Leicester Tigers were beaten 26-13 by Exeter Chiefs as the Gallagher Premiership restarted at Sandy Park on Saturday.
Five months on from Round 13 of the season, the action finally resumed following the COVID-19 shutdown, with Steve Borthwick leading Tigers as head coach for the first time.
Matt Scott and David Williams made their debuts in the backline, and fellow new arrivals Zack Henry and Luke Wallace saw action from the bench in the second half as Tigers emerged empty-handed.
A fixture originally scheduled for March 21 got under way behind closed doors after Tom Youngs led out Tigers in his 150th starting appearance for the club and both teams paid tribute to the NHS and Rugby Against Racism before kick-off.
Tigers started brightly in terms of possession, territory and also keen defence, taking a six-point lead through George Ford before Chiefs grabbed scores through Dave Ewers and Stuart Hogg to lead 12-6 at half-time.
Luke Cowan-Dickie’s converted score at the restart stretched that lead and they added a penalty try for a bonus point before Tigers received he same award to make it 26-13 around the hour and there were no further scores either way in a scrappy final quarter.
Tigers made a good start to the afternoon with Tommy Reffell winning a penalty over the ball and Ben Youngs taking a quick tap to threaten the line. Debutant wing Dave Williams was stopped short on the right but the forwards kept their patience on the ball until space opened again, this time for George Worth before he was stopped by a high tackle.
A carry from Tom Youngs when Chiefs missed their first lineout kept the visitors on the front foot and the game was nearly nine minutes old before Exeter built their first phases in attack, where Reffell got over a tackle from Jaco Taute to gain another breakdown penalty.
When referee Tom Foley blew again in Tigers’ favour on Exeter’s 10-metre line, Ford judged the kick from 40 metres perfectly to put the opening points on the board with 11 minutes gone.
Scrum-half Youngs showed good anticipation in defence on halfway to stop Ollie Devoto and, although they were pushed back by a kick in behind, Tigers defended resolutely and were rewarded with put-in at scrum following a knock-on in front of the posts.
Ford doubled the advantage with a superb drop goal after strong possession on the left which took him past 600 Premiership points for the club.
After a brief drinks break, Tigers got forward again as Ford looked to pick out Jordan Olowofela on the left but he was closed out as he claimed the high ball.
But Chiefs claimed the opening try of the afternoon after Henry Slade prodded a penalty down their right and, after Luke Cowan-Dickie had been stopped a fraction short, Ewers picked up to push over.
Joe Simmonds pulled his kick wide of the near post with Tigers ahead by a single point approaching the half-hour mark.
Harry Wells and skipper Tom Youngs received direction from the referee after two more peanlties at the set-piece but strong work in defence kept Exeter out and Dan Cole clawed loose ball back for Youngs to kick clear.
Matt Scott showed his strength in defence to hold up Devoto and then stopped international team-mate Stuart Hogg on halfway.
But the Chiefs full-back quickly made amends as he finished a sweeping move from a scrum on halfway to dive into the right-hand corner to give the home team the lead for the first time just seconds away from the half-time whistle.
Simmonds, kicking from the right touchline, this time hit the mark to make it 12-6 as the teams headed into the break.
The hosts were immediately back on the scoreboard from the restart, gaining territory with a penalty on the left and then scoring their third try as hooker Cowan-Dickie tapped as the whistle went again and pushed his way over. The conversion made it 19-6.
Another penalty award for Chiefs brought pressure back on the Tigers pack at a five-metre lineout and it also brought the bonus point score as the referee awarded a penalty try as their maul rached the line and also issued a yellow card to No8 Jordan Taufua with Tigers now 26-6 behind.
A scrum penalty finally got Tigers back into the attack and, after Ford set up position on the left, Wells caught lineout ball and, as the maul charged forward, referee Foley repeated the dose from the opposite end of the pitch to award Tigers a penalty try and show yellow to Chiefs lock Jonny Hill.
With the score now at 29-13, and both teams with 14 men, a second drinks break followed, with both sets of coaches keen to introduce fresh legs from the bench.
Penalties had racked up against Tigers throughout and another whistle gave Exeter position in the right-hand corner. This time, though, they were victims of the penalty call as they tried to set up another maul.
Nephi Leatigaga, Jake Kerr and Joe Heyes formed a new front row as Tigers won a scrum penalty in an attacking position and Taufua was back on the field as they tried to set up a push for the tryline, but Exeter’s defence kept them out.
Zack Henry completed a quartet of debutants with 68 minutes played before Thom Smith made his Premiership bow in the closing stages.
