Top-of-the-table Exeter Chiefs recorded a 52-20 victory over Leicester Tigers who lost skipper Tom Youngs to a second-half red card at Welford Road on Saturday.
The Chiefs ran in seven tries in the Gallagher Premiership Round 18 contest which said everything for their efficiency in possession but did not do total justice to the effort of the home side.
Scores from Matt Kvesic and Jack Yeandle gave the visitors a 14-3 lead before Jonny May dotted down for Tigers. But Olly Woodburn and Henry Slade dotted down to claim the bonus point score with just half an hour played.
The opening period ended with Tigers playing from their own line and, inspired by George Ford and boosted by the crowd noise, scoring through Tom Youngs as they trimmed the gap to 20-28 at the break.
But 10 points for the visitors when they had a man in the sin bin early in the second half dragged momentum back and they added further scores and then saw Tigers down to 14 men as skipper Youngs was red-carded for contact with the neck area of an opponent at a ruck.
Tigers lined up with Matt Toomua at full-back and Jordan Olowofela moving to the wing, while Brendon O’Connor ran out for his 50th Premiership appearance in a re-shaped back row alongside Mike Fitzgerald and Mike Williams. Valentino Mapapalangi came into the squad for the first time since the European Cup match against Scarlets in January.
Chiefs were already without second-rowers Jonny Hill, Mitch Lees and Sam Skinner due to knocks and then lost Australia international Dave Dennis with a calf injury ahead of kick-off, with Sean Lonsdale promoted from the bench.
Tigers, going into the Round 18 fixture in 10th place in the table, got the game under way and it was a ferocious opening period too, on and off the ball, with tackles flying in from both sides in the middle third of the field.
But Chiefs claimed a breakthrough score with their first real series of phases in Tigers territory, providing some space on the left where Kvesic forced his way over for his seventh Premiership try of the season. Joe Simmonds judged his conversion kick well to turn it into a seven-point score.
Tigers, with the crowd providing their encouragement, almost found a way through determined defence when Toomua pushed the all out to Olowofela on the wing but he was brought down just five metres out. The forwards retained possession, making their carries and clears, until Chiefs were penalised in front of the posts and Ford knocked over the penalty.
Chiefs were handed a penalty from the restart when the Tigers defence was caught offside and Simmonds played into the corner. But, after making the lineout catch, Don Armand spilled ball under pressure and the crowd rose as if a try had been scored by the home team when Sam Harrison hammered it clear.
The whistle went again, though, for another offside, and despite being repelled close to the posts, they kept their patience in possession until hooker Yeandle was able to push his way through a tackle and drop over the line. Simmonds kicked the conversion to make it 14-3.
Tigers, whose confidence has been noted for its fragility in recent weeks, came straight back at their top-of-the-table visitors with Ford showing superb footwork to beat the defensive line and then break clear. He was tackled almost within reach of the line but, playing with penalty advantage, Tigers sprayed the ball wide with Toomua picking out May to score in the right-hand corner.
The referee awarded the score then spoke to Kvesic and Manu Tuilagi as emotions ran high in the corner. Ford had to wait to make his conversion kick but judged it to perfection from the touchline as he brought it back to 10-14 on 26 minutes.
The game restarted, though, with a penalty to Exeter for the ‘afters’ in the celebrations and they made the most of the opportunity with a kick down the right and from the lineout, the played on first phase to the opposite corner and Woodburn dived in to score.
Simmonds added his third conversion and even better followed for the visitors as Jack Nowell picked off loose ball in midfield and then the Chiefs released bodies on the left wing. Armand’s offload found Woodburn and he passed inside for Slade who ran in to score on his 100th Premiership appearance and provide a bonus point.
Fly-half Simmonds added the kick to make it 10-28 but Tigers fly-half Ford provided the impetus for the next attack by the home side as Olowofela went through, but Chiefs quickly found themselves down to 14 men when Nowell was yellow-carded for slapping the ball out of Tigers hands at the breakdown.
Ford kicked the three-pointer but then had O’Connor penalised for handling the ball at a ruck 30 metres out. Chiefs turned down a kick at goal to play into the left-hand corner but were met with stubborn resistance and they wrapped up ball.
The half ended with Tigers showing plenty of ambition on the ball, with Ford instigating a length-of-the-field attack using ball in hand through forwards and backs which was only halted by the referee’s whistle for a penalty.
Ford punched the penalty into the left-and corner with the crowd adding their vocal support and the volume increased when they had a second try to cheer moments later.
