May strikes yet again to give Tigers
And so Leicester Tigers’ march up the table continues. Having lost their opening two rounds, Matt O’Connor’s side start October fifth in the Premiership, with this victory over champions Exeter the most substantial of a revival that stretches to three successive wins.
Jonny May, the England wing, was once again the toast of Welford Road, scoring the decisive try – his fifth in as many games since his summer move from Gloucester – with a sensational 20-metre finish from a similarly outstanding pass by Ben Youngs.
It was one of two “killer moments” in the game, according to Rob Baxter, the Exeter Chiefs director of rugby, who felt the overriding factor in his side’s defeat was Leicester’s ruthlessness.
The other white-heat moment had come in the first half, after Exeter had dominated the first quarter. Leicester counter-attacked when the ball was spilt on their line and after Julian Salvi had been sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle, Nick Malouf finished in a similar fashion to May off a laser-accurate pass by Matt Toomua. Yet ultimately Leicester’s victory was founded on their huge defensive effort, spearheaded by the magnificent No8 Sione Kalamafoni, who deservedly took the man-of-the-match award with a stunning return of 17 carries and 17 tackles.
“Sione has been brilliant all season,” said O’Connor. “The numbers that he is logging and the minutes he has played have been enormous for us and he has made a real difference in that back row. His leadership is fantastic and he doesn’t make errors. He is a class act.
“I thought commitment was at the heart of our victory, we dug in. It was a really big team effort. They are the champions of England and top of the league, so you have to charge yourself against those guys.
“Unfortunately, for a number of reasons we haven’t been competing and beating those guys consistently and to- day was a good performance and the four points is massive.”
Both sides had been forced to reshuffle their line-ups because of late injury problems to two players, Jack Nowell and Ellis Genge, who had been with England during their three-day camp in Oxford last week.
Nowell, who was injured during England’s controversial camp in Brighton last year, suffered a dead leg while Genge, who had been involved in a heavy rugby session on Tuesday, suffered a back spasm in the warm-up.
Leicester had also lost Logovi’i Mulipola with a neck injury, forcing a complete reshuffle of their front row, and it was a scrum penalty in the final minute for Exeter, when both Harry Wells and Mike Williams were off for Head Injury Assessments (HIAs), that Gareth Steenson was able to earn a losing bonus point with his second penalty. O’Connor was left frustrated that as there was only one doctor able to review the two HIAs, Wells was unable to return to the pitch for the final scrum.
Baxter, though, had plenty of frustrations himself. Malouf was twice lucky not to have been shown a yellow card, one for a trip on Olly Woodburn and then for a tackle in the air on Phil Dollman.
Leicester’s 10-3 lead at half-time was remarkable given the dominant start Exeter had made. Such was Exeter’s tour de force that Leicester were forced to make 50 tackles in the first 15 minutes alone. And yet all the champions had to show for their endeavour was a penalty by Steenson, despite forcing several clear-cut chances.
And Exeter only had themselves to blame for failing to capitalise on their man advantage after Telusa Veainu had been shown a yellow card for knocking