Tigers were still looking for chances in attack, with Williams almost finding a way through before opposite wing Olly Woodburn dived on his chip ahead on the right and Chiefs having to resists some pressure on their own 22 before eventually finding their way out safely.
The game ended with Williams sensing his chance on the right wing, but the chip was again mopped up in defence as Chiefs brought the game to a close with five points banked.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
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FULL TIME | 26-13
Tigers go down to the league leaders in their first game back, after a hard-fought performance in the South West.
Tigers make a late break down the right, but with the clock in the red Tom O'Flaherty just needs to get a foot to the ball and nudge it into touch ... and he does exactly that. And that's the game.
Tigers win a technical penalty in their 22 and George Ford boots the ball within a few metres of the M5. We're sure that would have sounded just as loud with proper crowd noise. A huge kick.
The strong Tigers line speed forces Exeter to go to the sky once more, with Henry Slade attempting to pick out Olly Woodburn on the left.
Don Armand breaks out from the back of the Exeter scrum to put his team on the front foot once more, but Tigers still hold them in their half.
The Tigers front row power over Exeter at the scrum, and the ball is whipped out to the backs - but it's a difficult flat pass to a full-tilt Taute, who can't quite claim it to break the line. Frustrating.
Ford folds the attack in half as Matt Scott runs a nice line from right to left and back again, but the slick ball beats David Williams on the right and Joe Heyes is forced to into smacking the ball back for Liebenberg to claim on the floor.
Thom Smith is on the field for the first time in the Gallagher Premiership as he takes the place of Jordan Taufua.
Leatigaga is picked out to try and push through the Exeter line over halfway, but the home side seem to have the answers at the moment.
TIGERS IN CONTROL
The men in fluoro-red have the - ahem - lion's share of possession now, and we'll pause for water before restarting with another throw in the right-hand corner.
Sam Skinner is on for Jonny Gray, while Sam Hidalgo-Clyne replaces Jack Maunder.
CHANGE AT 15
Zack Henry is on for his Tigers debut, in the place of full-back George Worth.
...but Tigers win the ball back at the throw, and Ford puts his side back into the same corner for another bite of the cherry.
CHANGE OF PACE
Exeter look to wring this game by the neck as they slow things down, and walk up to a lineout on halfway.
Some abrasive work - and some industrial language - from the Tigers attackers, but the black wall of Exeter defenders closes in and a couple of missed passes spill the ball back to the home side. Unfortunate.
Tigers on the right side of the ref again with a strong push at scrum-time, and Ford drives his team into the corner as Jordan Taufua rejoins the action. Leicester now at full complement.
ON THE HOUR
Nephi Leatigaga and Hanro Liebenberg join the action in place of Ellis Genge and Tomás Lavanini
Exeter go to the corner as they turn the screw, but the Tigers pack dislodge their maul this time around and win a penalty of their own. Lovely stuff.
A slight lull in the action as referee Foley resets a scrum just inside the Tigers half, and Exeter finally call their left wing into action as the ball is pulled out wide.
Ben for Ben - White for Youngs - as Steve Borthwick swaps his scrum-half for the final quarter.
Dan Cole is replaced by Joe Heyes in the Tigers front row.
Jack Yeandle and Tomas Francis are on for Exeter in place of Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams.
YELLOW CARD | JONNY HILL
Both teams don to 14 now as Jonny Hill trudges to the bench for a 10-minute breather.
PENALTY TRY TO TIGERS!
The set from Jake Kerr's throw is a good one, and Tigers are awarded the full seven points as they rumble over the line.
Tigers get some free ball after a pre-engagement at the scrum, and Ford once again drills it into the corner.
ARMAND FOR SIMMONDS
Don Armand replaces Chiefs No8 Sam Simmonds.
...but it's not all going Exeter's way, as a testing kick forces a knock on from full-back Hogg.
Ben Youngs has the feed at a Tigers scrum in the home half.
YELLOW CARD | JORDAN TAUFUA
Jordan Taufua is shown a yellow card for his part in bringing down the Exeter maul, and Tigers will be down to 14 men for the timebeing.
Exeter rumble over from their lineout, and they are awarded a penalty try.
MORE LINE SPEED
Exeter keep their ball from the scrum, but the hot-off-the-mark work from the Tigers backs helps kill the Chiefs attack for now.
CHANGE AT HOOKER
Jake Kerr is on for Tom Youngs, and George Ford will take over the on-field captaincy.
Oh, we've missed this. And you don't get quite the same strain in the neck watching kick tennis on the TV than from the stands.
