Leicester Tigers were beaten 30-6 by league leaders Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park on Sunday in Round 12 of the Aviva Premiership season.
Starting the game in ninth place in the table and in their first New Year's Eve fixture since 1988 – when they won at Nuneaton – Tigers trailed 6-3 at half-time after penalties from Henry Slade and Gareth Steenson against one from George Ford.
Almost the entire first half was played within 30 metres of the Tigers tryline, but the defence stood up to everything thrown at them with Ford levelling the scores on the only entry to the Chiefs 22 before Steenson chipped over his penalty on the stroke of half-time.
The visitors started the second half brightly too, with Ford again levelling the scores before the defending champions began to pull away.
Scores from Dom Armand, Henry Slade and Jonny Hill put the hostr in command before Jack Yeandle added their bonus-point score with time already up.
Chasing a fourth away win in the Aviva Premiership season following victories at Harlequins, London Irish and Newcastle, but a first since Round 7, Tigers gave a first start to hooker Tafatu Polota-Nau, and was a late change when Jonny May was switched to full-back in place of Mathew Tait, with Nick Malouf coming in on the wing.
After a brief heavy shower, the game kicked off under blue skies on a chilly afternoon in Devon, with Chiefs skipper Steenson getting the action under way. Luke Hamilton knocked on from a scuffed kick and the scrum brought a first penalty which Chiefs threateningly chipped into the corner.
But Tigers withstood the first drive and then won turnover ball before referee Craig Maxweell-Keys awarded a penalty and Ford vkicked play up towards halfway.
Malouf was then penalised as he tried to hack the ball at a ruck and Exeter went back to the left-hand corner but kicked the ball out on the opposite wing as play opened up.
Chiefs wing Olly Woodburn sniffed out a half-chance with a break on the Tigers 22 before Dan Cole cut him down with a superb tackle, but Tigers were finding it hard to get out of their own territory as the opening 15 minutes were played entirely in their half.
A penalty on the right side of the Chiefs attack once again allowed the hosts to kick into the corner, but replacement hooker Jack Yeandle over-threw at the lineout and George Ford cleared.
A chip over the Chiefs defence gave Matt Toomua a chance to carry into the Chiefs half, but when Tigers kicked ball away, Jack Nowell returned it with interest and gained reward with a breakthrough penalty when May was whistled in possession on halfway. Slade landed the kick to finally break the deadlock on 25 minutes.
Tigers gained some decent reward at scrum-time, with Dan Cole’s battle with Alex Hepburn producing a couple of penalties, and when Thomas Waldrom was then penalised at a breakdown on halfway, Ford was able to put Tigers into the Chiefs 22 for the first time on 33 minutes.
Chiefs knocked-on as they read the lineout throw but from the scrum another big push from Tigers brought a penalty and Ford pointed to the posts. His kick from the right side of the 22 made it 3-3.
A dart from Nowell threatened the Tigers defence but his pass was dropped by Don Armand in support and play restarted with a scrum. This time, though, the visitors’ pack was judged at fault by referee Maxwell-Keys and Steenson kicked to make it 6-3 with the half-time whistle just seconds away.
Tigers had an immediate chance to respond at the start of the second period, with May making a break in midfield and Chiefs penalised in the tackle. Ford made no mistake with the kick to level the scores for a second time.
The visitors then enjoyed lengthy possession just 10 metres shy of the Exeter tryline, carrying through the forwards as they tried to make a breakthrough. But Chiefs covered in defence and moments later grabbed the opening try of the game after a set of phases near the Tigers line.
Back-rower Armand eventually pushed his way over next to the posts and Steenson added the conversion for a 13-6 lead on 55 minutes.
A mazy run from May gave Tigers a good platform in attack, with Cole prominent in his carrying again and Tuilagi getting his hands on the ball to test the defence, before the referee penalised the visitors just two metres out from the tryline.
At the other end, Chiefs benefited from a lucky break for their second try in the 64th minute, with Slade running free after May had attempted to hook loose ball back near halfway. Steenson’s conversion made it 20-6.
The home team thought they’d had another lucky break just minutes later when Nic White hacked loose ball up towards the line and dotted down, only for the referee to confirm with assistance from the TMO that Sam Simmonds had knocked on in the tackle on halfway.
The home crowd did not have long to wait, though, as lock Jonny Hill finished in the left-hand corner after Tigers had been pinned back near the line as the lead stretched out to 25-6.
The scoreline was tough on Tigers who had stuck to the task manfully throughout but couldn’t find a decisive break in attack to go with their hard work in defence, and it got worse in the last minute of the game when Chiefs set up a driving maul from a close-range lineout and replacement hooker Yeandle got the touchdown for a bonus-point score.
Safe Trip Home
Thank you to all the travelling supporters who joined us at Sandy Park today and we wish you a safe journey home.
Tigers end 2017 on the end of a 30-6 defeat to defending Aviva Premiership champions Exeter, with the Chiefs scoring four second-half tries to claim a bonus point
May gets close to charging down the conversion, which strikes the right-hand post.
Exeter bonus point
Exeter finish the game with a bonus-point try. Tigers cannot hold the lineout drive and withe backs joining in, Yeandle dots down.
Is that Tigers' last chance
Tigers struggle to find a way through the well-marshalled Exdter defence. But ford goes wide too soon and Tait is bundled into touch 5m out.
Subs for boths sides
Nowell is off for Chiefs, with James Short on. Tuilagi is off for Tigers. Joe Ford is on.
Scrum to Exeter
Baumann's first job is to pack down at a scrum in the Exeter 22
Front row change
Chris Baumann is on for Cole at tighthead.
Tigers are patient in possession and work the space on the left for Mapapalangi to stretch his legs. There the back-rower throws a speculative offload, which goes into touch.
More Tigers replacements
Kyle Traynor and Mathew Tait are on for Mulipola and Thompstone respectively.
Exeter get their third
Exeter send wave after wave down on the Leicester defence. White spots Tigers short-handed on the blindside, where Jonny Hill holds off Ford to score at the corner. It goes unconverted.
Sam Harrison is on for Youngs at scrum-half for Tigers.
Tatafu back on
Polota-Nau is back on at hooker as Tom Youngs goes off for a HIA
Exeter claim a third try
Exeter claim a third try as replacement Nic White pounces on loose ball and goes over. However, the score is ruled out for a knock-on in a tackle on halfway. Scrum to Tigers
Steenson has another simple conversion to move Exeter 20-6 ahead.
Slade glides over
May fails to deal with a high ball and tries to tap the bouncing ball back to Ford. Slade reads it and picks off possession and races over from halfway to score.
Coming on are Harry Wells and Valentino Mapapalangi, for Kitchener and Williams.
Exeter excellent in defence
Tuilagi, Tom Youngs and Ben Youngs probe the Exeter defence deep in their 22. But Ben's snipe is well spotted and Chiefs win the holding on penalty.
Tigers back on the attack
A typical mazy run by May threatens to berak through. Toomua then glides a kick for Thompstone to chase that is slid into touch by Nowell.
Tigers strip Exeter of the ball and counterattack. But Malouf runs out of pitch on the far side and Exeter have the lineout on their 10m line.
Tigers captain Tom Youngs comes on for Polota-Nau, who has put it a solid shift on his first start.
Steenson lands a simple conversion bang in front. And the hosts lead 13-16.
Exeter retake the lead
Exeter retain possession through phase after phase to force their way into the Tigers 22. Eventually the pressure tells and Armand forces his way over for the first try.
Tigers cannot control the ball at the base of the scrum and Exeter counterattack through Steenson. They are up to halfway and the crowd are getting into the game too.
Tigers get their hands on the ball for their first real period of possession in the game. They inch to within 8m, where Chiefs hands steal the ball but Waldrom knocks-on. Big scrum coming up
Tigers on the attack
Exeter do well to exit their 22, but they find touch 30m out. This is a good platform for the Tigers to attack
Tigers on the front foot
A huge hit on Armand forces another knock-on and Ford pins Exeter back with a lovely kick to the corner.
Ford levels the scores
A distraction for Ford as the ball blows over, but he composes himself to land the kick. It levels the scores at 6-6.
Penalty to Tigers
May wins a penalty as Exeter fail to release in the tackle. Ford has this to level the scores ...
Ford will get us back underway
Tigers will get us going again, attacking the end to our left. They will have the breeze at their backs in the second half.
The teams are back out
George Ford leads his team back out for the second period ... followed by the Chiefs
Scrappy scrap in the West Country
It's one for the purists, it's fair to say. Torrential pre-match rain and a strong breeze has made for difficult handling conditions. Tigers have defended for much of the half, but Exeter have rarely threatened. What can Tigers do with the breeze at their backs in the second 40?
That's the half
There's enough time for the restart. Ford picks out Will Chudley, who finds touch, and that is half-time. 6-3 to Exeter.
The hosts lead
Exeter win the scrum penalty against the head. Gareth Steenson, with a teammate holding the ball in the wind, boots the Chiefs into a 6-3 lead.
