Leicester Tigers wingers Nick Malouf and Jonny May scored the tries as Leicester Tigers produced their best performance of the season to date to beat Exeter Chiefs 20-13.
Malouf stepped off his wing to finish Matt Toomua’s exquisite pass in the first half of a ding-dong battle with the defending Aviva Premiership champions at Welford Road.
It gave Tigers a 10-3 lead at the break, but they came under huge pressure in the second half after conceding a penalty try for a deliberate knock-on by Telusa Veainu, for which the full-back was sent to the sin-bin.
But Tigers were tencious in defence and made the most of their opportunities, not least when May produced another brilliant finish to punish Exeter for stopping at a knock-on, to score his fifth try in five games for the Tigers.
George Ford marshalled the troops expertly in wet conditions, and enjoyed a 100 per cent record from the tee with two conversions and a penalty and a drop goal, to steer Tigers to their third successive league win.
The win was all the more impressive given the disruption to the team before kick-off as Tigers were forced into late changes to their front-row resources. Logovi’i Mulipola was withdrawn with a neck injury and was replaced on the bench by Chris Baumann, while Ellis Genge suffered a back spasm in the warm-up, Greg Bateman started with Kyle Traynor going onto the bench.
In other team news, forward duo George McGuigan and Brendon O’Connor returned from injury to take their place on the bench. McGuigan was included in an Aviva Premiership matchday 23 for the first time this season after suffering a hand injury during pre-season. He replaced Harry Thacker.
Luke Hamilton started in the back row in place of Dominic Ryan with O’Connor, who had recovered from a hamstring injury, taking his place on the bench.
The team changes unsettled Tigers in the opening moments and it was Exeter who were first to show. The visitors enjoyed early possession in the Tigers half and took a fifth-minute lead through Gareth Steenson’s penalty after Tigers hands in a ruck.
Indeed, Exeter enjoyed much of the possession in the opening 10 minutes but Tigers defended resolutely, typified by Nick Malouf’s tackle on Lachie Turner that forced a knock-on from the Chiefs wing.
There was more good work from Mike Williams, who latched onto Olly Woodburn to win the holding-on penalty on the edge of the 22 and George Ford kicked Leicester into the Exeter half for the first time.
Wells was excellent on the floor, turning over possession on his 22. But, as the rain came down at Welford Road, Tigers were unable to capitalise as Veainu knocked on under pressure.
Tigers had to defend with their lives again as Exeter piled forward inside their 22 and forced the knock-on from Jack Yeandle. Ford kicked long and Phil Dollman came under pressure from Jonny May and Matt Smith, with Tom Youngs eventually stealing possession. Toomua’s angled kick to the corner beat Veainu and Turner into touch.
Play came back for the TMO to look at an incident at a ruck involving Julian Salvi, and the former Tigers back-rower was yellow-carded for not using his arms at a clear-out.
In signalled a shift in momentum in the game. And with Welford Road in full voice, Veainu stepped past Mitch Lees to get Leicester on the attack for the first time in the game. Tigers piled forward, went through the phases in the Chiefs 22 and drove Ford over the line, but the fly-half was held up.
At the resulting scrum, Sione Kalamafoni drove up to the line but was stopped just short. But Tigers remained patient, and eventually Toomua picked out Malouf’s run with a delightful pass that allowed that allowed the winger to step past Turner and over for the score.
Ford landed a testing conversion to put Tigers 7-3 ahead 14 minutes before half-time.
Tigers showed their attacking intent when Matt Smith took a quick lineout inside his 22. May stepped out of danger and set up the ruck for Ben Youngs to clear. There was a nervy moment as Malouf took out Dollman in the air, but referee Thomas Foley gave a penalty only.
Tigers were on top now, as Salvi returned from his sin-bin period, and they pegged Chiefs back towards their own 22 with some solid carrying and breakdown work. And they made the position pay with Ford sitting back to land a drop goal to move them seven points ahead with half-time approaching.
