Leicester Tigers 22-31 Exeter: Chiefs earn bonus-point win to move top of Premiership
|Leicester (22) 22|
|Tries: May 2, Taufua Cons: Ford 2 Pen: Ford|
|Exeter (14) 31|
|Tries: Kirsten, Armand 2, J Hill Cons: Steenson 4 Pen: Steenson|
Exeter recovered from 19-7 down to beat Leicester with a bonus point at Welford Road and move top of the Premiership.
The Chiefs led via Jannes Kirsten's try but Tigers hit back with three quick-fire scores, Jonny May grabbing a brace either side of Jordan Taufua's effort.
Don Armand crossed to reduce the deficit and the flanker's second on the hour turned the tide Exeter's way.
Jonny Hill galloped over for the fourth try and the Tigers were left without even the consolation of a bonus point.
They remain in trouble in 11th place, with only Saracens - who reduced their deficit to 17 points by battering Bristol - keeping them off the bottom.
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But having failed to manage more than a single try in any of their five previous Premiership matches, there were positive signs in this Leicester display.
They started brightly but when the Chiefs earned a turnover penalty just inside the hosts' half and Henry Slade kicked it to touch, there was an inevitability about what followed.
Lock Kirsten forced his way over after a series of close-range drives, Gareth Steenson adding the first of five successful kicks from five attempts.
But far from retreat into their shells, Leicester - with their full complement of six England World Cup players back in harness - hit back in style, scoring three tries in a blistering 13-minute spell before the end of the first quarter.
First May raced in after Telusa Veainu's pace exposed the Chiefs out wide and Adam Thompstone's basketball pass inside gave the England wing an easy finish.
Six minutes later the alert George Ford sent an inviting cross-kick out to Taufua on the right flank, and the former Crusader bumped off Stuart Hogg's attempted tackle to steam over.
Welford Road was in raptures when May scored his second with a remarkable finish, bouncing through three tacklers and pirouetting off the ground to stretch and dot down right on the line.
Ford couldn't add a third conversion from the touchline, but a 19-7 lead was handsome reward for a stunning spell of Leicester attacking.
Exeter responded with a close-range try from Armand - despite Ellis Genge getting his arms under the ball - that Steenson improved but Ford's penalty gave the hosts an eight-point interval lead.
But the Tigers failed to add to their tally in the second half.
Steenson landed a penalty to make it 22-17 and two tries in four minutes just after the hour wrestled the initiative Exeter's way.
Hogg's counter-attack and Elvis Taione's powerful burst set the platform for Armand to stretch over from close range, before swift handling put lock Hill over in the right corner.
The only downside for Exeter was seeing England centre Slade forced off before half-time after "rolling his ankle", which will require a scan.
But there was ample evidence here of a strength in depth that suggests a fifth successive Premiership final is firmly within their sights.
Leicester head coach Geordan Murphy told BBC Radio Leicester:
"It's incredibly frustrating. At the start of the game we gave them an opportunity to come near our line and they're very clinical from close in.
"I was impressed with how we played for the rest of the half, we scored some good tries, we got control and we got in at half-time in a good place.
"Discipline wasn't where it needed to be at the start of the second half and we allowed Exeter back into our territory and from there they always make it tough."
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter told BBC Radio Devon:
"It's great credit to the players and the coaching staff to how hard we're working to get a great five points.
"I thought it was a good performance from Leicester in the first 30 minutes and to absorb that pressure and not buckle took a lot of character.
"Their big players were standing up and it felt like the day they were going to pull it all together but we managed to stand firm and come over the top of that."
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Leicester: Veainu; Thompstone, Tuilagi, Reid, May; Ford, Youngs; Genge, Youngs (capt), Cole, Lavanini, Spencer, Green, Taufua, Kalamafoni.
Replacements: Polota-Nau (for T Youngs, 63), Gigena (for Genge, 72), Leatigaga (for Cole, 72), Wells (for Spencer, 40), Reffell (for Taufua, 66), White (for B Youngs, 72), Hardwick (for Reid, 72), Worth
Exeter: Hogg; Woodburn, Slade (capt), Devoto, Whitten; Steenson, Maunder; Moon, Taione, Williams, Kirsten, J Hill, Armand, Vermeulen, Kvesic.
Replacements: Cooper (for Taione, 63), Keast (for Moon, 41-49), Pieretto, Dennis (for Kirsten, 55), Lonsdale (for J Hill, 68), Townsend (for Maunder, 63), S Hill (for Slade, 33), Hendrickson