Toomua’s crosskick found May and, though he was stopped just inches out, Tigers kept ball and Youngs, with his pack ganging up around him, managed to squeeze his way over. Ford managed to re-gather his thoughts to provide the conversion as the crowd stood to applaud the spirit of their team.
Eastmond limped off, with Sam Aspland-Robinson coming into the backline, allowing Toomua to move forward to centre alongside Tuilagi.
But Chiefs started the second half with a penalty from Simmonds after Olowofela had claimed the kick-off but weas then penalised as he tried to recycle.
And just as Tigers needed to throw some shots at the start of the second period, Chiefs ran in a fifth score, made by Slade with a lightning break through the middle before feeding Ollie Devoto to score. Simmonds kicked the extras to make it 20-38.
Tigers were fuming when the whistle went against them at a ruck near halfway and their mood was not improved when Chiefs full-back Cordero wriggled his way to the line for a sixth try on 53 minutes. Simmonds maintained his perfect record from the tee wioth the conversion for a 20-45 lead.
Tigers were next on the scoresheet, or so they thought, as Toomua finished in the right-hand corner after strong work from the forwards.
But referee Thomas Foley was called back to view the replays of the build-up, where Chiefs lock Ollie Adkins had been hurt at a breakdown after contact from Youngs. The review ended with a red card for contact with the neck and Tigers were left having to regroup with 14 men.
When Kvesic won a breakdown penalty moments later, Exeter went to the right-hand corner but Dan Cole held up their push for the line as he fought for the ball and the game reward was a scrum which brought a penalty and relief for the undermanned defence.
But in chasing the game, Tigers conceded a seventh try when Toomua’s pass on the Chiefs 22 was picked off by Nowell and he stayed clear to score and take his side to the half-century mark. Simmonds kicked the conversion to make it 20-52..
The home crowd stuck with their team as play opened up all over the field and, to their credit, Tigers continued to press for opportunities while having to cover space in defence, with Tuilagi making a timely hit on Simmonds as the Chiefs broke out on the left.
A brilliant break out of defence from Ford’s chip got the crowd going again as Gareth Owen led the charge, but Olowofela was caught by Nowell as May screamed for the ball on the left touchline.
PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER
The Breedon Terrace is still pretty much full as supporters show their appreciation for both sides. The #TigersFamily is very much alive and kicking - thank you all for your support.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
A massive thank you to the more than 21,000 supporters who joined us at Welford Road this afternoon, and to those of you following along at home or wherever you are.
Join us again for the all-important Round 19 clash with Newcastle Falcons next Friday, April 12 (7.45pm) where your support will be key.
FULL TIME | 20-52
Tigers come up short in the second half after a frantic first 40, and the Premiership table-toppers take the win.
KNOCK ON FROM EXETER
Exeter - possibly through back row Don Armand - knock on, and we'll have a scrum to close out this match.
WHEELS FROM JAKEY!
A glimmer of something in these final few minutes as replacement hooker Jake Kerr charges more than 60 metres down the field after a kick to Exeter fullback Cordero, who he tackles. Great work from the Scotland international.
A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING
The structure of this game is all but gone, now. Tigers take a quick lineout but get brought back for Tom Foley to check that it is, in fact, Leicester ball, before a Joe Heyes knock on gifts Exeter a scrum. Santiago Cordero made a tasty-looking break in all that, too.
TINO ONTO THE FIELD
Valentino Mapapalangi returns from injury as he replaces Mike Fitzgerald in the Tigers back row.
TIGERS MAKE THE BREAK
The crowd thought Leicester were in, then. Tigers break from one end of the pitch to the other, but Jordan Olowofela is hauled down without support.
CHANGE OF PROPS
Facundo Gigena and Joe Heyes are both on the field in place of Ellis Genge and Dan Cole.
TRY-SAVER FROM MANU
Exeter pull the trigger after an Ellis Genge knock on, but it's the big man Manu Tuilagi who saves the day with an important tackle into touch in the corner.
ARROWS FROM JAKE
Straight as an arrow at the lineout from Jake Kerr, and Tigers have the ball just outside the Chiefs 22. Will Spencer puts in a particularly crunching carry.
CHANGE IN THE BACKS
Gareth Owen replaces Matt Toomua as head coach Geordan Murphy shuffles his backline.
LET OFF THE HOOK
...but Exeter come away with the ball, and kick behind Jordan Olowofela on this near touchline. Olly Woodburn collects, dots down, but we are brought back for a knock-on just inside the home team's half.
PENALTY AT SCRUM TIME
The Tigers pack win another penalty at scrum time, and George Ford sends the ball into touch inside the Chiefs 22.