Welford Road was on its feet again moments later to acclaim a wonderful tackle by Toomua on Yeandle that drove the Exeter captain back five metres and also brought the holding-on penalty, as Tigers led 10-3 at the break.
Ben Youngs showed his experience in the opening stages of the second half when he spotted Woodburn upfield and angled a kick into touch deep in the Exeter 22. It set the template for Tigers in the opening stages of the second period, with the back three and half-backs kicking for territory in wet conditions.
And when Exeter attempted to counterattack more brilliant work by Wells won the holding-on penalty against Turner.
When Ben Moon was pinged for a no-arms tackle on Kalamafoni, Tigers had the advantage and Ben Youngs attacked down the narrow side. His pass went forward, with the Tigers fans in the Holland & Barrett Stand claiming it was touched by an Exeter hand, and Veainu swept on the loose ball to cross the line.
But referee Foley deemed it was a knock-on and came back for the penalty. Ford kept his cool to land his kick from 45m to nudge Leicester 13-3 ahead.
Exeter had an immediate chance to respond with Steenson banging a penalty deep into the Tigers 22. But they spilled the lineout and Kalamafoni took Tigers up to the 22 for Ford to clear.
The Chiefs continued to press and won a scrum penalty that Steenson put into the right-hand corner. They won another penalty as Tigers went off their feet, and with the advantage they worked on overlap on the left. Veainu stuck out his hand in an to attempt the intercept but knocked-on with only Turner outside him.
Referee Foley consulted his TMO before he awarded the penalty try and sent Veainu to the bin. The seven-point score cut Leicester’s lead to 13-10.
Exeter looked to make the extra man count by going to the corner with a kickable penalty. But Lees spilled the ball and again Kalamafoni picked up possession for Ben Youngs to find touch.
At the next Exeter attack, man-of-the-match Kalamafoni overturned possession and Bateman booted play deep into the Exeter 22. Woodburn, with May racing after him, got back to mop up and bought enough time for his teammates to get around him and clear.
It sparked a momentum shift back towards the Tigers. Dollman failed to deal with Ford’s up-and-under and the Exeter players seemed to stop for the knock-on. Not so Tigers, and Ben Youngs switched play to the left flank where May powered past Woodburn and used the slick pitch to slide in for his fifth try in Leicester colours.
Veainu returned to the field before the conversion. And Ford landed his kick from wide on the left to give Leicester a 20-10 lead with 12 minutes remaining.
Tigers made a mess of the restart but replacements Sam Harrison and Brendon O’Connor showed wonderful scavaging skills to strip Don Armand of the ball on the 22. Harrison rejoined the play to kick up to halfway.
Exeter turned down two kickable penalties in succession, as they looked to respond with a try of their own. But Elvis Taione was off-target with his throw, giving Tigers the scrum put-in 5m out and the chance to use up more time.
The defensive effort was summed up by Ford’s crunching tackle on Slade, that forced a knock-on in midfield.
Exeter had another chance for a bonus-point, and after turning down a number of penalty kicks at goal and with time running out, Steenson opted to go for the posts from wide on the right.
But with less than a minute on the clock his kick struck the right-hand post and Tigers smothered possession to win the scrum put-in. However, Tigers were whistled at the scrum and Steenson landed the penalty with the final kick to give Exeter their losing bonus point.
SEE YOU BACK HERE TOMORROW
We hope you enjoyed today's LIVE coverage and will see you back here at Welford Road tomorrow for the Tigers A League encounter with Newcastle, kicking off at 3pm.
DRAMA UP UNTIL THE END
Well... it was set to deliver a drama filled match and did not disappoint at Welford Road with even the dying stages offering up some talking points for the week to come.
The Leicester Tigers are given a rousing reception from their faithful here at the historic home of the Leicestershire club after a bruising and brutal battle of two physical teams.
What a great game of rugby!
