Chiefs keep pressure on Wasps
PREMIERSHIP FRIDAY WRAP: Exeter Chiefs kept up the pressure on Premiership leaders Wasps as they produced a 34-15 bonus-point win at Leicester Tigers with a hugely impressive pack performance.
Tries from Kai Horstmann, Stu Townsend, Mitch Lees and a penalty score handed the Chiefs a crucial win as Rob Baxter's side demonstrated a powerful forward showing and disciplined defensive effort to take the five points.
The Chiefs are now a point off table toppers Wasps – who head to Bath on Saturday – while the Tigers' top-four challenge takes a hit.
Meanwhile, Replacement prop Ethan Waller's 80th-minute try earned Northampton Saints a vital bonus-point 32-12 Premiership win over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Leicester Tigers' loss to Exeter Chiefs means that Jim Mallinder's side are now just three points off fifth-place with an East Midlands Derby up next.
Leicester Tigers 15-34 Exeter Chiefs
Leicester started like an express train and took the early initiative as prop Michele Rizzo barged his way over from close range for a try after only three minutes after a series of catch and drives from the Tigers.
Flyhalf Owen Williams was unable to add the extras for the in-form Tigers and his nightmare start to the game got worse just minutes later as his error led to an Exeter score.
After England international Henry Slade missed a sixth minute penalty attempt for the Chiefs, Williams took too long over a defensive clearance and saw his kick from hand charged down by the rampaging Kai Horstmann.
The ball ricocheted perfectly for Horstmann and bounced up for the Exeter forward to collect the ball and dive under the posts; Slade this time was successful with his kick at goal.
Despite dominating territory and possession, Exeter were behind again as a needless lack of discipline allowed Williams the opportunity to kick Leicester back in front with a penalty after 15 minutes.
However, the lead lasted just two minutes as Leicester, whose only defeat in their last seven Premiership home games was to Saracens on New Year's Day, failed to deal with the restart, allowing Slade the chance to slot a penalty and put Exeter 10-8 back in front.
Leicester's evening took a turn for the worse just past the 20-minute mark as they conceded a penalty try after a period of Exeter pressure, the Chiefs' tenth of the season so far, with Tigers' skipper Tom Youngs receiving a yellow card in the process – Slade once again added the extras.
Leicester Tigers had won their last three Premiership fixtures, but had not won four in a row in the tournament for two years – and the departure of Youngs left the Midlands club with a mountain to climb against the Chiefs.
And Stu Townsend scored Exeter's next try after 32 minutes; the visitors went out wide and the Chiefs, who are unbeaten in their last nine Premiership matches since Bath defeated them at Sandy Park in October, took advantage in the corner, with Slade again adding the extras to make the score 24-8.
The Tigers were now in disarray and they conceded yet more points before the break as a needless penalty in front of the posts handed Slade the opportunity to extend his side's advantage further off the kicking tee.
The next try was always going to be crucial and it was Leicester who got it, just six minutes after the break as Maxime Mermoz scored for the Tigers, with Williams closing the gap even further with his successful conversion.
The score suddenly changed the balance of play and Leicester found themselves camped in the Exeter 22 for the next ten minutes but despite the sin-binning of former England international Geoff Parling; the Chiefs held firm under intense pressure.
And the visitors scored their fourth try of the evening after 57 minutes, Mitch Lees rumbled over from close range, with Slade stretching the Chiefs lead to 34-15.
Tries: Rizzo, Mermoz
Tries: Horstmann, Townsend, Penalty Try, Lees
Cons: Slade 4
Pens: Slade 2
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Jono Kitto, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Dom Barrow, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Greg Bateman, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Peter Betham.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 James Short, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Stuart Townsend, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Kai Horstmann, 6 Don Armand (captain), 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Carl Rimmer.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Sam Hill.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Anthony Woodthorpe
TMO: Graham Hughes
Sale Sharks 12-32 Northampton Saints
After nearly half an hour without a score, Ken Pisi got the game's first try following some fine Harry Mallinder handling, with Michael Paterson adding a try soon after.
Josh Charnley got his first Premiership try since a move from Wigan Warriors RL before the break, but a Stephen Myler score just before the break and then Mikey Haywood's score knocked the stuffing out of Sale.
Bryn Evans crossed as Sale attempted to mount a comeback, but it was Mallinder's side who claimed an important win at the AJ Bell Stadium, made all the sweeter when replacement prop Ethan Waller raced over with time up on the clock.
Youngster Mallinder provided the touch of class to unlock Sale's previously solid defence, dropping Pisi into space and giving the Samoan international a simple run in for the game’s first try with nearly half an hour gone.
Saints had their tails up and had their second within six minutes, this time Mike Haley was forced over his tryline by a fine Northampton kick chase.
A powerful Saints effort from the resultant scrum then gave Paterson the chance to barrel over from close range, with Myler knocking over the conversion to put the visitors 12 points to the good.
And though former Wigan Warriors wing Charnley raced over for his first Premiership try thanks to a well-judged Mike Haley grubber kick, Myler mitigated the damage to Saints' lead with a further penalty before the turn, leaving Saints 15-7 ahead.
Sharks hampered themselves by gifting Saints a chance to set up a five-metre line-out with a touch-finder deep into Sale territory.
And as the pressure mounted Haywood struck from a driving maul, steering the well-set squeeze, with Myler's conversion taking Saints 22-5 in front.
Flyhalf Myler then extended that advantage six minutes later from the tee as Northampton, but with Diamond adding Tom Curry from the bench, Sale started to pull themselves back into the game.
It was lock Evans who got over following a period of sustained Sharks pressure, though James' missed conversion kept the scores at 25-12.
And though it was Sale who looked more likely to score as the game wore on, Saints got what could be a critical bonus point through prop Waller who, on for brother Alex, raced in following a brilliant Northampton attack.
Tries: Charnley, Evans
Tries: Pisi, Paterson 2, E Waller
Cons: Myler 3
Pens: Myler 2
Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Josh Charnley, 10 Sam James, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Josh Beaumont (captain), 7 Magnus Lund, 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Jonathan Mills, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Tom Curry, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 George Nott, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Byron McGuigan.
Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Nafi Tuitavake, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 Ben Foden (captain), 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 James Craig, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Sam Dickinson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Juan Pablo Estelles, 23 James Wilson.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales, Andrew Jackson
TMO: Keith Lewis