Chris Ashton becomes first player to score 100 Premiership tries in Tigers rout
Leicester wing Chris Ashton scored a hat-trick en route to becoming the first player to record 100 Premiership tries as Exeter’s play-off hopes evaporated on an afternoon of high drama at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
Exeter were making a decent fist of trying to end their worst-ever away run in the Premiership until their wing Olly Woodburn was harshly red-carded just after half-time.
Leicester were leading 22-12 at that point but they took full advantage of the dismissal to storm their way to an emphatic 62-19 victory – their sixth consecutive league win.
As well as hat-trick hero Ashton, Matt Scott scored two tries for Tigers with Dan Kelly, Jack van Poortvliet and George Martin also touching down. There was also a contentious penalty try award with Handre Pollard kicking a penalty and four conversions. Jimmy Gopperth added two conversions.
Sam Simmonds, Stuart Hogg and Rus Tuima scored Exeter’s tries with Joe Simmonds and Harvey Skinner each slotting over a conversion.
Leicester were forced into an early change when prop James Cronin left the field in discomfort to be replaced by Tom West.
However, they immediately overcame that setback to take the lead as Pollard made a clean break from halfway before chipping ahead for Kelly to collect and score.
It was then Exeter’s turn to suffer an injury blow when centre Solomone Kata hobbled off to be replaced by Rory O’Loughlin.
Exeter’s miserable start continued when they conceded a second try. From a ruck on their 22 an alert Van Poortvliet saw space on the blindside to feed Ashton, who kicked ahead for his team-mate to regain possession and score.
Exeter needed a swift response and got one thanks to a solo effort from Sam Simmonds. The number eight ran a superb line to collect a pass from scrum-half Will Becconsall before evading three defenders to crash over.
The score enabled Simmonds to equal Neil Back’s record of 59 tries for a Premiership forward and it was the catalyst for the Chiefs to dominate the early stages of the second quarter.
However, they could not capitalise and it was Leicester who struck next when Pollard kicked a simple penalty after Woodburn had been yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on.
Pollard was also responsible for the next score, albeit unintentionally, when his ill-judged cross-field kick was intercepted by Exeter centre Sean O’Brien ahead of intended target Anthony Watson.
O’Brien was supported by Becconsall and Sam Simmonds to give Hogg a simple run-in.
Exeter soon suffered another blow, though, when O’Loughlin became the second Chiefs player to be carded for a deliberate knock-on and Tigers took immediate advantage, Ashton collecting Watson’s kick for his 99th Premiership try and leaving his side with a 22-12 half-time lead.
Within three minutes of the restart, Leicester were awarded a controversial penalty try and with it picked up their bonus point.
A superb burst from Jacob Wiese looked to have led to the history-making 100th try for Ashton but TMO replays showed that Woodburn had dived on top of the grounded Tigers wing after he had been tackled by Hogg.
The referee ruled Ashton’s foot had been in touch so, rather than an historic score for the former England international, a penalty try was harshly given for Woodburn’s offence, with the Chiefs wing subsequently sent off for a second yellow card.
However, Ashton was not to be denied as moments later he achieved his century before Ben Youngs appeared from the bench to become the 37th player to reach 300 appearances for the club.
Chiefs were completely shellshocked so it came as no surprise when Martin and Scott added further tries for the hosts before Ashton completed his hat-trick to take Tigers past 50 points.
There was still time for Scott to score his second try and Leicester’s ninth before Tuima ended proceedings with a consolation for Exeter, who suffered a seventh successive away defeat in the Premiership.