FULL TIME AT WELFORD ROAD
That's full time at Welford Road and Tigers make it three in a row with a seven point, 20-13 win over reigning champions Exeter.
THREE MORE FOR CHIEFS
In the final minute, Chiefs add a penalty to close the gap to seven as the full time whistle is set to be blown.
PENALTY BLOWN AT SCRUM
Scrum ends in a penalty for Chiefs to shoot at full time for three more.
WELFORD ROAD ROARS
The TIIIIIIGERS chant is up!
TRAYNOR INTO THE GAME
Greg Bateman is given a rousing reception as he comes from the field after an 80 minute effort. Welcome to the season Kyle Traynor.
The ball hits the uprights and it has come down in to Exeter's hands BUT WAIT, turn over. Tigers scrum on their 22.
PENALTY TO CHIEFS
No advantage and we go back for a penalty 25 out. Chiefs opt for the attempt at three.
TIGERS KNOCK ON
Tigers knock on and Exeter are on the attack inside the home side's half in the dying stages here at Welford Road.
LIKE A CAR.. A FORD MAYBE?
George Ford like a car hitting a wall, ends the Exeter attack with a great tackle. Knock on Chiefs for Tigers to feed the scrum 35 out from their own line.
FINAL FIVE APPROACHING
We're approaching the final five minutes in this epic clash at Welford Road and Tigers remain in the lead by ten, 20-10 over Exeter.
RE-SET ON THE TIGERS LINE
A re-set scrum is blown against Exeter for dropping to the knee in the front row. Ford finds touch fifteen short of halfway.
The throw is ruled not straight from Exeter and the home side has got away with that one, despite allowing them in to Tigers territory. Scrum on our 5.
PENALTY TO CHIEFS
Chiefs awarded back to back penalties and find touch just 5 out from Tigers line.
Ben Youngs back in to the game as Harry Wells is sent for a HIA in the changing rooms.
Sam Harrison to flanker, Sione to lock and O'Connor to number eight.
MAY WE HIGH FIVE THEN?
That is FIVE TRIES in FIVE GAMES for Jonny May as a Leicester Tiger.
FROM THE SIDELINE ... AND OVER!
George Ford adds the extras from the touchline and extends the lead by two. Tigers lead Exeter 20-10 in the 67th minute.
HARRISON AND TAIT IN THE GAME
Sam Harrison and Mat Tait in to the action for Ben Youngs and Matt Smith.
TRY TIME ... TO TIGERS!!
Exeter make an error as they attempt to take a brilliant bomb and the ball goes wide from the ruck for Jonny May to score out wide as we enter the final 15 minutes at Welford Road.
WILLIAMS FOR MAPAPALANGI
Valentino Mapapalangi is into the action as he replaces Mike Williams in the backrow.
CHIEFS CLEAR UNDER PRESSURE
The visitors clear under pressure after a Greg Bateman clearance. We're still not kidding, it was Bateman.
EXETER ATTACK ENDS
Chiefs attack is ended with a turnover and Bateman clears it deep down field. No, seriously.. Bateman.
PENALTY TO CHIEFS
Exeter opt to kick for touch from the penalty and find touch 5 out but, lose the lineout and we clear to just short of halfway.
MCGUIGAN INTO THE ACTION
George McGuigan is on the field for the first time this season, replacing skipper Tom Youngs at hooker.
A SLIP AND A TRIP...
A penalty is blown the way of the visitors for an alleged trip attempt from Malouf. Chiefs find touch 22 out from Tigers line.
EXPANSIVE FROM EXETER
Visitors are trying their hand here at Welford Road with expansive play as Tigers defence holds strong though.
CHIEFS CLEAR THEIR LINE
From inside their own in-goal, Chiefs clear deep and are returned serve with a Ben Youngs box kick back before Exeter return serve again.
SCRUM TO TIGERS
The home side awarded a scrum feed just 30 out from the Chiefs line and they go wide before Fordy grubbers in to touch just 5 out.
