Leicester Tigers 28-30 Exeter Chiefs, Aviva Premiership, September 3
Cockerill refuses to panic
September 3, 2011
Exeter's jubilant players celebrate their shock win at Leicester © Getty Images
Leicester boss Richard Cockerill refused to blame his side's opening Aviva Premiership defeat to Exeter on the absence of his international stars.
The Tigers had 11 players out on international duty and another four injured - including new signing Matthew Tait who pulled out of the game before kick off with a groin strain. Despite the high-profile absentees, the hosts could still have won the game with 18-year-old fly-half George Ford wayward with two late drop goal attempts that ensured the Chiefs claimed a shock 30-28 victory.
"We could have snuck it at the end," said Cockerill. "The battle was good and we just fell short at the end although you have to give credit to Exeter and what they came with. I'm not downhearted at all. We have a lot of blokes missing - and I'm not using that as an excuse - but I was pleased with the way we battled away.
"We will review the tape on Monday and we have to improve on some bits, there is no getting away from it. The attitude was outstanding, our commitment was outstanding which put us in the mix at the end to potentially win it."
The game was an end-to-end affair from the moment Sireli Naqelevuki gave Exeter the lead from the kick-off. Niall Morris (two) and Thomas Waldrom crossed in response for Leicester, with Richard Baxter and Matt Jess adding Exeter`s other scores. The rest of the points came from the boot, and Ford, who had a more-than sound game and kicked a first-half drop goal, could have won it had he found his range when two opportunities came his way late on.
Cockerill did not blame the talented teenager, though, saying: "If Fordy dropped the goal at the end, it is a different conversation. I don't blame him. He misses those drop-goals under a huge amount of pressure. He's capable of doing it and good enough but on the day he didn't. I don't see that as a negative in his game. That's life. George Ford had a good game and, if you get it, you are a hero."
There was nothing other than a big smile on the face of Exeter coach Rob Baxter, though. It was a momentous victory for the Chiefs, who pushed the Tigers extremely close 12 months ago before losing - a real achievement during their first top-flight campaign.
This time, they clung on and Baxter said: "We are fantastically pleased to have started the season with four points but, at the same time, we are aware that it is a pretty heavily depleted Leicester squad. Having said that, it was still very tough. That is two years in a row where we have got away from Leicester on the scoreboard and they very nearly got back to us again today.
"If there is anything I am a little disappointed with it is that we opened up some space on the scoreboard and then made some relatively soft errors. But something I am really pleased with is that we didn't crack when the pressure came on. We held it together enough to force a win. So I'm massively pleased but I am still aware that it was not Leicester at full tilt and we still have a lot to work on."
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