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Leicester hold off Exeter fightback to climb into top three

Published 06/03/2016

Manu Tuilagi scored his first Premiership try of the season
Manu Tuilagi scored his first Premiership try of the season

Leicester moved up to third place in the Aviva Premiership with a 31-27 win over Exeter in an incident-packed match at Welford Road.

Leicester avenged their 19-6 defeat at Sandy Park by scoring four tries against the second-placed side for a vital bonus point victory.

It put them just five points behind Exeter who earned a losing bonus point with their third try in the final minute, the climax to a fightback from 31-6 down which earned them 21 unanswered points.

Leicester's tries came from Manu Tuilagi - his first in the Premiership this season - Peter Betham, Adam Thompstone and a penalty try, while Dave Lewis, Ian Whitten and Kai Horstmann scored for Exeter in an eventful encounter which also produced three yellow cards.

The Tigers suffered a blow during the warm-up when full-back Mathew Tait pulled out with a groin injury, with Tommy Bell taking his place.

It meant the Tigers made four changes from the side that beat London Irish, with winger Vereniki Goneva, prop Logovi'i Mulipola and centre Betham all returning.

Exeter flanker Julian Salvi returned to his former club for the first time since his summer move and replaced another former Tiger, Thomas Waldrom, in the back row.

Leicester led 17-6 at the interval after a half which started slowly and came to life in the last 10 minutes when the hosts scored two tries in as many minutes.

After consulting the TMO and much deliberation in front of the giant TV screen, referee Matthew Carley awarded Leicester a penalty try in the 31st minute and sent lock Geoff Parling, another former Tiger, to the sin bin.

It came after a line-out and drive which ended with hooker Harry Thacker appearing to get the touchdown under strong pressure from two defenders.

Fly-half Freddie Burns kicked the easy conversion and then added a more difficult one a minute later after centre Tuilagi celebrated his recall to the England squad after injury with his first Premiership try of the campaign.

It came after flanker Tom Croft forced a turnover just inside the Exeter half, and after Goneva's run down the left Leicester moved the ball smartly across the backs and prop Marcos Ayerza put Tuilagi over for a fine score.

Despite being a man down Exeter launched a grandstand finish to the half and their pressure earned them a penalty in the 40th minute.

Fly-half Gareth Steenson, who passed 1,000 Premiership points in last week's win against Bath, slotted it to reduce the arrears to 11 points.

Earlier Steenson had cancelled out Burns' 15th-minute penalty with his opener three minutes later - the only highlights of an opening 30 minutes when Leicester rained down kicks on the Exeter defence, although Tuilagi's big hit on full back Phil Dollman did raise some gasps from the crowd.

Leicester's 17-6 lead became 31-6 within 10 minutes of the restart thanks to a try against the run of play and another from a brilliant line-out move.

Exeter battered Leicester's defence for five minutes, once ignoring an overlap for a certain try, before they lost the ball on the Tigers' 22.

Ed Slater pounced, fed Burns and Betham galloped 65 metres to score with Burns adding the conversion.

And then from a line-out on the Exeter 22, Thacker threw long and flanker Lachlan McCaffrey fed Thompstone who hurtled off his wing to score under the posts. Burns again added the conversion.

Exeter hit back strongly with another period of strong pressure which resulted in a yellow card for Tigers lock Dom Barrow, for pulling down a driving maul, and a disallowed try after the referee spent almost five minutes consulting the TMO and watching replays.

Exeter got their reward in the 58th minute when scrum-half Lewis scored from another driving maul. Steenson kicked the conversion and then converted a try by centre Whitten minutes later when Leicester's defence fell asleep to make it 31-20.

There was more drama in the 64th minute when Exeter winger Matt Jess was yellow carded for an illegal tackle on Burns as both went for a high ball. At the same time Barrow returned for Leicester.

Exeter had the better of the last quarter and got their reward with a third converted try, by Horstmann, in the last minute, but there was not enough time to find another score.

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