Exeter Chiefs vs. Leicester Tigers match report: Freddie Burns quick to find his feet and edge Tigers home

Exeter Chiefs 20 Leicester Tigers 22: Bold new signing sparkles at No 10 and hints at a flourishing partnership with Ben Youngs

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Leicester went joint top of the Premiership, behind Saracens and Bath on points difference, with their stand-in captain, the England scrum-half Ben Youngs, contributing a crucial try in the second half of a tight contest as he continues to forge a promising club partnership with Freddie Burns.

Youngs promised a “big game” for Burns next week when Leicester meet Bath at The Rec. “Freddie would be the first to put his hand up and say the only thing with him is to perform consistently,” said Youngs. “The frustrating point at half-time was we felt were only one or two phases from a try. The second half, we played more tactical. We all know it wouldn’t be Freddie Burns unless he had his maverick moments but what he’s doing is tremendous in terms of controlling games. He’s been faultless two games in a row now, there’s a big game for him next week against [fly-half rival] George Ford, and I’m sure he’s looking forward to that.”

As for ambitious Exeter, their stadium has a new 12,600 capacity at the cost of £10m that will accommodate pool matches involving Italy, Romania, Namibia, Georgia and Tonga at next year’s World Cup. Much more parochial concerns were at stake yesterday: chiefly the Chiefs’ skimpy record of only four wins in 11 Premiership home matches last season. That record worsened, in tandem with a fifth straight league loss to Leicester, because despite the Chiefs leading 17-13 at half-time thanks to tries by Dave Ewers and Haydn Thomas in the 11th and 32nd minutes respectively, their set-piece cohesion faded to allow Leicester to move in front with Burns’s third penalty straight after the resumption, and Youngs’ try on 57 minutes.

 

Although Steenson’s penalty nine minutes from time set up an enticing conclusion, Leicester’s substitute half-backs David Mele and Owen Williams saw the match out, with Williams  kicking a penalty for offside, after Ewers was shown a yellow card for desperately pulling down a Leicester maul.

Exeter’s coach Rob Baxter bemoaned a couple of “soft penalties” – one for encroaching in a kick-chase in the last play of the first half was particularly dumb – while Leicester profited from committing numbers to the post-tackle breakdown. Burns, settling now at Leicester after a summer touring New Zealand with England and transferring clubs from Gloucester, had his right shoulder rattled in a first-minute tackle but recovered to make a try for Anthony Allen after 25 minutes with a sumptuous dab of the boot.

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Leicester Tigers' Director of Rugby Richard Cokerill looks on

All the tries came more or less direct from a set-piece. Ewers scored while Leicester were down to 14 men, with Niki Goneva having been sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Thomas. Both teams were reduced, anyway, by sundry absentees – the respective captains Dean Mumm and Ed Slater are injured, and Leicester’s Tom Croft was given one more week’s rest – although Exeter’s England wing Jack Nowell is due an A-league comeback tomorrow.

Steenson half-broke a tackle by Burns in the preamble to Ewers piledriving through three or four would-be Leicester tacklers, and the second home try came from a line-out. Sam Hill, one of the many tormentors of London Welsh in Exeter’s 52-0 win last week, hit a great line off the tail, and Thomas pirouetted past  the Tigers’ tight-head prop, Fraser Balmain.

Steenson converted both tries and kicked a penalty after 39 minutes but Burns had converted Allen’s try and if Leicester had finished two counter-attacks when Burns and Tuilagi almost outflanked Exeter, the balance of power might have tilted earlier. Eventually Leicester nosed ahead when Youngs was driven over by his substitute hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, past Exeter’s former Tigers No 8 Thomas Waldrom, after Burns’ excellent positional kick to the corner led to a line-out steal by Graham Kitchener.

Line-ups:

Exeter Chiefs: C Botha; M Jess, H Slade, S Hill, I Whitten; G Steenson, H Thomas (W Chudley, 52); C Rimmer (B Moon, 52), J Yeandle (capt), T Francis (M Low, 54), M Lees (D Welch, 52), R Caldwell, D Ewers, B White (K Horstmann, 72), T Waldrom.

Leicester Tigers: M Tait; N Morris, M Tuilagi, A Allen, N Goneva; F Burns (O Williams, 74), B Youngs (capt, D Mele, 72); L Mulipola, T Youngs (L Ghiraldini, 56), F Balmain (R Burgnara, 74), G Kitchener (S de Chaves, 68), G Parling, J Gibson, J Salvi, R Barbieri (J Crane, 52).

Referee: JP Doyle (London).

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