Exeter Chiefs 29-10 Leicester Tigers - Chiefs Hold Strong After First Half Flourish - Ruck

Exeter Chiefs 29-10 Leicester Tigers – Chiefs Hold Strong After First Half Flourish

Exeter Chiefs marked their return to the Premiership with an impressive win at Sandy Park, after a first half offensive proved unobtainable for Leicester Tigers. Three first half scores established a healthy tally for the Chiefs, who were able to hold strong for a 29-10 win, despite the Tigers’ efforts to claw back into the match.

The first try of the match was scored after just six minutes, as the sold-out Sandy Park crowd witnessed a rapid fire start from the Chiefs. After giving away a penalty at the breakdown, Leicester had to test themselves against the might of Exeter’s rolling maul. The initial shove is well halted, but the pack spilled in field with short picks and drives.

After Tom Cairns was halted inches from the line, the ball was shipped wide to Jacques Vermeulen who spotted a rare gap in the Tigers’ green and white wall. The back-rower dived over for a close range score, with Henry Slade slotting the extras for a seven point lead. The Chiefs continued this attacking momentum, and were back down the Leicester end for another attempt at their fabled maul.

Winning Penalty Kick from Henry Slade of Exeter Chiefs to win the game with the last kick of the game during the Gallagher Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester Rugby at Sandy Park, Exeter on 19th Nov 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Another drive was broken down, and the Chiefs re-set and worked the ball back in-field. Cairns lifted the attacking tempo with a neat step under the arms of his tackler, before finding Slade on a supporting off-load. The centre charged away down-field, and shipped a pass inside, yet could not find his target.

On initial viewing, the ball looked to have been knocked on by the supporting Chiefs man, yet a TMO review deemed Leicester lock George Martin as the guilty culprit, who illegally collided with the Chiefs’ player, and disrupted a shore-fire try. The England lock was sent to the sin-bin for his offence, before Tom Foley jogged over to the posts to award the penalty try. The guaranteed seven points lifted the roof off the packed Sandy Park sheds, with the early 14-0 lead coinciding within just 10 minutes of play.

What followed was an excruciating attack from an Exeter fans’ perspective, as the Chiefs would have surely scored had lock Lewis Pearson passed the ball to his outside man. Pearson had two men waiting on the right touchline, yet opted to power over the last defender. He was brought down, with the ball lost in the breakdown for a Leicester turnover. Cries of ‘you’ve got to pass it’ were joined in chorus, as the sell-out crowd cast their opinion.

We then witnessed two players exit the pitch with early injuries, as Ben Youngs and Scott Sio limped away from the contest after a clattering series of phases. It was good to see the veteran scrum half walk off under his own weight, but it’s sorry signs so soon after signing a new contract with Leicester. Youngs vacated for Tom Whiteley, whilst Sio made way for Nika Abuladze’s 33rd minute run on. The Chiefs thought they had their third try in the bag after 34 minutes, with stalwart hooker Jack Yeandle thumping the ground in celebration. However, a TMO review this time went against Exeter’s try-scoring efforts, with Yeandle’s score chalked off for double movement so close to the line.

Leicester Head Coach Dan McKellar then withdrew Josh Bassett after just 35 minutes, as he injected Mike Brown’s tempo lifting pace to get the Tigers back in the fight. However, McKellar could well have swapped out another marquee man, following Exeter’s third try. What looked set-up to be a routine run through the Leicester back-line, fly half Handre Pollard sent a woeful miss pass to the deck, and found nothing but turf in an uncharacteristic error.

The Springbok’s mistake was capitalised upon, with Slade fastest to react, gather and run in the ball for the third Chiefs try just before half-time. The centre converted his try, and sent his side off for the break, 21-points to the good.

Dan Cole departed the pitch just six minutes after the break, with Joe Heyes called into action to salvage the scrummaging miss-match. However, the aspiring England prop had a tricky introduction to the match, and gave away a scrum penalty upon his opening set-piece. The up-front dominance continued with Exeter piling on the pressure at scrum time. A 50th minute scrum collapse set the mark for Slade’s attempt at goal, with the sharp-shooting centre extending Exeter’s lead to a resounding 24-0.

A selfless act of self-sacrifice saw Tommy Wyatt stop Leicester from finding a breakthrough. The covering fullback put his body on the line, and was clattered into by Jasper Weise, who hit his top stride in a down-field break. The number eight broke through the tackle, yet was slowed down enough to be caught by the back-peddling Chiefs defenders. Wyatt head looked to have collided with Weise, with the young flyer stepping out of the fray.

Leicester followed up this near miss with a full head of steam, and had Exeter pinned on their try-line in true Devonshire style. The short drives and scrum re-sets lasted for a few moments, before the former Chiefs man Solomone Kata eyed Anthony Watson on the right touchline. Kata sent a looping miss pass out wide to the unopposed Watson, who won’t likely run in an easier try in his career. In an unexpectedly sub-par performance, Pollard missed the following conversion, much to the delight of Sandy Park’s sold out majority.

