Late penalties see Leicester Tigers and Harlequins prevail while six-try Exeter nil Sale Sharks

Planet Rugby
Leicester Tigers fly-half Jamie Shillcock against Bath.

Leicester Tigers fly-half Jamie Shillcock against Bath.

A last-minute penalty from Jamie Shillcock helped Leicester Tigers get their first victory of the Premiership season on Saturday as they beat Bath 25-24.

It seemed that his opposite number Finn Russell had snatched victory with a penalty at the other end but Bath were penalised at a scrum from the restart and Shillcock nervelessly found the target from near the touchline as the rain teemed down at the Recreation Ground.

It earned Shillcock – who signed a short-term deal with Bath in 2022 – a match tally of 20 points, including a conversion of Tommy Reffell’s 67th-minute try.

Bath, who had come into the game as early Premiership leaders, celebrated tries from left wing Will Muir and prop Thomas du Toit, plus four penalties and a conversion from Russell.

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The predicted heavy rain arrived just before kick-off, making for difficult conditions but Shillcock had no problem knocking over his first penalty after just three minutes.

It was no surprise that both sides resorted to high kicks to test each other’s fielding skills and it was aerial tennis for the first 15 minutes.

Bath supporters looked to Russell to provide some spark in the gloom and the Scotland international obliged first with a clever grubber into the visitors’ 22. His follow-up tackle then forced a knock-on by Mike Brown to earn a scrum.

Skipper Ben Spencer fed Russell, who stabbed a kick-pass to the left wing for Muir for a try in the corner but its creator could not add the conversion.

Despite exerting considerable pressure on Leicester’ lineout, Bath struggled to impose themselves on the game, mainly because of their indiscipline.

Having wrested back possession in the loose, a neck roll at a ruck by Spencer handed Shillcock another penalty opportunity which he struck sweetly from fully 50 metres for a 6-5 lead.

When Leicester were at their most threatening, it was Shillcock’s turn to look sheepish as he fumbled a pass when the home defence was a momentarily stretched.

When Bath were penalised again, Shillcock gratefully kicked his side further ahead, only for Russell to chop the lead back to one point again just before the interval.

The pair exchanged penalties again just after the break for 11-12 but Bath turned up the heat to such a degree that Leicester lock Harry Wells was shown a yellow card after 54 minutes for cynical play close to the try-line.

Bath spurned the penalty and Du Toit eventually drove over the line, Russell adding the conversion to put the home side in front for the first time.

Spencer might have added another when he was quickest to react to a deflected kick but Reffell had the travelling support on their feet when he touched down from a line-out catch-and-drive.

Shillcock converted but Russell put Bath 21-19 ahead after the home side laid siege to the visitors’ line. Again Bath blinked, conceding another penalty which Shillcock steered between the posts from 48 metres.

Russell – blocked illegally when chasing his own chip ahead – restored Bath’s lead with less than a minute left but Shillcock had the last word after Jaco Coetzee spilled the restart and the hosts were penalised at the scrum.

Harlequins win on road at Bristol

There was also late drama at Ashton Gate as a late penalty from Jarrod Evans helped Harlequins grab their second win out of three matches this season as they edged Bristol Bears 23-21.

A strong second-half performance from Bristol’s pack had overturned an early 13-0 deficit heading into the closing stages.

However, when Quins captain Alex Dombrandt was tackled high by Jake Heenan, the Bristol replacement was shown a yellow card and Evans held his nerve to secure the win.

Virimi Vakatawa and Harry Thacker scored Bristol’s tries, with Callum Sheedy adding three penalties and a conversion.

George Hammond scored two tries for Harlequins, with Evans kicking three penalties and two conversions.

Quins had taken an early lead with a penalty from Evans and it was the visitors who looked the more threatening in the opening period.

Neat off-loads from Evans had Dombrandt and Lennox Anyanwu running into space, but the next score still came via another penalty from Evans.

Evans had another opportunity to kick a penalty, but his side opted for an attacking line-out. It proved the correct call by paying immediate dividends as Hammond forced his way over in the 20th minute.

Evans converted and the visitors held a deserved 13-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Bears had not fired a decent shot during that period, but they won two penalties in quick succession, the second of which Sheedy kicked to bring them on the scoreboard.

Quins suffered a big blow when flanker Will Evans was shown a yellow card for a deliberate off-side, and Sheedy made no mistake with the resulting penalty.

Sheedy was then instrumental in creating Bristol’s first try. From a scrum near half-way, his well-timed pass sent Benhard Janse van Rensburg through a huge gap in the Quins defence before Vakatawa was provided with an easy run-in.

Sheedy, though, missed the conversion which saw Bristol trailed 13-11 at the interval.

Will Evans returned from the sin-bin in time to see Quins turn down a point-blank penalty, but once again the decision proved sound with Hammond crashing over for his second try in the 44th minute.

Bristol’s response was swift down to the alertness of hooker Thacker. In the opposition 22, Harry Randall fired out a difficult pass, but Thacker kicked the ball forward before beating three defenders to the touchdown.

In the greasy conditions, a couple of dropped balls from Quins full-back Nick David put pressure on his side. When the visitors conceded a scrum penalty, Sheedy stepped up to put Bristol in front for the first time just after the hour mark.

Bristol had dominated the final quarter, but Quins refused to give up and broke out of defence to win the crucial penalty.

Exeter hammer Sale at Sandy Park

Elsewhere, Exeter bounced back from last week’s loss to Harlequins in style as they hammered Sale Sharks at Sandy Park, winning 43-0 in a six-try success.

Despite losing a host of internationals during the summer, Exeter’s new young guard once again showed they are going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Sale went into the game having won their first two matches of the season, but they were strangely off colour as an error-strewn display saw them suffer their biggest ever defeat to the Devon side.

Exeter got off to a dream start with a try inside the first two minutes. An initial surge by hooker Dan Frost earned a penalty, which was quickly taken, and England U20 number eight Greg Fisilau finished off on the blindside, with captain for the day Henry Slade slotting a superb conversion.

The England centre added a penalty soon after to put the Chiefs into double figures.

Sale had the wind behind their backs in the first half, but it was the Chiefs who continued to dominate territory, and they notched a second try just before the midway point of the half, with a catch-and-drive effort from Frost, after Chiefs did well to splinter Sale’s maul defence, and it was improved by Slade.

Young full-back Tom Wyatt was proving rock solid under the high ball for Exeter, while their scrum was having much the better of the Sale eight.

The Sharks thought they had got a foothold in the game when Cobus Wiese drove over in the 27th minute, but he was adjudged by excellent debutant referee Joe James to have been held up, while Tom O’Flaherty knocked on soon after when trying to ground the ball after a handling mistake close to his own line by Fisilau.

Exeter made the most of that double reprieve by securing the try-scoring bonus point before half-time.

Tighthead prop Josh Iosefa-Scott finished off another driving maul in the corner, and then Slade latched on to a wayward Sale pass to send former Wasps winger Immanuel Feyi-Waboso racing over beneath the posts, with Slade adding the conversion for an incredible 29-0 interval advantage.

Both sides struggled to string passages of play together in the wet conditions in the second half.

When Sale did threaten the home line, the Chiefs defence proved more than a match.

The Chiefs put the icing on the cake when an excellent run by impressive second-row Lewis Pearson saw him offload to replacement scrum-half Niall Armstrong to run in try number five, with Slade adding the kick for a personal 11-point haul, and their dominant scrum rounded it off with a penalty try as Exeter completed their first Premiership shutout since 2014.

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