Steve Borthwick applauded the character of his Leicester Tigers players for “staying in the battle” and taking something out of the trip to Exeter Chiefs on Saturday.
Tigers had to do it the hard way as defending Premiership and European champions Chiefs claimed four tries in the opening 32 minutes while the visitors also lost Kobus van Wyk to a red card before the quarter-hour mark of the Round 14 meeting in the Gallagher Premiership season.
“It’s obviously disappointing to lose the game but, at the same time, I think the players should be proud of what they did in the second half and the character they showed,” said head coach Borthwick as 14-man Tigers got a foothold in the game just before half-time and eventually scored five tries to bank a bonus point in a 47-31 defeat.
“People have observed that Leicester Tigers were a team that went away but we are working very hard as a club to stay in every battle.
“We’re working exceptionally hard to be a team that never goes away.”
Tomás Lavanini, Jack Van Poortvliet, Matt Scott, Charlie Clare and captain Hanro Liebenberg all scored tries as Tigers hauled themselves back into the game and trailed by just nine points entering the final 10 minutes after Chiefs had raced into a 28-0 lead in the opening half an hour.
Even after Jacques Vermeulen scored Exeter’s seventh try of the afternoon on 74 minutes, Tigers were still chasing another score at the end which would have doubled their points haul for the afternoon.
“We have a lot of work to do because we want to be in winning positions,” added Borthwick.
“But if you look at the way the players led to get to a point where a cross-kick was just a metre away from Freddie Steward scoring in the corner [with just nine points between the teams], I thought the team showed great character and also played some very good rugby against outstanding opposition.
“Not too many people expected us to come away with anything. Chiefs are an excellent team and I think gradually we have to raise the expectations around ourselves, but right now we are working to get better and to be a better team for next weekend.”
Tigers are at home to Newcastle Falcons in Round 15 next Sunday in the final game before the return of European Challenge Cup rugby.