Leicester edge out Exeter
March 23, 2013
Tigers turn up the heat on Premiership leaders%]
Leicester climbed to second in the Aviva Premiership with a narrow 12-9 victory over Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park on Saturday night.
Four penalties from Toby Flood steered the Tigers to second place, at least for 24 hours, as they moved to within a point of leaders Saracens with victory in a tryless contest. The Chiefs had to settle for a losing bonus point, after Gareth Steenson had kicked three first half penalties, as they remain in eighth place - but crucially 12 points outside the top four.
After a two-week break from Premiership action for the Six Nations, Exeter went into this game in front of a sell-out crowd at Sandy Park on the back of victories over London Welsh and reigning champions Harlequins. Head coach Rob Baxter had set his side the target of building on their two successes in a bid to continue their play-off aspirations, as well as achieving a second season of Heineken Cup rugby.
The home side were forced to make two late changes with flanker James Scaysbrook, whose wife gave birth earlier in the day, and centre Sireli Naqelevuki missing out due to a knee injury. Jason Shoemark and Dave Ewers came in. Leicester, who beat the Chiefs 30-8 at Welford Road in September, had England internationals Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Toby Flood and Manu Tuilagi in their starting line-up.
Flood led the Tigers for the first time in the absence of both Geordan Murphy and Louis Deacon while Leicester's director of rugby Richard Cockerill included Italy's skipper Martin Castrogiovanni in the squad as front row cover.
The sides were evenly matched in the opening minutes but it was Exeter who got the first points on the board after 10 minutes through a 30 metre penalty from fly-half Steenson. But after a period of sustained pressure the visitors were back on level terms, just before the midway point of the half, as Flood landed a simple 15-metre penalty after the Chiefs had strayed offside.
The Exeter scrum were outmuscled in the front row and conceded three penalties with Flood slotting the third through the uprights. The home side hit back immediately with Steenson's second after lock Dean Mumm was taken out at the line-out.
Flood's third penalty, from 38 metres in front of the posts, nudged the Tigers back into the lead to set up a crucial final 10 minutes of the half - but neither side had been able to make any real progress when in the opposition 22.
Leicester looked set to score the opening try in the final minutes of the half as Ben Youngs passed outside to Matthew Tait - but, with a three overlap, the full-back took the wrong option and was tackled short of the line by wing Jack Nowell. Shoemark was able to clear upfield which led, after a Tait knock-on and wing Niall Morris offside, to Steenson landing his third penalty of the half from close to the left touchline and level the scores at 9-9.
The ESPN panel analyse the Tigers' victory over the Chiefs%]
Both sides upped the pace at the start of the second half and with 25 minutes remaining both clubs brought on reinforcements as legs began to tire. The introduction of Castrogiovanni did little to strengthen the Tigers' efforts as the Italian international was troubled by Chiefs Carl Rimmer and was pinged for standing-up.
Then, after a short break from Flood, Castrogiovanni was penalised on the Chiefs 22 for crossing. The physios were kept busy with running repairs to both sets of players as the Devon mist closed in. Flood took advantage of the wind at his back and landed a 35-metre penalty to put Leicester back in to the lead with 10 minutes remaining.
The home side won a penalty in the final minute when Castrogiovanni was penalised for collapsing the scrum - but Steenson's attempt from the left touchline fell just short of the target.
Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill admitted his side may have been a little lucky to escape with the win. "A 12-all draw would probably have been a fair result to be fair to Exeter - but this is a tough place to come," he said. "We worked very hard and we had to integrate players back into the side after international duty.
"From my own experience, when you have a poor experience with the national side you want to come back to your club and get straight back into it. That is probably what you need rather than having the rest. The key thing here is that your bread and butter is at Leicester because whatever happens on Test duty - hopefully it's good things - at some point that will end and you go back to your club."
Cockerill explained: "The importance from our point of view is Leicester and all the Test boys wanted to play in this game. "It's always going to be hard without eight of your players which is the fulcrum of your side. I'm delighted with this win, the attitude was great. We could have done things better at times but that is life and you take the points. We had a bit of luck but we earned that probably against a good side."
Exeter head coach Rob Baxter acknowledged his side's tactical choices may have cost them. "We had a kickable shot at goal when it was 9-9 but we turned it down and tapped and then we tapped again instead of clearing our lines with a kick," he said.
"This gave them a piece of pressure that led to their winning penalty. You look at two moments like that and you can pull your hair out thinking about what we are playing at. We do encourage the guys to go for it and make decisions but there were a couple of bad ones today.
"When we play the top Premiership sides, when they are coming full on with their internationals back in, you have to make sure that you are in the fight for the full 80 minutes. That part of it was fantastic for us but what we have to add to it is, along with all that physical endeavour, those couple of moments of clarity that decide a 12-9 game."
Leicester's Toby Flood slots one of his four successful penalties at Sandy Park © Getty Images
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