Leicester Tigers 45 Exeter Chiefs 15: In-demand Vereniki Goneva sets Tigers on prowl

The Fijian wing has acquired the interest of Castres

welford road

Castres, the reigning French champions, are busily chasing Vereniki Goneva with a view to luring the Fijian wing back across the English Channel. No one seems entirely sure of the state of play – Goneva may or may not have signed a pre-contract, or a memo of understanding, or a declaration of intent – but as things stand, there is no guarantee that the Top 14 club will ultimately fare any better in their pursuit than Exeter’s backs, who trailed  the man from one end of  Welford Road to the other on Sunday in an exercise of purest futility.

Leicester are driven by some serious forces when, international call-ups and injury lists willing, they find a means of fielding a representative side, so it is quite an achievement for one man to look more powerful than everyone else put together, by a factor of 10.

By overshadowing Manu Tuilagi, Tom Youngs, Logovi’i Mulipola, Ed Slater and  Jordan Crane in the way he did over the course of an utterly one-sided Premiership match against upbeat opponents who had not travelled without hope, Goneva produced one of the performances of the campaign to date.

He had a big hand in  Tuilagi’s opening try on eight minutes before making much of the running for Mulipola’s stampede to the line – a rhino-like charge that pretty much did for the England wing Jack Nowell, who found himself in the unenviable position of attempting a head-on tackle and was duly vaporised by the Samoan prop.

Goneva then bagged a score of his own, turning Luke Arscott and Henry Slade to stone with the kind of  footwork last seen at Sadler’s Wells. Not that anyone makes ballet tights in his size.

It was not until the very fag end of the contest, with the Tigers out of sight on the scoreboard and officially back in the hunt for a successful defence of their Premiership title, that the man from Nadi met more resistance than he could handle.

That resistance came from an unexpected quarter: the Exeter outside-half Henry Slade, who showed bravery beyond the call of duty with a try-saving tackle a few metres short of the line. If the youngster was shaken to the very core of his being and he ended the game with a messed-up face, nobody was rushing to question his  commitment to the cause.

Manu Tuilagi shrugs off the tackle of Exeter's Phil Dollman (GETTY) Manu Tuilagi evades Exeter's Phil Dollman to score a try (GETTY) Afterwards, the Leicester rugby director, Richard Cockerill, was pressed on Goneva’s future. “As far as next season is concerned, he’s not under contract to anybody,” said the former England hooker, who signed the South Seas islander from the French second-tier club Tarbes in 2012.

“I think we’re a long way down the line towards sorting it out, but when it comes to recruitment you never say it’s definite until it’s done. Will he be still be with us come September? I’m as confident as I can be. Why? Because while we can’t match the money on offer in France, we can certainly offer good coaching and a top environment. Anyway, all that glitters is not gold. We’re the ones who gave him this opportunity and there has to be some value in playing where you’re happy. And he looked happy enough out there, didn’t he?”

Assuming Fiji do not mess up their qualification by losing to the Cook Islands – or, more likely, find themselves ostracised from the wider rugby community because of the excesses of their  military-led government, which is not above meddling in the country’s sporting life – England will find themselves squaring up to Goneva at their home World Cup in 18 months’ time. On Sunday’s evidence, he may not be the only Leicester player involved in the tournament opener at Twickenham.

Leicester's David Mele scores his second try (GETTY) Leicester's David Mele crosses the line for his second try (GETTY) Ben Youngs, driven out of the red-rose scrum-half berth by Danny Care and currently playing third fiddle behind Lee Dickson, showed clear signs of rediscovering some vintage form after a barren run, while his industrious brother Tom carried the ball with his usual vigour. As for Slater in the engine room… well, he was quite something. Leicester’s new captain is not yet in a position to break up the Joe Launchbury-Courtney Lawes locking partnership at the heart of the national team – truth be told, he is still some way behind the first reserve, Dave Attwood of Bath – but if he improves as dramatically over the next 12 months as he has in the last year, he will make a very strong case for squad selection.

It was Slater, one of life’s more obvious hard nuts, who set the tone in the early stages and Exeter, much less vibrant than they had been in winning the Anglo-Welsh Cup a week previously, had no answer to the physicality generated by the Leicester pack. Despite a mauling try from the hooker Jack Yeandle just shy of the half-hour, the West Countrymen reached the interval 15 points adrift and all but beaten.

Three further tries, the first from the route-one wing Adam Thompstone and the others from the super-smart French half-back David Mélé, rendered Ian Whitten’s late score irrelevant and served notice to the rest of the league that the Tigers are on the prowl. They may even have Tom Croft, their Lions flanker, fit for the run-in. Cockerill had written his most athletic back-rower out of selection for the remainder of the campaign, but the player himself thinks he might be back from long-term injury inside a month. If he is proved correct, the holders will take an awful lot of stopping.

Leicester: Tries Mélé 2, Tuilagi, Mulipola, Goneva, Thompstone; Conversions Williams 2, Flood; Penalties Williams 3. Exeter: Tries Yeandle, Whitten; Conversion Slade; Penalty Slade.

Leicester S Hamilton (M Smith, 68); V Goneva, M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Thompstone; O Williams (T Flood, 58), B Youngs (D Mélé, 65); M Ayerza (B Stankovich, 67), T Youngs (R Hawkins, 62), L Mulipola (F Balmain, 58), L Deacon (G Kitchener, 52), E Slater (capt), J Gibson, J Salvi, J Crane (T Waldrom, 62).

Exeter L Arscott; J Nowell (M Jess, h-t), I Whitten, P Dollman, F Vainikolo (G Steenson, 45); H Slade, D Lewis (H Thomas, 76); B Moon (C Rimmer, 53), J Yeandle (L Cowan-Dickie, 53) , H Tui (A Brown, 53), D Mumm (capt), D Welch (D Armand, 51), D Ewers, B White (T Johnson, 51), K Horstmann.

Referee D Richards (Berkshire).

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment