakdown allowing the Tigers to clear the danger.
Errors continued to blight Leicester's best efforts but a scrum penalty against the Chiefs enabled Jeremy Staunton to take the game deep inside the visitors' 22. The Tigers' forwards then rumbled it forward and drew the penalty but they appeared not to need it with Staunton and then hooker George Chuter going close before the referee's whistle brought an end to proceedings. Exeter lock James Hanks was subsequently shown a yellow card for a blatant offside infringement with the Tigers opting for the scrum in a bid to hammer home their numerical advantage.
No.8 Thomas Waldrom surged for the line having peeled off the scrum only to be held up but the Tigers were not to be denied with the ball worked through the hands to Murphy who coasted in for the opening try of the game that was converted by Staunton.
Anthony Allen was the next to carve an opening in the Chiefs' defence and it took a great tap tackle from Steenson to bring the Tigers' centre down on the 22. But pressure at scrum time resulted in an immediate turnover and the Tigers shipped the ball wide only for Staunton to send a pass sailing over wing Alesana Tuilagi's head with the visitors stretched.
The Chiefs rallied well as the heavens opened and were rewarded for their endeavour with Leicester flanker Craig Newby guilty of jumping the gun at the breakdown allowing Steenson to slot his second penalty and bring his side to within a point of the hosts. The score reinvigorated the Chiefs and that confidence carried them into the lead just moments later. Patience and composure paid dividends with a slick passing move opening the door for wing Mark Foster who fed the ball inside to Dollman who in turn raced away to cap an excellent try with Steenson adding the extras.
The Chiefs' work rate kept the Tigers honest and the visitors gladly pounced on more defensive shortcoming to grab their second try with Dollman again the provider. A scrum on half way laid the foundation before Luke Arscott ghosted through the Leicester defence all too easily before feeding Dollman who ran in unopposed for another stunning score. Steenson's conversion carried the Chiefs into a commanding and wholly deserved 20-7 lead. A late penalty against Chiefs lock Tom Hayes allowed Staunton to stop the rot with his first penalty of the game but the half belonged to the Premiership new boys.
Dan Hipkiss races clear to score as Leicester escape to victory © Getty Images
Leicester's eagerness to wrestle control of the game back off the Chiefs saw replacement flanker Tom Croft penalised at the breakdown and Steenson only narrowly missed the chance to compound the Tigers' woes.
A great run from Tigers prop Marcus Ayerza then lifted the Welford Road faithful and although a knock on brought an end to a promising move, a big surge at the following scrum brought a penalty. Staunton wasted no time in slotting it through the posts and he turned the screw with a great touch-finder moments later. The Tigers' forwards took up the challenge, driving Exeter back into their 22, where an offside penalty enabled Staunton to chip away further at Chiefs' lead.
But far from crumbling under the pressure exerted by a Tigers side growing in confidence, the Chiefs responded with their third try. Scrum-half Haydn Thomas proved elusive on the Tigers' 22 before the ball was worked wide to Foster who capitalised on Tuilagi's decision to go for the interception rather than the man by scything through to score in the corner. Steenson slotted the excellent conversion to extend his side's lead to 11 points.
A deliberate knock on by Exeter's Bryan Rennie enabled the Tigers to kick to the corner for a lineout midway through the half but they lacked the precision to exploit the field position with Steenson's boot keeping the home side at bay - but not for long.
Scrum-half Ben Youngs and centre Dan Hipkiss then exploited a tiring Chiefs defence by making big gains in midfield. Replacements Billy Twelvetrees was then the link man to Hamilton who weathered the tackle of Foster to touch down in the corner for a try. Staunton's conversion made it a four-point game with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Tempers flared following a crucial turnover moments later with the penalty going the way of the home side but Murphy sent the ball sailing dead in-goal. But Exeter's penalty count continued to provide opportunities with Croft the next to gallop clear. He failed to find Twelvetrees on his shoulder but the ball was recycled on the 22 and worked through the hands with a delightful touch from Waldrom putting Hipkiss away for the try. That score gave the Tigers the lead and Staunton's conversion cemented their advantage.
Exeter were on the back foot again soon after and a scrum penalty in the shadow of the Chiefs' posts gave Leicester the chance to extend their lead - but indiscipline got the better of replacement Ed Slater and it was reversed.
Another turnover at a lineout inside the Exeter 22 had the Tigers sniffing a bonus point and they called for a scrum when awarded a penalty. The Chiefs' scrum crumbled under enormous pressure with successive penalties going the way of the Tigers and the inevitable penalty try and bonus point were awarded as the clock ran down. Staunton's conversion completed the comeback and ensured the Tigers opened their account this season.