Tigers secured a second consecutive bonus point victory defeating Exeter 45-15 at Welford Road. Tigers crossed the whitewash 6 times showing terrific power, pace and execution. Vereniki Goneva was to the fore again, and afterwards Richard Cockerill hinted that his move away this summer might not be a lost caused just yet.
To go with that potential fillip the fans received a huge boost as Tom Croft played a full part in the game’s warm up. It had been said he would act as water boy in this match but to take contact in the warm up is a huge boost. Clermont may be too soon but the Premiership play offs surely beckon.
Tigers were in fine form without Croft though as Manu Tuilagi and Anthony Allen re-united what is Tigers most selected centre partnership in League history; the pair last lined up together in May’s Twickenham Final.
Tigers played into the wind in the opening period and used the conditions to great effect. The wind held up Ben Youngs’s box kicks and Owen Williams’s garryowens allowing Tigers chase to put the Exeter catchers under great pressure. Tigers’ forwards played well, breaking tackles in attack and driving them back in defence; Ed Slater really sets the tone with this side; his raw energy and passion drives the side forward.
Exeter opened the scoring with a penalty after Tigers had made the early play. Referee Dean Richards had an odd, old fashioned, interpretation of the maul that took Tigers some time to understand.
It was Tuilagi though who crossed the whitewash first as Tigers gained the lead they would never relinquish. Jamie Gibson blocked Exeter’s attempted clearance to gain the turnover in the attacking half; Ben Youngs quickly freed Tuilagi who brushed off Jack Nowell’s attempts at a tackle. Turning it back inside Tuilagi secured possession before Tigers went right though Crane. Ben Youngs was quick to the breakdown and found Allen running tight to ruck; he drew in two Exeter defenders before off loading to Goneva. The Flying Fijian committed the last man to give Tuilagi the easiest of run ins for his first try of the season.
Owen Williams’s conversion was good but the touch judges bafflingly missed it.
Tigers were straight back onto the attack with Hamilton and Tuilagi making impressions up the right hand side. Tigers were attempting to get outside Exeter’s rush defence with mixed results when Williams found Goneva running a deep outside arc.
The Fijian magician was through the hole and, carrying the ball in one hand, committed three men before bringing a bullocking Mulipola back on a switch towards the posts.
Jack Nowell had no chance to stop the 20 stone of prime Samoan beef as he strode through the Cornishman’s tackle to score under the posts.
Williams had no problem with the conversion, and this time the touch judges agreed.
A deliberate knock on, no yellow this week, gave Williams a chance for the penalty. The Welshman missed by the slimmest of margins as the ball drifted to strike the left hand upright. It mattered not though as Tigers claimed the bouncing ball and earned Williams a quick chance at redemption. Second time around he was perfect.
Exeter responded well; though Ben White was lucky to gain the penalty for Crane holding on the floor rather than give one away for failing to release a tackled man. From that decision Exeter scored from a driving maul. Tigers looked to have stopped it twice, but Richards’s old fashioned interpretation gave Exeter another go that let hooker Jack Yeandle take advantage.
As with the first try Tigers struck back immediately. Regaining the momentum is a crucial part of the game and always makes the game feel more comfortable.
Jordan Crane made a powerful surge through the middle, offloading to Julian Salvi for the crucial extra yards. With quick ball Ben Youngs showed to go right before turning back left. Exeter's defence was at sixes and sevens, Goneva came onto the ball at pace. Slaloming through the would be tacklers he beat 4 men to go under the posts after receiving the ball 30 yards out.
The new big screen showed the moves and the crowd was wowed by the Fijian’s footwork.
Its next use saw Exeter Captain Dean Mumm get a yellow card; his high tackle on Owen Williams received the expected outrage from the Tigers faithful. Whilst Mumm was missing Tigers piled on the pressure. With another advantage Vereniki Goneva scored again as he powered through Exeter’s defence from Ben Youngs’s pop pass. But referee Richards was not happy. Eskewing the TMO he ruled it out for a tight forward pass.
Williams slotted the penalty for a half time score of 25-10.
Some good old fashioned scrum power saw Williams get another chance early in the second half; Tigers were patient when looking for the bonus point and the Welshman put Tigers 18 points clear.
The bonus point was secured just 6 minutes later. Owen Williams cleared a penalty from one 22 to the other to set up the line out. Jordan Crane claimed cleanly at the tail before Anthony Allen was freed into the midfield straight away.
Quick ball and Owen Williams had it again, Tuilagi used as a dummy to draw the men in, allowing Scott Hamilton to roam in the open spaces. Hamilton feeds Thompstone straightening for the final flourish. Bonus Point secured the intensity drops as Tigers use 7 of their 8 subs in the next 10 minutes.
Ed Slater forced a 5m lineout with a charge down of Henry Slade’s desperate clearance. Good pressure from Tigers in the lineout forced the knock on and Tigers scrum. A big push on the loosehead side from the freshly introduced Boris Stankovich gave David Mele the short side and the Frenchman gladly took the ball with the line begging.
Ten minutes later and it was Mele snipping again for the try. A quick tap from Mele saw Waldrom just short but with quick possession the Catalan half back could weave his way through the defence for the try, with only a hint of a fumble on the grounding.
Mele’s third try of the season eclipses his total in 130 games over 7 seasons of rugby with Perpignan.
A third try bonus point win of the Premiership season in the only three games that Manu Tuilagi has started are a testament to the man’s influence on our play. Away trips to Northampton and Clermont are next to come. If Tigers can play like this in those two fixtures then who knows what this season, so blighted by injuries, might still yield?