Manu Tuilagi scored his first Premiership try in two years as Leicester overcame Exeter 31-27 on Sunday
A penalty try combined with a Manu Tuilagi score gave the Tigers a 17-6 lead at the break
Tries from Peter Betham and Adam Thompstone in the second half secured the bonus-point for the hosts
Scores from Dave Lewis, Peter Whitten and Kai Horstmann ensured Chiefs didn’t leave empty handed
Manu Tuilagi made a statement of intent to England head coach Eddie Jones as he scored his first Aviva Premiership try in two years as Leicester withstood an Exeter Chiefs’ comeback to secure a bonus-point victory at Welford Road.
The 24-year-old looked particularly sharp and certainly appeared ready to play international rugby, but it will be probably just as tempting to the England chief to just let him play his club rugby in the Aviva Premiership as Leicester continue to consolidate their place in the top four.
Meanwhile, Rob Baxter’s Cheif’s missed out on the chance to go top of the table after Saracens lost at home to Saints yesterday but still occupy second, just three points behind the league-leaders, after picking up a fifth losing bonus-point of the season late in the day.
The opening 40 took a while to get going, but Leicester eventually took control and held a deserved 17-6 lead at the break after making use of Geoff Parling’s sin-binning.
Leicester touched down twice more in the second period via Peter Betham and Adam Thompstone, but the Chiefs remained in the contest through Dave Lewis and Ian Whitten tries.
Exeter did not do enough in the closing stages to put themselves in a position to claim the win, but they managed to garner a losing bonus-point when Kai Horstmann barged over in overtime.
Freddie Burns and Gareth Steenson traded penalties in a tense opening 20 minutes with nothing separating the two sides.
Tigers Harry Thacker then looked to have touched down from the back of the driving maul, and although the TMO ruled the hooker was short, Tigers did have their try after it was ruled Geoff Parling came from an offside position to halt the momentum.
The referee awarded a penalty try and showed the former Tigers man a yellow card with Burns slotting the extras confidently to give the hosts a 10-3 lead with 30 minutes gone.
There was then a far greater sense of urgency about Leicester’s play as they sought to take advantage of their numerical supremacy and the only had to wait three minutes for try number two in spectacular fashion.
After the grunt of the forwards, the score was all about a team effort with excellent hands from the backs ending with England hopeful Tuilagi strolling into dive over for his first Premiership try in two years.
Burns then made it three from three with the conversion before Steenson, as reliable as ever, reduced the deficit with a penalty on the brink of half-time, 17-6.
Exeter piled on the pressure inside the Leicester 22 after the restart but they spilled possession and the Tigers passed it to Australian speedster Betham, who sprinted 70m down the line unopposed to dive over for try number three for the hosts after 46 minutes. Burns then continued his perfect afternoon from the tee to give Leicester an 18-point lead.
Three minutes later Tigers wrapped up the bonus-point as Adam Thompstone raced under the posts following a stunning set-piece. Burns then added another couple from the conversion, 31-6.
Dominic Barrow was then sent to the bin for the hosts after Exeter launched several driving mauls towards their try-line. With the man advantage, the Chiefs opened their try-scoring with scrum-half Dave Lewis dotting down after 57 minutes. Steenson then added the conversion to reduce the deficit back to 18-points.
The Chiefs then took just two minutes to add their second score as centre Whitten hit an excellent line in the middle of the park to carve open the Leicester defence to score. Another couple from Steenson means it was only an 11 points difference with a quarter of the game to play, 31-20.
Exeter sensed an opportunity to produce a remarkable comeback but Matt Jess’ sin-binning for taking out Burns in the air effectively ended their chances.
Nevertheless, the away team did manage a losing bonus-point in the final minute when Horstmann burrowed his way across the whitewash.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Leicester: Manu Tuilagi
Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Peter Betham, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Vereniki, Goneva, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Jono Kitto, 8 Ed Slater (c), 7 Lachlan McCaffrey, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Dom Barrow, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Riccardo Brugnara, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Mike Williams, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Telusa Veainu
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Don Armand, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Ollie Atkins, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Moray Low
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Max Bodilly
Date: Sunday, March 6
Venue: Welford Road
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Andrew Jackson, Paul Dix
TMO: Graham Hughes