Exeter 26-13 Leicester: England head coach Eddie Jones watches Premiership leaders ease to victory in first game for 161 days
- Exeter eased to victory against a new-look Leicester Tigers on Saturday
- It was their first Premiership game in 161 days because of the pandemic
- Stuart Hogg and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie scored tries for the Chiefs
- For Tigers it was a defeat to mark Steve Borthwick’s first game as head coach
England head coach Eddie Jones watched Gallagher Premiership leaders Exeter Chiefs return to action with a 26-13 bonus-point win over struggling Leicester Tigers.
Five months may have passed since these two sides last played, but lockdown and the impact of coronavirus hasn’t changed the fact they have very contrasting fortunes.
Leicester – under new head coach Steve Borthwick for the first time – did start well, but they were eventually ground down by Exeter’s dogged and no-nonsense pack.
Dave Ewers and Stuart Hogg (above) went over to put Exeter 12-6 up at the break on Saturday
Exeter: Hogg; O’Flaherty, Slade, Devoto (Whitten 45), Woodburn; J Simmonds, Maunder (Hidalgo-Clyne 67); Hepburn (Moon 57), Cowan-Dickie (Yeandle 57), Williams (Francis 57), Gray (Skinner 67), Hill, Ewers, Kirsten, S Simmonds (Armand 55)
Replacement not used: Steenson
Tries: Ewers 27, Hogg 39, Cowan-Dickie 42, Penalty 55
Cons: Simmonds 40, 43
Leicester Tigers: Worth (Henry 68); Williams, Taute, Scott, Olowofela; Ford, B Youngs (White 62); Genge (Leatigaga 62), T Youngs (Kerr), Cole (Heyes 62), Lavanini (Liebenberg 62), Green, Wells, Reffell (Wallace 46), Taufua (Smith 72)
Pen: Ford 11
Drop goal: Ford 18
Yellow card: Taufua
Referee: Tom Foley
Star man: Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs)
Rob Baxter’s side scored through Dave Ewers, Stuart Hogg, man of the match Luke Cowan-Dickie and a penalty score with Joe Simmonds kicking two conversions.
Hogg’s effort was Exeter’s 50th in the Premiership this season.
Exeter’s board decided against dropping the name Chiefs during lockdown despite strong criticism it is a racist stereotype of Native Americans.
The Sandy Park outfit also played their famous Tomahawk Chop song whenever they scored here despite that also attracting significant flak. Premiership broadcasters BT Sport have refused to play the song on their TV coverage, as exclusively revealed by Sportsmail.
A season of discontent resumed for the Tigers with a new boss in Borthwick, a host of fresh faces, and – crucially – the absence of England centre Manu Tuilagi who has joined Sale.
Scottish lock Jonny Gray was the notable newcomer in the Exeter side who still have a domestic and European double on the cards. Leicester’s George Ford kicked off after a minute’s silence for NHS workers who had died in the Devon area during lockdown. Players from both sides – but not all – also took a knee to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie added a third try for the leaders after the break
Tigers got off to a flying start after Tommy Reffell forced a penalty inside a minute. Ben Youngs ignored the chance to kick at goal and hared off to launch an early raid.
Borthwick’s men were rewarded for their early pressure and they drew first blood when Ford hit the mark from 45 metres with an 11th minute penalty. The visitors’ line-speed in defence and tenacity at the breakdown thwarted the Chiefs whenever they had the ball.
Baxter’s Chiefs looked the rustier of the two teams and Ford extended the visitors’ lead with a superb drop goal from 25 metres.
Exeter’s struggles were summed up by captain Simmonds inexplicably dropping a straightforward kick. Still, the Chiefs weren’t to be stopped for long.
Cowan-Dickie threw in, his team won line-out ball, and Exeter stayed patient after their initial surge was withheld. The end result was Ewers barging over in the corner.
For Tigers it was a defeat to mark Steve Borthwick’s first game as head coach
The conversion went wide, but Exeter did add their second try before the break and it was a fine team score. Baxter’s backs were purring as they attacked from their own half.
Olly Woodburn made the crucial break in midfield and straightened the line before sending Hogg to the corner. The Scotland superstar still had work to do but showed great pace to score.
Simmonds expertly converted from the touchline with the last kick of the half.
Exeter made it three at the start of the second period as Cowan-Dickie acted fastest to make it to the line. Television pictures, bizarrely, showed the England hooker appearing to be sick as he celebrated his try. Simmonds converted and Exeter were now dominant as they hunted a fourth try.
It soon arrived as the home side’s forwards came to the party again.
England head coach Eddie Jones was in the crowd after watching Harlequins on Friday night
Another huge surge towards the line was dragged down illegally by Leicester and referee Tom Foley awarded a penalty try and yellow carded Leicester No 8 Jordan Taufua.
At that stage the Tigers looked dead and buried, but they went straight up the other end and earned a penalty try of their own through their forwards.
Exeter’s Jonny Hill joined Taufua in the sin bin as a result. It gave Leicester some confidence and they gave the Chiefs as good as they got in the last quarter.
That would have given Borthwick a boost and something to build on, but it was still not enough as the Tigers conceded 22 penalties.