O'CONNOR ON FOR HAMILTON
Brendon is back ... as he replaces Luke Hamilton at openside flanker.
TELUSA SIN BINNED
Telusa Veainu is sent to the sin bin following the awarding of the penalty try and Tigers are down to 14 men with 23 minutes remaining.
PENALTY TRY - CHIEFS
A penalty try is awarded to the visitors as Telusa is ruled to have prevented a try with a deliberate knock on.
25 TO GO
25 minutes remaining at Welford Road and Tigers lead the reigning champions by ten, 13-3.
Despite phase play from Chiefs we go back for a scrum penalty advantage.
Exeter find touch just 5 out.
UNPLAYABLE AT THE RUCK
The ball is deemed to be unplayable at the ruck following the lineout and Chiefs will feed a scrum just inside the Tigers 22.
AERIAL BATTLE ENDS
The battle of the air ends as Chiefs find touch with their kick on the home side's 22 for a lineout to Tigers.
BACK AND FORTH
The ball again gets some frequent flyer miles as it is sent to the skies from both sides here at Welford Road.
HIGH TACKLE FROM BARROW
Dom Barrow ruled to have tackled the Chiefs player high. But really, how can't he? He's huge!! Chiefs find touch 10 out.
PENALTY GOAL TO FORDY
George Ford adds another three through the boot and lead Chiefs now 13-3 after 48 minutes at Welford Road.
TOM POINTS TO THE POSTS
We're going for the three as Tom Youngs points to the uprights.
Our attack ends with a knock on but we're going back for a no arms tackle from Chiefs. Penalty Tigers on Chiefs 40.
TOOMUA TOES AHEAD
A touch of class and experience from Matt Toomua as not much is happening in attack, toeing ahead in to touch. Chiefs lineout on their 22.
WELLS .. WHAT ABOUT THAT!
Aussie speedster Turner is chased down by Harry Wells and he's forced a penalty from him for holding on. Brilliant Harry!
AIR BATTLE CONTINUES
As the rain pours, it appears both teams have decided to play it in the air through the boot.
EARLY EXCHANGES IN THE AIR
Early exchanges of possession and territory in the air from both Teams ends with a touch-finder 5 out from the Chiefs line.
SECOND HALF UNDERWAY
Here we go for the second chapter in this epic battle at Welford Road.
PLENTY OF FEELING IN THIS ONE
There's plenty of feeling in this fixture as the home side - along with a vocal crowd - are putting the pressure on Exeter in both attack and defence.
Only one try in the match, to Nick Malouf, and a conversion and drop goal to George Ford has the home side leading the reigning champions by seven.
HALF TIME AT WELFORD ROAD
Half Time at Welford Road and a strong opening chapter from the home side sees them lead 10-3 over Exeter.
KNOCK ON AT THE BACK
Knock on ruled against the home side at the back of the maul and Exeter feed the scrum on their own 22.
FORD FINDS TOUCH 22 OUT
Tigers flyhalf Ford finds touch 22 out from Exeter's line with just one minute remaining.
The Tigers defence is on song today as Toomua and Hamilton drive back the Exeter attack and win a penalty on halfway.
CLUTCH DROP GOAL!
Nothing happening for Tigers off the ruck and George Ford sits back in the pocket to calmly drop goal an extra three at the 33 minute mark.
SALVI SIN BIN COMPLETE
Julian Salvi re-enters the match after his ten minute 'forced' break.
Towsend knocks on off the lineout and the home side will feed the scrum 40 out from the Exeter line.
FORD PLAYS IT SAFE
George Ford clears this one to play it safe from inside the 22. Chiefs lineout just inside their own half of halfway.
Scrum goes down as the ball comes out of the same tunnel and we're re-setting this one on the Tigers 22.