Ian Whitten and Richard Capstick are both on for the visitors, in place of Henry Slade and Dave Ewers.
MESSY AT RUCK TIME
Tom Foley seems to be allowing a contest at ruck time, but it's getting messier and messier for both teams. Dan Cole looks furious as he is penalised for kicking through the ruck.
WHITE DICTATING PACE
Tigers win a penalty, and Ben White looks to take advantage of a sluggish Exeter line with a quick tap and then a dink through for Jonny May, but the ball just dribbles dead. Exeter will restart from the 22.
And Exeter make a change at scrum-half, with Jack Maunder on for Nic White.
THOMPSON JOINS THE FRAY
Guy Thompson is onto the field in place of Mike Williams in the Tigers 22.
Joe Simmonds adds two more and Exeter lead 20-50 with an hour played.
Completely against the run of play with Tigers deep in Exeter territory, Jack Nowell intercepts a loose pass and gallops in for another Chiefs score.
KERR ON AT SCRUM TIME
Jake Kerr is needed for the scrum, so replaces Sam Aspland-Robinson.
...and the Scotland international wins a penalty with his first action of the game!
TIGERS WIN BALL BACK
Exeter work their way into Tiger territory from the penalty restart, but the home side stand firm and win a scrum.
Toby Salmon replaces Ollie Atkins for Exeter.
RED CARD FOR TIGERS
Tigers think they've scored, but TMO Geoff Warren brings us back to look at a clear out from Tom Youngs. After much deiberation, captain Tom Youngs is shown a red card.
Sam Hill is on for Ollie Devoto in the Exeter midfield.
A high tackle in midfield gives Tigers a penalty advantage, which Sam Aspland-Robinson looks to use down the left wing. The Chiefs slow the ball, though, and so we come back for the mark. Ford kicks to touch.
CHANGE AT SCRUM-HALF
Ben White is on for Tigers, replacing Sam Harrison.
BETWEEN THE STICKS
Another successful kick for Joe Simmonds, and Exeter lead 20-45.
Exeter come away with the ball from the lineout, and it's Cordero who shimmies, spins and scores.
THE LOCALS ARE RESTLESS
Jeers from the Breedon Terrace as Tom Foley penalises Tigers for side entry at a messy-looking ruck after some strong play from Leicester. Exeter kick to just outside the home 22.
CHIEFS CHANGE FRONT ROW
The visitors have changed their entire front row, with Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ben Moon and Tomas Francis all onto the field.
Ford looks to slow the pace of this second half, which has started at a frantic rate. His kick is claimed by Santiago Cordero after a bounce, and Brendon O'Connor fields his kick well.
Simmonds' conversion is good, and Exeter lead 20-38.
DEVOTO DOTS DOWN
A Tigers tackle on halfway opens up a gap for Slade to cut through the home defence, and Devoto finishes off the play with a score.
EARLY EXETER PENALTY
Exeter strike first in this second half, as Tigers are pinged just beyond their 22. Simmonds kicks the three.
A change made just before the break has been made permanent, with Sam Aspland-Robinson on for Kyle Eastmond.
SECOND HALF KICKS OFF
Joe Simmonds boots the ball towards The Robin Hood Stand to get the second half underway at Welford Road.
HALF TIME | 20-28
What. A. Game. Just eight points in it at the break.
AND TWO MORE
George Ford kicks the conversion with the final play of a frantic first half.
THE SKIPPER SCORES!
Exeter sack the lineout, and Tigers get the ball out wide under advantage where Jonny May is just short. The ball works its way back to Tom Youngs, though and the skipper crosses the whitewash!
FANTASTIC FROM TIGERS
Brilliant phases from the home side as they push on from their own tryline all the way into opposition 22 through Manu Tuilagi, Jordan Olowofela and more. Welford Road is rocking!
Strong defence from Tigers, with their backs to the wall in the far corner. They win a timely scrum on the five-metre line with just a couple of minutes left in this first half.
PENALTY GOAL FOR TIGERS
Ford takes the three from in front of the posts as Nowell is shown a yellow card.
YELLOW CARD FOR NOWELL
Jordan Olowofela looks to get Leicester back into this game with another break through Exeter's soft underbelly, but a cynical infringement from Jack Nowell at the ruck stops the score and he is shown a yellow card.
SIMMONDS ADDS THE EXTRAS
Two more points from Simmonds boot and Exeter lead 10-28 at Welford Road.
SLADE SCYTHES THROUGH
Tigers put up a good competition at the scrum, but Chiefs somehow come away with the ball. They work it downfield despite some stern Tigers defence, and it's Slade who crosses for the score.