We can see the Telebtubbies leaving their seats early to beat the half-time rush. Happy New Year to Tinky Winky and pals!
Ford makes no mistake with his kick, driving it hard and low to level the scores. It's 3-3 at Sandy Park.
Scrum penalty Tigers
Tigers have won another scrum penalty on their put-in. Ford is going to go for goal. He is kicking into a strong wind first half ...
Kalamafoni collects again at the back of a wayward Exeter lineout and hits Steenson with a huge collision. Tigers win the penalty and Ford kicks them into the Chiefs 22 for the first time.
Turner wins that kicking duel, returning Ben Youngs's box kick with interest. Tigers have the throw on their 22.
Scare for Tigers
Jack Nowell breaks a couple of tackles and offloasd to the supporting Don Armand. But with the Tigers defence stretched, the back-rower knocks-on. It's been that sort of half. 3-3
The Tigers front row have their opposite number in trouble and win the penalty. Ford kicks them up to halfway. Tigers dodge a not-straight call at the lineout and have possession ...
Scrum on down
Leicester are tenacious in defence and force ex-Tiger Thomas Waldrom into a knock-on. The ball appears to strike Kalamafoni's knee, but the referee calls for the scrum. The 45th, give or take, of the half.
Ben Youngs and May get back to halt Lachie Turner's break. The ball pings around and eventually Malouf claims the mark to find touch.
May's winding run is halted on halfway, where Alec Hepburn wins the holding-on penalty decision from referee Craig Maxwell-Keys. Slade lands the kick for the game's first points.
The front rowers are earning their corn today. Another scrum, this time Tigers with the put-in. But again they're deep in their territory.
More handling errors
Kalamafoni knocks the ball out of Exeter hands with a huge tackle, before the hosts spill the ball forward as they try to mop up. There is no continuity out there for either side.
Tigers into Chiefs territory
May and Thompstone make good ground down the left where they make ground into the Exeter half for the first time. But again a handling error gives possession back to Exeter.
Graham Kitchener and Tatafu Polota-Nau take a knee after yet another knock-on. Tigers will get the put-in when play resumes.
... Yeandle misses his jumper with the throw and Sione Kalamafoni mops up for Ford to find touch. Tigers could do with some possession, though.
Exeter to the corner
Exeter win a scrum penalty but again turn down a shot at goal. Henry Slade kicks to the corner ...
Neither side is really finding a rhythm and the ball keeps going to ground. Thompstone spills possession in trying to gather the ball but makes up with a big hit on Olly Woodburn, which is given as a knock-on against the Tigers man.
Exeter are forced into a replacement at hooker. Luke Cowan-Dickie is off after receiving treatment. Jack Yeandle is on.
The England head coach is here
After naming May, G Ford, Cole and B Youngs in his England training camp, Eddie Jones is here to watch the action. And he sees Cole do a job on the Exeter scrum to win the penalty.
The deluge before kick-off is making for difficult handling conditions. Plenty of knock-ons from both sides in the opening moments.
... Tigers defend the drive, win possession and then get the penalty for offside. Ford finds touch 30m from their line.
Exeter attacking lineout
Exeter win the penalty at the first scrum and Steenson kicks them to the corner ...
Tigers are kicking from left to right in the first period, attacking into the wind. They receive the kick-off, which is spilled by Luke Hamilton.
Steenson leads the Chiefs out
Gareth Steenson leads out the Chiefs, who will kick-off the game.
Here come the Tigers
Matchday captain George Ford leads the Tigers out at a sold-out Sandy Park for this New Year's Eve game in the Aviva Premiership
Sweet Caroline rings around Sandy Park as Tigers finish their warm-up. Who will be singing at the end of 80 minutes?
All the best to Jonny May, who makes his 100th Premiership Rugby appearance today.
The home team's chant goes up for the first time this afternoon as they finish their warm-up
Further weather update
The clouds have cleared, for now, to offer a lovely view from the main stand out to the Exe Estuary. But the wind is still blowing and giving the posts a real buffeting. Kick-off is less than 20 minutes away.
The rain has eased from biblical to monsoon!
The confirmed teams. Mat Tait (stiff back) has dropped to the bench, Nick Malouf starts at 14. Jonny May moves to full-back, Adam Thompstone wears 11.
The teams are out for their warm-ups. The rain is coming in horizontally to our right, the end that the Tigers are warming up at.
Welcome to a wet and windy Sandy Park
Where better to spend New Year's Eve than at a rain-lashed Sandy Park for Exeter vs Tigers?