THE GREAT WALL OF LEICESTER
Tigers defensive wall holds strong again as Chiefs have a fourth forced knock on for the match. Scrum on the Tigers 22.
DOLLMAN IS UP
Chiefs fullback Dollman is up and fine - we're back underway as Chiefs find touch 22 out from the home side's line.
TIGERS CLEAR THEIR LINE
Leicester clear their line with a strong kick down field and Malouf in chase collides with Dollman. Penalty awarded to the Chiefs.
HALF AN HOUR DOWN
The half hour mark ticks over at Welford Road and the home side lead Exeter 7-3 in a tight battle.
CHIEFS DROP IT ON THE TOE
Ball is grubbered through by the visitors after they can't find a way through the Tigers line. Home side will feed the lineout 10 out from their line.
George Ford adds the extras and Tigers now lead Exeter 7-3 at Welford Road.
TRY - TIGERS!
Nick Malouf goes over out wide after a brilliant cut ball from fellow Aussie Matt Toomua. Home side on the scoreboard!
SIONE BREAKS FROM SCRUM
The No.8 breaks strong but is tackled and Tigers attack from the ruck to follow.
TERRACE BEGIN THEIR CHANT
Tiiiiiiigers.. Tiiiiiiiiigers.. Tiiiiiiiiiiiigers!!
HOME SIDE HELD UP
The ball is ruled held up after consistent pressure in attack from Leicester and Tigers will feed a scrum just 5 out.
EXETER CLEAR THEIR LINE
Chiefs send it deep and Malouf brings back strong.
The next phase finds Veainu, who finds space and he's away but taken down 15 out and pops for Hamilton.
Tigers on the attack close to the Chiefs line.
YELLOW FOR SALVI
The referee has stopped play and gone back to a foul play occurrence from Julian Salvi, who's been sent to the bin.
MATTY SMITH FORCES A TURNOVER
A turnover on halfway at the chase with Matt Smith forcing the visitors to lose that one.
Toomua picks up at the ruckbase and kicks across field for a chasing Telusa Veainu ... and it just beats him in to touch. Tigers lineout 5 out.
EXETER ATTACK THROUGH THE MIDDLE
It's a short ball spree for the visitors as they seek to find space in the middle today at Welford Road.
BUT WAIT.. their attack is ended with another knock on through Tigers pressure.
Jonny May chases on a big boot down field.
TIGERS TURNOVER ANOTHER
Another strong showing at the ruck base from the home side is undone just a few phases after as a counter attack through George Ford and Telusa Veainu is ended with a knock on.
Chiefs feed the scrum just inside the Tigers half.
TURNOVER TO TIGERS
Turnover to Tigers on the halfway line goes just a few phases before referee Thomas Foley awards a penalty to Exeter for the home side holding on to it too long.
Chiegs find touch on the Leicester 22 in front of a very, very vocal Terrace.
END TO END
It's end to end rugby at Welford Road as the sides send the ball back and forth to one another in the air, looking for territory in this so far tight battle.
EXETER ATTACK ENDS
A knock on again from the visitors through the efforts of Tigers in defence and the home side will feed the scrum on their 22.
PENALTY TO CHIEFS
A penalty is awarded the way of the Chiefs after Ben Youngs fumbles the ball from the lineout win and Dom Barrow dives on it from in front of the scrumhalf.
Exeter clear it to feed the lineout on Tigers 22.
FORD CLEARS LONG
Tigers with the lineout now 30 out from the visitors line, Terrace side.
WILLIAMS WITH THE STEAL!
Mike Williams with a brilliant tackle and steal to follow, shutting down Exeter's attack and gaining a penalty for Tigers.
YOUNGS CLEARS WELL
Ben Youngs send the clearing box kick long for Ezeter to start their attack on the halfway line.
PRESSURE PAYS OFF
The Tigers pressure in defence pays off as they force a knock on from the Chiefs to be awarded a scrum on their own 22.
