A powerful forward pack combined with a masterclass at Fly-Half from Gareth Steenson enabled the Exeter Chiefs to completely nullify the Leicester Tigers at a mild Sandy Park on Saturday evening. The comprehensive victory continued the Chiefs’ stellar start to the season having competed well in all of their games thus far.
However it was the Tigers who started the brightest as new signing Telusa Veainu capitalised on some lazy Chiefs defending to scythe his way into the Chiefs half from the kick off. Unfortunately for the visiting fans, that would be the last of any real enterprise shown by the Tigers backs for the half.
The Chiefs set the tone early by opting to kick for the corner instead of taking three easy points from an early penalty. From the resulting lineout, Will Chudley darted around the breakdown before Steenson went himself, reaching out to dot down. The Irishman converted his own score and the Chiefs were out to an early 7-0 lead after six minutes.
The majority of the half passed with the Chiefs well on top, their superior physicality was clear to see. The scrum was a consistent source of penalties and front-foot ball for the hosts, whilst their phase play was consistently breaching the gain line. Dave Ewers was at his usual physical best, palming of would-be tacklers and also making a fine break through the heart of the Tigers defence, before he would be taken off for a concussion test.
In his place, albeit temporarily, Thomas Waldrom made his impact felt; bumping off England forward Tom Youngs with a typically barnstorming run. The Tigers thought they were back in the contest after Wing Adam Thompstone raced away down the touchline to score, but his effort was to no avail after he was adjudged to have knocked the ball on whilst touching down.
The Tigers would get on the board with an Owen Williams penalty but Steenson responded with two of his own. At half time, the score was at 13-3 in the Chiefs’ favour.
Expectedly, Leicester came out with greater intensity in the second half but ultimately, they were nowhere near the levels required to compete with the Chiefs. Williams pinned the Chiefs back on occasion, with star-player Jack Nowell knocking on and Leicester’s Vereniki Goneva looking a threat. However the Chiefs’ defence was exemplary all evening; preventing the visitors from building any meaningful phase play whilst the versatile kicking duo of Henry Slade and Steenson kept the Chiefs in the right parts of the pitch.
With just under 20 minutes remaining, Williams slotted another penalty to make the deficit seven points. However this would not halt the Chiefs juggernaut which was dominating proceedings on the pitch, if not entirely on the scoreboard. Nowell made a typically incisive carry and Ewers produced a marvellous ‘Sonny-Bill’ offload to reassert the Chiefs’ momentum. Another Steenson penalty with 6 minutes left extended the hosts’ lead.
Sandy Park was on its feet again as a brilliant break from standout-performer Alec Hepburn was recycled to Nowell who dotted down. However referee Greg Garner called for the TMO on a preceding incident involving Jack Yeandle and Riccardo Brugnara. The try was disallowed as Yeandle was adjudged to have infringed upon Brugnara, however that penalty was then overturned as Brugnara struck the club captain with his boot. The replacement prop was sin-binned and Steenson slotted an easy three points.
With 3 minutes remaining, the score was 19-6 and that was how it would stay. Nowell booted the ball far over the East stand with the clock red and the Chiefs won their third straight Aviva Premiership game.
Despite having only scored one try in the game, the Chiefs looked enterprising in attack, consistently breaking the Tigers line and making metres with relevant ease. Their defence was however most pleasing as the Tigers only had two real opportunities in the Exeter 22 and looked a lacklustre outfit in attack all evening. Once again, the Chiefs have proved they are a real force to be reckoned with this season.