Chris Ashton was hailed as the “best try-scorer that Europe has ever seen” after becoming the first player to reach 100 tries in the Premiership.
Ashton took his tally in the competition to 101 with a hat-trick in Leicester’s 62-19 hammering of 14-man Exeter as the Chiefs’ hopes of securing a play-off spot were blown away in an action-packed game at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
The 36-year-old winger has been a prolific scorer for a host of clubs in England and France since starting his career in rugby league with Wigan and Leicester head coach Richard Wigglesworth believes the ability he possesses is unrivalled.
Wigglesworth said of the former England international: “I’m delighted for him as he is the best try-scorer that Europe and the Premiership has ever seen.”
Ashton was thrilled to write his name into the history books but admitted he does not expect his tally to be untouchable.
The 36-year-old, who counts the likes of Northampton, Saracens, Toulon and Sale among his old sides, said: “I’m playing in a great team and the boys were right behind me today as they wanted me to get the record.
“I am the first to reach the milestone of a hundred tries and I will be remembered for that although I’m sure many people will go past it.
“When I was a kid I looked up to the try-scoring exploits of Shaun Edwards and Martin Offiah and if I can be judged to be only close to that bracket, I will be chuffed.”
Sunday’s clash was fairly evenly matched until Exeter wing Olly Woodburn was sent off just after half-time for preventing a try for Ashton, with the Tigers leading 22-12 at the time.
That dismissal ended the game as a contest with Leicester taking full advantage to claim an emphatic nine-try victory that moves them to within two points of second-placed Sale in the table.
Along with Ashton’s hat-trick heroics, Matt Scott (two), Dan Kelly, Jack van Poortvliet and George Martin also scored tries for the hosts, along with the controversial penalty try which was awarded in the incident that saw Woodburn dismissed.
Wigglesworth, whose team celebrated a sixth successive league win, added: “We try to keep on winning and it’s rewarding when people were only too keen to write it off when we lost three in a row.
“I wasn’t happy about our first-half effort as I thought we were only playing at around 70 per cent but then they were certainly hamstrung by the red card and we went about our business efficiently.”
Sam Simmonds, Stuart Hogg and Rus Tuima responded with tries for Exeter but it was not enough to prevent the Chiefs from extending a winless away run in the league which stretches back to October.
Exeter head coach Rob Baxter said: “I think the circumstances contrived against Olly (Woodburn) in respect of the sending off. The first yellow card for a deliberate knock-on was clearly correct but for the second, it was the only thing he could have done to prevent a try.
“If the try had been awarded then nobody would have looked at it but as it wasn’t the TMO went through the process and adjudged that by diving on top of the player on the ground, he was forced into touch.
“There was therefore an act of foul play which then results in a penalty try and the issue of another yellow card.
“After conceding a couple of early tries, I thought we were the better team in terms of territory and possession and were unlucky to go in at half-time behind.
“Every little basic error we made today hurt us and seemed to be magnified and I’m a little concerned at how the game ran away from us.”
Exeter’s loss leaves them seventh in the Premiership table with 43 points, 10 adrift of fourth-placed Northampton.
Baxter added: “After a few weeks of highs it was a reality check ahead of next week’s home game with Bristol when a lot of our players will be making their final appearances at Sandy Park.
“Our play-off chances are obviously gone but we caused problems about our qualification long before today as we have been incredibly inconsistent away from home.”