Fourteen-man Leicester Tigers suffered a 47-31 defeat against Exeter Chiefs on Saturday in Round 14 of the Gallagher Premiership season but scored five tries to ensure some reward from the afternoon.
It looked ominous for Tigers when, immediately after conceding the opening try, wing Kobus van Wyk was red-carded and then back-row Cyle Brink lost to injury. And Chiefs certainly showed their ruthless side with three more scores in a 10-minute spell around the half-hour .
But the short-handed Tigers countered by converting two opportunities against the defending league and European champions in the five minutes before half-time as Tomás Lavanini and Jack Van Poortvliet got on the scoresheet to cut the gap to 28-12.
Without a win at Sandy Park since 2014, Tigers conceded the first points of the second half before claiming three more tries through Matt Scott, Charlie Clare and Hanro Liebenberg, getting to within nine points of their hosts at one stage but they fell just short of adding a second bonus point from the day.
Led by Liebenberg for the first time, Tigers showed a big appetite for contact early on, making tackles to keep Chiefs on their own 10-metre line. But, after a Henry kick was charged down, they were caught offside in midfield back in their own half and forced back as Exeter went to the right-hand corner.
An error at the attacking lineout gave scrum put-in to Tigers, but exit was messy and Exeter had a second opportunity, building aggressively just short of the line before Tommy Reffell won a penalty in front of his own posts.
Chiefs were quickly back on the attack and, after Van Wyk wrapped up Jacques Vermeulen on the tryline, play came back for another penalty and this time prop Harry Williams supplied the final push for the line.
After Joe Simmonds added the conversion kick, worse followed for Tigers.
With flanker Brink lying injured from the first phase, the referee stopped play to check a tackle from Van Wyk in chasing the restart and produced a red card for contact with the head.
Brink made it back on to his feet only to leave the field, with Harry Wells his replacement.
Chiefs almost added salt to the wounds before Matt Scott made a try-saving tackle on Ollie Woodburn as he looked to reach out to score in the corner.
After surviving one forward drive for the line, Liebenberg and Guy Porter combined to clear play upfield, but Chiefs returned with interest and precision in midfield released wing Tom O’Flaherty to score to the right of the posts.
Tigers were then down to 13 men when they lost Dan Kelly to the sin-bin just short of the half-hour as he tackled Facundo Cordero on the tryline and Chiefs instantly added their third try, with Dave Ewers taking a tap and driving over.
The TMO had no clear replay to check, but referee Jack Makepeace went with his original on-field call and Simmonds added the conversion before Harvey Skinner added the bonus-point score on 32 minutes, latching on to a break by Sam Simmonds on the left.
It looked an ominous position for Tigers, 28 points down with nearly 10 minutes remaining in the half, but it was the visitors who closed with two tries of their own.
A forward pass on the Exeter 22 gave Tigers a scrum and Liebenberg charged off the base, with Freddie Steward making more gains on the right. The forwards kept the pressure on the line and eventually Lavanini burrowed his way in for his first score for the club. Henry added the conversion.
Scott squared up to the next Exeter attack, making a telling tackle on the edge of the 22 and then joined Liebenberg to hunt down Chiefs just inside their own territory with the clock already on 40.
When the referee awarded a penalty, Henry’s kick reached touch exactly on the five-metre line and, with Wells securing lineout ball, Van Poortvliet sniped over to score and make it 28-12.
Luan de Bruin replaced Leatigaga for the start of the second half and Chiefs claimed their fifth try when Sam Simmonds latched on to a chip kick from brother Joe to dot down for the 14th time in the Premiership campaign.
Tigers, though, responded with a third of their own as a 20-metre drive from a lineout on the left, with Wells steering and Charlie Clare in position, ended with Scott picking his way through for his first try of the season. Johnny McPhillips, on for Henry, added the extras with Chiefs 35-19 in front.
Chiefs replied with a series of offloads in attack which eventually found Woodburn to score their sixth of the afternoon in the right-hand corner, but this time Simmonds missed his conversion kick.
Potter was quickly into the action with a run on the right which ended with a penalty in Tigers’ favour after Liebenberg’s intervention at the breakdown just five metres from the tryline.
It led to a fourth try for Tigers, Clare controlling play from the maul in the corner to claim a bonus point and McPhillips added the extras as the score reached 40-26.
Potter got back on the ball as Tigers looks to break own the right and then, when play switched the opposite way, Scott’s clever kick forced Chiefs to play out from their own 22.
Ben White, on at scrum-half, made a timely tackle around the ankles of Sam Simmonds as the No8 saw a chance on the left touchline and got his reward with a penalty as Tigers swarmed over the contact area.
They made the most of it too, a hanging kick upfield met by skipper Liebenberg, who fended off the final defender to run in from 35 metres and score his team’s fifth of the afternoon. Unfortunately, McPhillips’ conversion kick fell just short from the right touchline with nine points separating the teams.
Team numbers were levelled when Cordero was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on with 10 minutes remaining and McPhillips looked to make best use of the extra space with a cross-kick which just beat Steward on the right touchline.
Instead, Exeter claimed the next score, using a set-piece platform for Vermuelen to push his way over in the corner and Simmonds added his sixth conversion.
Luke Wallace won a valuable penalty on the floor on halfway with just over two minutes left on the clock and the forwards drove their rivals back again from the lineout before gaining another penalty.
The forwards pushed again before another penalty and this time got to within a metre of the line before somehow losing possession in the final action of the afternoon.