Leicester Tigers recorded a bonus-point victory in the opening home game of the season on Friday evening with a 27-7 triumph over Exeter Chiefs.
A Guy Thompson try after just two minutes and a score from Jordan Olowofela on the quarter-hour while fly-half Noel Reid was in the sin-bin put Tigers 10-7 in front in the second round of the Premiership Rugby Cup at Welford Road and then Jonah Holmes added a third before the break.
Reid’s penalty stretched the advantage to 20-7 early in the second half but the hosts had to dig into their defensive drills as Chiefs enjoyed the bulk of possession in the second half before Kyle Eastmnd provided a fourth score with five minutes remaining.
Reid, Hanro Liebenberg and Jordan Coghlan were all handed a Tigers debut while Calum Green started in the second row in his first appearance since a summer return from Newcastle Falcons.
Head coach Geordan Murphy made a total of 14 changes to the line-up beaten at Worcester in Round 1, with Olowofela returning from a shoulder injury and on-loan Andy Forsyth the only player retained in the starting team.
Chiefs got the game under way and kept the ball in Tigers territory for the opening minutes before the hosts broke out for the first score of the night.
Good work from a lineout catch by Green allowed the forwards to wrap in the Chiefs pack and ball was quickly played to the left where Olowofela combined with Forsyth before Thompson burst through to take the scoring pass.
Reid was off-target with the conversion and then spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin for a high tackle as Exeter made promising use of possession on their right.
The pay-off was immediate as Chiefs pushed their way over from a series of close-range drives, with No8 Jacques Vermeulen making the final push. Harvey Skinner added the conversion for a 7-5 lead.
George Worth moved to first receiver in the backline, but Tigers had to get through their defensive work, with Liebenberg conspicuous, as Chiefs retained possession for long periods.
But when Tigers got some go-forward again, they built pressure on the tryline and a succession of phases near the tryline eventually saw the ball played out wide and Forsyth put Olowofela in to score on the left to retake the lead with 16 minutes gone.
Worth scooped his conversion attempt short with Tigers 10-7 in front.
Green’s awareness brought a penalty just inside the Chiefs half as he wrapped up scrum-half Sam Maunder and, after Tigers had taken play down the right, Holmes dotted down for the team’s third try on 25 minutes.
Forsyth and Eastmond worked the ball in midfield and Reid showed a smart pair of hands to release Holmes to score on the right. Reid added the kick too as the lead reached 17-7.
Tigers were forced into a change as Harry Wells replaced Will Spencer at the restart and the forwards were quickly into the action again, stealing lineout ball just 15 metres out from their own trylne as Chiefs tried to build on a penalty award for offside.
Olowofela and Eastmond then threatened to break from deep, but the ball just slipped out of the centre’s grasp on halfway with Chiefs racing back to cover with four minutes remaining in the half and the hosts still 10 in front.
Chiefs were awarded a penalty at the scrum, giving Skinner a chance to kick to the right, though he made touch only on the Tigers 22 and they lost possession at the first phase from the lineout in the final attack of the opening half.
An overthrown lineout from Chiefs put Tigers into dangerous territory early in the second period, though successive carries from the hosts were met with belligerent defence until a penalty award allowed Reid to add another three points to the total.
Ben White was introduced from the bench as the game restarted and he combined with Reid and Eastmond to set Holmes away on a 40-metre break on the right while Reid showed some subtle skills on the ball to get in behind the Chiefs defence before taking a heavy hit from Lewis Pearson which the referee reviewed numerous times before restarting play with a Chiefs scrum.
A frantic period inside the Tigers 22 threatened to bring a Chiefs score until Thompson won turnover ball on the floor, but the hosts were still pinned in their own area of the pitch as the game approached the hour mark.
Freddie Steward got on for his home debut as a swap for Olowofela, and Tigers also changed the front row, and they had another escape when Chiefs tapped from a penalty but spilled ball in the next phase.
Another lineout steal halted a Chiefs set-piece and White was finally able to kick up to halfway and ease the pressure on the Tigers defence.
Tigers, though, were having a tough time at the scrum and a penalty at the set-piece gave Skinner sight of goal but he pulled his kick wide from the 10-metre line.
Reid overcooked his drop-out, giving Chiefs set-piece ball again on the Tigers 22, only for the home pack to this time get the shove on and the penalty award.
Scoring opportunities had been scarce for Tigers but, after the forwards had Chiefs back-pedalling from a lineout drive, they made it count as Tom Hardwick flicked a perfect pass out of contact for Eastmond to dive in and grab the bonus point.
Hardwick’s touchline conversion made it 27-7 with five minutes left on the clock, though Chiefs then looked to set up a lineout drive in the right-hand corner, only for Wells to steal their maul ball five metres from his own tryline.
They had one final chance from another penalty to the corner but this time met Liebenberg and Green as they defended their line and the 27-7 margin.