Ford finally finds touch and Tigers are up into the Exeter half again.
A decent nudge at scrum-time sets the platform to allow George Ford to extricate this Tigers side from their own half. Bingo.
Luke Wallace is on for his first Tigers appearance as he replaces Tommy Reffell.
Matt Scott loses his footing on the wet grass and Exeter win the ball back on the floor.
Ollie Devoto is replaced by Ian Whitten in the Exeter midfield.
Joe Simmons makes no mistake from the tee, and Exeter lead by 19 points to six.
QUICK THINKING FROM EXETER
Luke Cowan-Dickie spots a gap in the Leicester line, and gets over for a score from a tap-and-go penalty.
An Ollie Devoto chargedown and a penalty on the floor give Exeter some territory as they edge up to the five-metre line.
SECOND HALF UNDERWAY
After some half-time oranges, we're underway in the second half from Sandy Park.
READY FOR ROUND TWO
Tom Youngs and his men are back out on the field ready for the second half.
Almost as worn out as someone tapping away on Matchday Live for the first time in five months...
HALF TIME | 12-6
A promising opening 40 minutes from this new-look Tigers side, leading right up until a late Exeter score. This game is nicely balanced heading into the second half.
Joe Simmonds converts to give Exeter a six-point lead going into the break.
HOGG SLIDES OVER
...but it also offers a close-up of Stuart Hogg as he slides over for a second Chiefs score.
The home side pull the trigger off the back of the set-piece, and it's the full-back who finishes the move.
TV coverage is great, isn't it? Means you can see the frustration on the Exeter front row's faces as Ellis Genge gets under their skin and forces a scrum reset. Excellent.
MAUL BROUGHT DOWN
Matt Scott links up with George Ford - and mates - to break the Chiefs momentum and bring down a trademark rumbling maul.
Cue some well-deserved pats on the back.
WARNING FOR WELLS
Harry Wells is given a final warning as Exeter press up to the line. But he makes amends as he disrupts the home lineout and puts Chiefs on the abck foot once more.
A bit of confusion as referee Foley initial blows for a no-arms tackle from Jordan Taufua ... but after a word in his ear it turns out there's nothing in it. Exeter have the ball.
Jordan Olowofela goes up against Tom O'Flaherty in the air, and forces an error from the Exeter man that sees the ball fly into touch. Leicester throw.
OVER THE TOP
A long, long lineout throw from Exeter wins the home side a few metres, but Tigers are back into the home half.
Joe Simmons can't convert from the touchline, so Tigers still have the slenderest of leads as we approach the half-hour mark.
EXETER DOT DOWN
Exeter turn on their trademark move from a tap-and-go penalty five metres out, and i's Dave Ewers who flops over the line for the first try of the match.
IN AT THE SIDE
The Tigers pack can't quite replicate the penalty drawn at the last maul and instead Exeter get a peep on Foley's whistle.
The ball is in and out of the scrum in a flash, and George Ford attempts the kick-through rather than feeding his backline, and Exeter wing Tom O'Flaherty just about gets a mitt to it.
Exeter make a mess of their maul - thanks mainly to the defensive work of Tomás Lavanini and Calum Green - and Tigers win a scrum.
FIVE METRES OUT!
Jaco Taute doing a great job of disrupting the Exeter defenders in the left-hand corner this time, but he's pinged in the next phase for coming through the ruck and Henry Slade can boot downfield.
There's an audible crack as David Williams slaps the ball backwards for a grateful Tommy Reffell to collect, which enables Ford to find some more ground down the right-hand touchline.
DROP GOAL FROM FORD
Tigers press up to the edge of the 22, but as Exeter shift gears fly-half Ford opts for the drop-goal ... and he nails it. Three more points.
DISRUPTING THE CHIEFS
The home side win their lineout despite Harry Wells making a nuisance of himself in the air, but more great line speed breaks the Exeter attack in two and draws another penalty on the floor.
Ford drills the ball to the corner.
LINE SPEED FROM LEICESTER
Tigers draw another handling error from Exeter with some impressive line speed in the Tigers 22 ... and win the free kick at the scrum. Neat.
Ben Youngs wraps up his man in defence, so Exeter decide to take the aerial route through full-back Stuart Hogg.
FIRST POINTS TO TIGERS
But it's well within Ford's range. Tigers now lead, three points to nil.
SHOT AT GOAL
Fly-half Ford points to the posts for an attempt at the first points in this game. Looks a lot further on TV, doesn't it?!
TO THE TOP
Tom Youngs finds Harry Wells at the lineout, and the men in fluoro-red are back on the right side of the pitch.
The right side being the left side. If you're watching on TV, like us. So ... the correct side.
Exeter drill through the phases for the first time in this game as they sniff around the Tigers 22 ... but there's a great intervention from Tommy Reffell and Jaco Taute as they get over the ball and win a penalty. Nice one.
Jordan Taufua scoops the ball from under his feet at the back of the scrum but is tangled by Chiefs scrum-half Maunder.
Posession comes out to the centre of the field, but referee Tom Foley blows for offside and Exeter have the ball for the first time in this match.
TO THE BACKS
The Tigers forward pack collectively get their heads down and nudge up to the Exeter line, before George Ford links up with full-back Worth for a final surge up to the whitewash.
Exeter give away another penalty, so we'll restart with a five-metre scrum.
George Worth fields an early kick from Exeter, and the home side give away a penalty on the floor.
Ben Youngs taps and goes early and gets Tigers some great ground on the right-hand side.
KICK OFF FROM SANDY PARK
The wait is over! George Ford gets us going in Round 14 of the Gallagher Premiership.
RUGBY AGAINST RACISM
Ahead of this match, the club would like to show our solidarity for equality in our sport under the banner of Rugby Against Racism.
A message from director of rugby Geordan Murphy: “We are honoured and proud to represent Leicester and each of the many cultures our diverse city is blessed with.
“The club has never and will never tolerate any form of racism or prejudice in our sport or our community.
“A statement, a pre-game acknowledgment is also just a small part of what we must do as members of the rugby and Leicester community to educate people on why it is not acceptable.
“This is about our game coming together and saying racism will not be accepted, in any form.”
FIVE MINUTES TO GO
Not long left to wait! Just five. More. Minutes.
SUPPORT FROM HOME
Just because you can’t be at the ground doesn’t mean you can’t support your Tigers.
Make sure to use #TigersAtHome and show us where you’re watching from, and we’ll share some of our favourites here.
COME ON TIGERS!
TEAM TALK | TIGERS AT EXETER
Challenges don’t come much bigger than a trip to table-toppers Exeter Chiefs in your first game in charge. But new head coach Steve Borthwick remains – as ever – realistic about what’s to come this afternoon.
“They’re a very, very good side and have been a contender at the top of the table for a long time now,” he said.
“What we know is that we have got to go there and put out the best performance we possibly can. That’s what we have been working towards, focusing very much on ourselves and developing our game.
“We know we have got a lot of work to do and we know that process is going to continue. But, we have started on a path and we will continue on that path.”
Watch the full Team Talk on LTTV, right here.
CONFIRMED TEAM NEWS
Four players are in line to make their Tigers debuts this afternoon.
Matt Scott lines up at inside centre, with Tigers Academy graduate David Williams earning a debut first-team appearance on the wing. Luke Wallace and Zack Henry are named among the replacements in head coach Steve Borthwick’s first matchday squad.
Club captain Tom Youngs will lead the side from the front row, with George Ford named vice-captain.
Head coach Steve Borthwick explained: “I think it’s an exciting team. I think what is pleasing to see is how many academy graduates are part of this matchday squad.
“They know Leicester, they love representing Leicester and I think that is something that has come across very strong to me; how much these players want to make our supporters very proud of this team.”
See the full match line-ups by clicking here, or scrolling down on this page.
MATCH PREVIEW | TIGERS SET TO GO AGAIN
After more than five months, we’re finally ready for some rugby.
You don’t need us to remind you of the reasons for a pause in the season – but all you need to know is that it’s a very different Leicester side ready to take on Exeter Chiefs than faced Saracens last time out.
Under new head coach Steve Borthwick, this new-look Tigers team includes 13 home-grown players from the Tigers Academy system in the matchday squad.
And Scotland international Matt Scott – who makes his Tigers debut this afternoon – shared the message given to the players ahead of the return to rugby.
“Steve has made it very clear we are going to be tough and hardworking, we are going to represent the people we are playing for,” he said. “Leicester is a working-class place and the people expect their teams to give their all, and that is the over-riding thing.”
See all the important facts and stats in our full match preview here, or scroll down on this page.
WELCOME TO MATCHDAY LIVE!
Rugby is BACK! We’re LIVE for Round 14 of the Gallagher Premiership, as Leicester Tigers take on Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park (2.00pm) after 161 days without a game.
Follow all the action as it happens with our Matchday Live coverage, right here on the Tigers App and LeicesterTigers.com.