Stu Townsend sent a picture perfect box kick deep down into Leicester territory, and forced the Tigers to clear their lines from their own try-line. The line-out was a mess, with a battle of attrition taking shape on the Leicester 5m line. Whiteley failed to add enough distance to his box kick, and handed the ball back to the Chiefs in a dangerous attacking space. This high-drama spell came to a close when the Chiefs gave away an unforced penalty at the breakdown, and Pollard sent the subsequent kick to the half way line.

Freddie Steward then crossed over for Leicester, and continued to breath hope into the visitors’ second half ambitions. In similar circumstances to the Tigers’ first try, space opened up out wide after the Leicester forwards peppered the Chiefs try-line with short drives. The play moved out wide, and a looping pass fell into the hands of Freddie Steward, who’s try was awarded despite calls for a forward pass. In another case of repetition, the following conversion was missed. This time, Jamie Shillcock sliced the effort off the tee, as he and Pollard were both without their shooting boots.

The Chiefs were awarded a penalty in the midfield, with Leicester penalised for illegally halting the breakdown. Once again, the Tigers were able to halt the rolling maul, and regained possession following a knock on. Tempers began to flare in the closing moments of the match, with both sides handing some choice shoves in between scrum re-sets. However, despite the on-field tensions, it was a real party atmosphere in the stands, as a resounding Exeter win rounded off Sandy Park’s record breaking day.

The action was closed out by a try for Rusi Tuima, as the replacement lock powered over from close range to lift the roof off Sandy Park. A short drive after a series of relentless Exeter offences, Tuima muscled his way over before Player of the Match Henry Slade sealed the win, with an albeit uncharacteristic missed conversion.


TRIES: 4 (Vermeulen 6′, Penalty Try 10′, Slade 38′, Tuima 80′)

CONVERSIONS: 2 (Slade 6′ 38′)

PENALTIES: 1 (Slade 50′)




15. Tommy Wyatt 14. Rory O’Loughlin 13. Henry Slade 12. Ollie Devoto 11. Ben Hammersley 9. Tom Cairns 1. Scott Sio 2. Jack Yeandle 3. Ehren Painter 4. Dafydd Jenkins 5. Lewis Pearson 6. Ethan Roots 7. Jacques Vermeulen 8. Greg Fisilau

16. Dan Frost 17. Nika Abuladze 18. Josh Iosefa-Scott 19. Rusi Tuima 20. Ross Vincent 21. Stu Townsend 22. Joe Hawkins 23. Zack Wimbush


TRIES: 2 (Watson 57′, Steward 67′)




YELLOW CARDS: 1 (Martin 10′


15. Freddie Steward 14. Anthony Watson 13. Dan Kelly 12. Solomone Kata 11. Josh Bassett 10. Handre Pollard 9. Ben Youngs 1. James Whitcombe 2. Julian Montoya 3. Dan Cole 4. George Martin 5. Harry Wells 6. Ollie Chessum 7. Emeka Ilione 8. Jasper Weise

16. Finn Theobald-Thomas 17. Francois van Wyk 18. Joe Heyes 19. Olly Cracknell 20. Kyle Hatherell 21. Tom Whiteley 22. Jamie Shillcock 23. Mike Brown


Henry Slade of Exeter Chiefs kicks the penalty to win the match and Exeter Chiefs players celebrate the win during the Gallagher Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester Rugby at Sandy Park, Exeter on 19th Nov 2023. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK



Honourable Mention: Exeter Chiefs sell out Sandy Park

In a brilliant sign for Premiership Rugby after a difficult year, Exeter
Chiefs sold every available ticket for the clash against Leicester Tigers.
Every seat was taken, and every stand was packed to the rafters. The capacity
crowd reached a total of 15,000, which set a new attendance record at Sandy

1. Ollie Chessum Moves from Lock to Blindside Flanker

Ollie Chessum of England beats the tackle of Matt Fagerson of Scotland during the Six Nations Championship, Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on February 4th 2023. – PHOTO: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

Despite his prominence packing down the row for both Leicester and Steve Borthwick’s
England team, Ollie Chessum had a run out on the blind-side flank against
Exeter Chiefs. This was Chessum’s first start in the six jersey since this
season, and his latest since Leicester’s Champions Cup win over Clermont back
in January.

Chessum showed strong versatility to adapt in his altered role, and ran out a commendable defensive performance despite the score-line. Borthwick may well have an eye on Chessum’s new role, as he looks to organise his back-row following the international retirement of Courtney Lawes. With so many viable options to populate the six jersey, it’s unlikely to see Chessum start out on the blindside flank. However, there is no understating the importance of adaptability, which the 23-year-old presented in abundance today. 

Speaking on Chessum’s move to the back-row, Leicester Tigers Head Coach Dan McKellar commented in the post match media: 

“Good athlete and he has the ability to play there, you know. Obviously, Hanro (Liebenberg) pulled up really sore after Paris, short turnaround. So Ches got an opportunity there, and he had plenty of that tonight.”

2. Milestone Appearances for Young Tigers talents

With Tommy Reffell vacant from the back-row, Leicester academy graduate
Emeka Ilione made his first Premiership start for the club. Also, Tigers
loose-head prop James Whitcombe received his first start of the 2023/24
Premiership season, and partnered up front with the experienced Dan Cole.

