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Rugby News

Preview | Defending champions Chiefs wait for Tigers

Defending league and European champions Exeter Chiefs host Leicester Tigers in Round 14 of the Gallagher Premiership season on Saturday (2.30pm).

This is Tigers’ first trip to Sandy Park since the opening game of the restart phase in the 2019/20 season last August, when Chiefs won 26-13 in Steve Borthwick’s first experience as head coach, and victory at Mattioli Woods Welford Road in December stretched their run of wins in the head-to-head to six in a row.

Tigers last won at Sandy Park in September 2014 when Anthony Allen and Ben Youngs scored tries in a 24-20 triumph in the opening weeks of that season. Dave Ewers scored the opener for Chiefs that afternoon and he is in the hosts’ line-up again for the rematch this weekend.

After a hard-fought victory over Harlequins last week, when they had to overturn a 13-point deficit, Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter is looking for more of the same from his side.

Baxter said: “At the moment, we are creating pressure scenarios in the first half that we can certainly deal with better. Some of the things we are doing we can easily eradicate from our game and if we improve our error count, even by 20 or 30 per cent, the game could be much different.

“That said, I can’t fault the resolve and the fighting spirit of our lads. What they showed to me was that we have a team who are prepared to work very hard to break down the opposition and who want to scores tries to win a game. We didn’t make it easy for ourselves, but we showed we were willing to work incredibly hard to secure four fantastically valuable points.”

Assessing the Tigers, Baxter added: “At the moment we seem to be coming up against teams with a bit of momentum behind them and who want to throw everything at us.

“In a lot of ways, that’s great for us. We’re getting challenged every week, but most of the time we’re coming up with the answers we need.

“I’ve no doubt we will be challenged again this weekend by a Leicester side who will see this as a great opportunity to step up where they want to be. They are not going to be backward in wanting to become an established Premiership-winning team again, because that is in their DNA, I just don’t want us to be a stepping stone for them to do that.”

Both teams are without their internationals for the last full weekend in the Six Nations, while Chiefs have lost Ian Whitten, Tom Hendrickson and Alex Cuthbert to injury.

Tigers will be led by Hanro Liebenberg for the first time, and there are calls for Matt Scott, Guy Porter and Jack Van Poortvliet in the backline.

Harry Wells, one of the scorers in the win at Gloucester a week ago, is well aware of the strengths in the Chiefs’ ranks and said: “They have a very strong mauling game and they’re fantastic at it. The scrum is a weapon for them, it gets them in a great position, and their forward play is exceptional.

“We have to be mindful of that but it is going to be an exciting contest.”

Tigers have lost just once in the last four rounds and recorded a first away win of the season last time out.

Overall the clubs have met on 63 previous occasions with Leicester winning 38 to 21 by Exeter and four games drawn.

Tigers will be in the club’s blue and white change kit at Sandy Park.

Referee is Jack Makepeace in only his seventh Premiership game in charge.

There is live coverage on BT Sport Extra 1HD at 2.30pm. Or follow all of the updates on the Tigers website and app, with posts on social media throughout the day and a full package of reaction after the final whistle.

Elsewhere in Round 14:

Friday: Newcastle Falcons v Wasps
Saturday: Harlequins v Gloucester Rugby (2.00pm), Bath Rugby v Worcester Warriors (2.15pm)
Sunday: Northampton Saints v Bristol Bears (3.00pm), Sale Sharks v London Irish (3.00pm)