Exeter vs Leicester Tigers: Phil Blake gives Tigers new bite – and Freddie Burns is loving it

Exeter 20 Leicester 24

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The Independent Online

The biggest test of two new philosophies at Leicester will come this weekend in a top-of-the-table Premiership trip to Bath.

The Tigers’ highest profile summer recruit, the England fly-half Freddie Burns, is the most obvious change made by the perennial title contenders after they missed out on the play-off final last May for the first time in 11 years. Behind the scenes, defence coach Phil Blake is another arrival whose hard work on tweaking Tigers’ systems was evident in the way they ground down Exeter Chiefs in Saturday’s 24-20 win at Sandy Park.

Burns was happily described as “maverick” even by his half-back partner Ben Youngs, while Leicester coach Richard Cockerill also made it clear he would swallow the occasional overplaying of Burns’ hands.

But Burns also claimed to have moderated his attacking game in the way he made Tigers’ first-half try for Anthony Allen with a deft kick behind the Exeter cover, before Youngs’ crucial score midway through the second half. “In the past I would probably have gone over the top for myself and taken stick for that from the boys,” Burns said, “so instead I put the kick through for Tone.”


Burns also wants to banish memories of a disappointing last season for Gloucester before his move, with an England place at stake this coming autumn. “A couple of years ago when I was playing real well it was all about that variety, and the opposition struggling to guess what you’re doing. I wanted to bring that back this year and I’m really loving my rugby at Tigers.”

Blake made a considerable name playing and coaching rugby league in his native Australia, and one feature of Leicester’s win was committing numbers to the post-tackle breakdown – an area where Bath too will compete ferociously. “Phil has come in with new ideas and we’ve got big, physical mutes to be honest, so we might as well use them,” said Youngs.