Whitcombe had a tough afternoon up front, as the relentless Exeter pack pulled no punches at scrum time. He found himself on the back-foot at times, as along with Joe Heyes, felt the full strength of the home side’s set-piece. Speaking on Jamie Whitcombe’s performance, Leicester Tigers hooker Julien Montoya gave his insights from both a captain’s and front rower’s perspective. 

“I think that he every week, he trains really hard, if he’s playing, he’s not. We always speak, like whether we are 15 or 23 guys, pulling on the jersey, he’s part of the squad. To be honest, if the team does well the people in to squad do well, as well. And that’s how we feel, about today with him.

“Today, we’ve had boys trying in sense that they train all week, and they feel the same way as everybody. So yeah, I’m happy for him. Big future ahead, the main thing is trying to get better week in week out, and anything I can do to help get better I will. And I know he’s going to do the same for me.”


3. Both Sides Bring back-to-back European Wins to the Premiership

Both Exeter Chiefs and Leicester Tigers entered the match with back-to-back
wins in the Champions Cup, with Exeter recording dramatic wins over Toulon and
Munster to ignite their campaign. Leicester ran out impressive victories
against the Stormers and Stade Francais, with fireworks set to ensue as both
sides returned to the Premiership.

Yet something had to give, with Exeter Chiefs climbing into the top four of the Premiership. This marks the half way point in the Gallagher Premiership season, with the Chiefs fans relishing in a spot in the play offs places to commemorate an early Christmas present. 

Speaking on Exeter’s ability to bring their winning momentum forward from the Champions Cup and into the Premiership, Exeter Chiefs Head Coach Ali Hepher said: 

Exeter Chiefs Head Coach, Ali Hepher during the Gallagher Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester Rugby at Sandy Park, Exeter on 19th Nov 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I don’t think we’ve broken stride really on it too much. It’s obviously a massive block of games. And I don’t think even with the older group, whether we went this long without breaks and stuff.
So for them to come through it in the way they’re doing, is testament to their mentality, and you can’t do it in any other way. As I say, we’ve managed them well, but they’ve taken their opportunities and they’re all good experiences.

“To play in Toulon, play against Munster at home, to then play our Christmas fixture sell out, you know, they can’t practice that.So they’re all experiences that guys are experiencing for the first time and you know, each and every one of them will grow on their journey and in their rugby careers. So we’re pleased with where we’re at, but still got a lot of a lot of work to do.”


4. Henry Slade’s Performance – Building momentum ahead of return to England

With Joe Marchant leaving Harlequins in favour of Stade Francais, a vacancy
has opened up in the England midfield for the 2024 Six Nations. Henry Slade has
been a leading candidate to fill the void, following match winning performances
against the likes of Gloucester, Toulon and Munster in recent weeks. Slade was
a surprise omission from the 2023 Rugby World Cup squad, and has returned to
Chiefs duties with a new found vigour for the 2023/24 season.

Another Player of the Match Performance puts Slade is strong stead for a return to the England team. His key contributions saw him run in a try against the flow of play, and slot key strikes at goal to rack up the impressive first half points tally. Speaking on another un-ignorable performance ahead of a potential England return, Chiefs Head Coach Hepher said:  

Henry Slade of Exeter Chiefs signs autographs for fans during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Exeter Chiefs and Saracens at Sandy Park, Exeter on 14th Oct 2023. Photo: Izzy Ninnis/PPAUK

“He’s Incredibly important, he’s the old head, the old man, but he’s playing young, that’s the main thing. He’s making sure he’s he’s covering the meters, he’s thriving, being in that leadership role, and he’s also, you know, taking extra energy. It’s not him, sort of hanging on to them (younger teammates), he’s setting the standards and you know, his leadership’s great and having that experience out there.

“But defensively can’t underestimate the qualities he brings, because he reads the game so well out there. So he understands this positioning and when to put pressure on. And obviously, he’s come up with a couple of interception stuff over the last few weeks. So he’s incredibly important. And obviously, with with our kicking game, having a left footer, but a smart left footer in the midfield that could offer Harvey (Skinner) a pair of eyes out there is incredibly important.”



5. Solomone Kata Returns to Sandy Park

Exeter Chiefs player Solomone Kata before the Gallagher Premiership rugby game between Leicester Tigers and Exeter Chiefs at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on April 16th- PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

After staring for the Chiefs throughout the 2022/23 season, Kata was amongst
the crop of Exeter players who departed Sandy Park at the end of their last
campaign. The Tonga international soon found a new home at Welford Road, with
the Leicester Tigers faithful delighted with their new signing. Coming into the
match with three post-World Cup Premiership tries, the sold out Sandy Park was
more than familiar with the powerhouses’ talents in attack.

Carrying hard and hitting well in defence, Kata reminded the Chiefs fans of what they missed following his departure. Kata provided the assist to Anthony Watson’s walk in score, and presented his versatility as a bulldozing winger with spells out on the touchline.