Joe Simmonds converts the try, and Exeter lead 10-21.
CHIEFS HIT BACK
Exeter have the penalty restart, and take the ball off the top of the lineout quickly for Olly Woodburn to score in the left hand corner.
TWO MORE FROM GEORGE
After a brief check of a post-try scuffle, Ford makes no mistake with his touchline conversion to take the score to 10-14.
JONNY MAY SCORES!
George Ford makes a lovely break straight through the heart of the Exeter defence but is held just short. With penalty advantage, Toomua whips the ball out to Jonny May in the corner to score.
TWO MORE FROM SIMMONDS
Fly-half Simmonds adds the extras and Chiefs lead 3-14.
YEANDLE CRASHES OVER
Exeter are soon back in Tigers territory, and captain Jack Yeandle crashes over for their second try.
Exeter looked to make the advantage count from the kick-off, but Tigers steal the ball from the maul and Ford boots the ball downfield once more to a roar from the home crowd.
FORD ADDS THREE
George Ford gets Tigers back in the game with three points from in front of the posts to make it 3-7 with 16 minutes gone.
ADVANTAGE ON THE LINE
Matt Toomua gets the ball out to Jordan Olowofela on the left wing with a fantastic, looping pass and he's unfortunate to be taken out by two Exeter players just metres from the line. The ball is recycled, but the Chiefs keep a hold of the man on the floor and are penalised.
George Ford lines up his first kick of the afternoon...
LEICESTER BACK IN THE GAME
Jonny May almost single-handedly gets Tigers back into the game immediately with a break down the middle. The home side keep hold of the ball, and Ford dinks it through for a lineout deep into Exeter territory.
Joe Simmonds adds the extras and the visitors lead 0-7.
KVESIC SCORES FOR EXETER
Exeter have the first score after testing the Tigers line through their forwards before Matt Kvesic breaks through on the left hand side to dot down.
TIGERS BREAK DOWN THE WING
Quick hands from Ford and then Kyle Eastmond see the ball out to Brendon O'Connor in acres of space on the wing. Jack Nowell has enough pace to catch him, though, before Graham Kitchener is pinged for holding on. Promising stuff from Tigers.
ONE OUT RUNNERS
Tigers win the lineout, and George Ford kicks good territory downfield. Exeter flex their muscles through their one-out-runner game, but Tigers hold strong over halfway before Tom Youngs wins a crucial penalty on the floor.
Both teams feeling each other out in the first couple of minutes before Olly Woodburn pulls the trigger and breaks down the far touchline. He's dragged into touch, though, and Tigers have a lineout inside their own 22.
KICK OFF AT WELFORD ROAD
George Ford gets us underway in this Round 18 Gallagher Premiership match. Come on Tigers!
TEAMS ARE OUT
Tom Youngs leads Tigers out onto the Welford Road pitch. Hear the ROAR!
WARM UPS DONE
Thunderous applause from Welford Road as Tigers head back up the tunnel after their final preparations. Kick off is just over five minutes away...
The Welford Road pitch looks to be in excellent condition this afternoon, with no rain forecast for the match. There’s a light breeze across the pitch into the Breedon Stand, and the temperature is currently 11C. Perfect.
CONFIRMED TEAM NEWS
Matt Toomua and Mike Fitzgerald return to the starting XV for Round 18, while Valentino Mapapalangi is in line for his first appearance since the European Cup tie with Scarlets in January after being named on the bench.
Exeter retain 13 of the players that took on Bath last time out at Sandy Park, but draft both Sean Lonsdale and Ollie Atkins into the starting second row.
Lonsdale is the only change from the previously announced teams, coming in for Australian international Dave Dennis. Toby Salmon takes the 19 shirt on the bench.
Get up to speed with full team news here (or scroll down on this page).
DAN COLE’S LTTV PREVIEW
Tigers tighthead Dan Cole says today’s game is the ‘test’ that the squad need ahead of a tough league run-in.
Watch him discuss the mood at Oval Park, the addition of Mike Ford to the coaching team, and take a look ahead at this afternoon’s crunch-match exclusively on the Tigers website.
BIG MATCH PREVIEW
Ten members of England’s Six Nations squad will go head to head this afternoon when Tigers take on a high-flying Exeter side who have already booked their place in the league’s top four.
Read our big match preview here (or scroll down on this page).
WELCOME TO MATCHDAY LIVE!
Good afternoon and welcome to Welford Road for Tigers’ Gallagher Premiership clash with top-of-the-table Exeter Chiefs.
Don’t forget that if you’re not able to join us at the ground, you can follow all of the action LIVE, right here with Matchday Live.