PENALTY TO CHIEFS
Exeter awarded a penalty at the ruck and find touch 30 out from the Tigers line.
TIGERS LINE FIRED UP
The home side has some energy in defence today as the crowd gets behind their strong defensive effort early on in this match.
There's plenty in this one out in the middle!!
AERIAL PING PONG
The Chiefs grubber through the Tigers line but it finds touch and Tigers will feed the lineout on their own 22.
Ben Youngs clears from the following ruck before the Chiefs send it back the way of the Tigers, only to roll in goal for a Tigers drop out.
TURNOVER AND OVER AGAIN
A turnover from the Chiefs at the re-start is turned back over by Tigers and the visitors again start an attack inside the Tigers half.
FIRST POINTS TO CHIEFS
Exeter manage the first points of the match through the boot of flyhalf Gareth Steenson with a penalty taking them to a three-point lead.
PENALTY ATTEMPT FOR EXETER
Exeter will take a shot for three after their second penalty for the match, 30 out from the Tigers line.
FIRST SCRUM TO CHIEFS
The visitors feed the first scrum, 40 out from the Tigers line, after Ben Youngs fumbles an intercept attempt.
FIRST PENALTY OF THE MATCH
First penalty goes the way of the visiting side at the ruck and they find touch on the Tigers 22.
Exeter get us underway at Welford Road!
HERE COMES THE ROAR!
Tom Youngs leads the Tigers on to the field at Welford Road to a huge ROAR!
GENGE RULED OUT
Some breaking news here at Welford Road as Ellis Genge has been ruled out of today's match and replaced in the Starting XV by Greg Bateman.
ALL WARMED UP FOR THIS ONE
JUST TEN TO GO
Just fifteen minutes until we kick off in today's Aviva Premiership clash match at Welford Road with Exeter Chiefs the opposition for home side, the Leicester Tigers.
The stands are filling up quickly and a big crowd is in the house for what is set to be a great battle between two sides coming off strong wins last weekend.
WARMING UP AT WELFORD ROAD
CHIEFS MAKE CHANGES
Today's visitors have made changes for the Welford Road clash, following the withdrawl of Jack Nowell.
Their confirmed line-up is:
15 Phil Dollman, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Stuart Townsend
1 Ben Moon, 2 Jack Yeandle, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Mitch Lees, Jonny Hill, 6 Dave Dennis, 7 Julian Salvi, 8 Don Armand
16 Elvis Taione, 17 Alex Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Matt Kvesic, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Max Bodilly, 23 Tom Hendrickson
TIGERS TEAM FOR TODAY
The Tigers team for today has been confirmed by head coach Matt O'Connor, with one change from the 23 named yesterday.
While the starting side remains the same as announced, the bench sees one change with USA international Chris Baumann coming in for his first potential Premiership appearance in place of Logovi'i Mulipola.
15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Nick Malouf, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs
1 Ellis Genge, 2 Tom Youngs, 3 Dan Cole, 4 Harry Wells, 5 Dom Barrow, 6 Mike Williams, 7 Luke Hamilton, 8 Sione Kalamafoni
16 George McGuigan 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Chris Baumann, 19 Valentino Mapapalangi, 20 Brendon O’Connor, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mathew Tait
THE MAN IN CHARGE
Today's match official is Thomas Foley, taking control of his 41st Premiership match.
GATES ARE OPEN!
The turnstiles are turning here at Welford Road and the #tigersfamily has begun flooding through the gates for today's fixture.
The sun is shining, pitching looking perfect and we're now just 90 minutes from this mouth-watering battle between the Tigers and Chiefs.
WELCOME BACK TO WELFORD ROAD
We're back at the historic home of Leicester Tigers for today's Aviva Premiership Round 5 fixture and the opposition for today's clash are reigning champions, Exeter Chiefs.
Kick Off is 3pm and confirmed Matchday Teams for both teams will be confirmed one hour before at 2pm. Stay tuned for details.