Leicester 34-19 Exeter: Five-try Tigers shock high-flying Chiefs on opening weekend of Premiership season
Ellis Genge warned that Leicester are only just getting started after his first game as club captain brought Tigers’ best league win in years.
England’s biggest club responded to the return of fans to Welford Road by shocking Exeter with a five-try beating.
Roared on by a 17,333 crowd, Genge made sure his players kept their end of the bargain by bossing opponents who were twice champions in the past five seasons.
He then declared: “We have to iron out a few creases, we have to eradicate the mistakes if we are serious about getting better.
“But we know we can play so much better, this side has amazing growth if we can stop making silly mistakes. We can be a very good side.”
This was the Leicester the rest of the league feared in Steve Borthwick’s second full season, every bit as abrasive as they were towards the end of last term but smarter with it.
Exeter had won the last seven meetings between the clubs dating back to 2017 and had reached the last six Premiership finals.
Yet they were swatted aside by Tigers who didn’t just turn the tables on Chiefs but gave them a good hiding.
George Ford, returning to action after being given the summer off by England, set the tone.
He worked Chiefs’ defence every which way with the variety of his game and ability to pick the right pass and each hole he made his team mates were on hand to pour through.
“George to me controlled that game for large parts of it,” said Tigers boss Borthwick. “It was great to see him back fit and performing well as that.”
This was Tigers as we have not seen them since their best years, matching brawn with brain in equal measure.
There was team work of the highest order in Freddie Steward’s early try, magic from Nemani Nadolo and Ben Youngs in their contribution to Harry Potter’s score.
Power and cohesion from the forwards to drive Nic Dolly twice from lineouts after Steward had set up a third for Matt Scott.
And an overall maturity to stay patient and work opportunities rather than force them.
Ford was central to all of that and Borthwick has no doubt he has benefited from time away from the game.
“You can see by the way he played, the sharpness he had in his game,” he said. “He controlled that game brilliantly. I watch him on the training field and he is sharp. I think he is only going to get better and better.”
If Saracens’ win at Bristol on Friday night was a statement of intent, you’d have to put this from Leicester under the same heading.
They might not yet be ready to shout about it from the rooftops but four years after their last play-off appearance Tigers look equipped to mount a top-four campaign.
LEICESTER – Tries: Steward, Potter, Scott. Dolly 2. Cons: Ford 3. Pen: Ford.
EXETER – Tries: Armand, penalty, Hidalgo-Clyne. Con: Skinner.