Premiership: Champions Leicester beaten by Exeter after last-gasp Patrick Schickerling try

Colin Newboult

The new Premiership campaign got off to a stunning start as defending champions Leicester Tigers went down 24-20 to Exeter Chiefs in a dramatic encounter.

Exeter were the dominant team in the opening period, going 17-6 up at the break thanks to Solomone Kata’s effort and a penalty try.

Joe Simmonds also kicked a conversion and a penalty, while Freddie Burns responded for Leicester with a brace of three-pointers, but the Chiefs failed to build on that positive first half.

The champions responded superbly, reducing the arrears through captain Hanro Liebenberg before Charlie Clare touched down to give the Tigers the lead.

Although the Chiefs dominated the final quarter, the visitors’ defence was magnificent and appeared to put them on course for an opening day victory.

Three times Rob Baxter’s men were held up over the line, but they would not be denied and Schickerling went over with the clock in the red to snatch an incredible Premiership triumph.

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Exeter took an early lead with a third-minute penalty from Simmonds but that was soon nullified by one from Burns.

The two penalties were the only scores of a forgettable first period with both sets of half-backs content to launch kicks skywards at every opportunity.

Neither side remotely threatened the try line until a kick from Leicester’s new recruit Jimmy Gopperth was charged down by Harvey Skinner, who appeared to be winning the race to touch down.

Burns raced back in an attempt to save the day but, after diving, he only succeeded in deliberately knocking the ball over the dead-ball line. A penalty try was awarded with Burns collecting a yellow card.

Burns returned from the sin bin with no damage done to the scoreboard but in his absence Tigers should have reduced the arrears. They won a penalty 15 metres out and straight in front of the posts but Ben Youngs chose to take a quick tap and the chance was lost.

Leicester then had two more scoring chances in quick succession. First, Gopperth missed with a drop-goal attempt before Hosea Saumaki narrowly failed with a kick and chase but the dead-ball line foiled him.

Burns rewarded the visitors’ pressure with a second penalty but Chiefs extended their advantage when Kata raced over, with a conversion from Simmonds leaving his side with a 17-6 interval lead.

Leicester lost Burns at half-time to a head injury assessment (HIA) with Phil Cokanasiga replacing him and Gopperth switching to fly-half.

They looked up against it but 10 minutes into the second half they were gifted a try. Simmonds had plenty of time to clear his lines but opted for a delicate chip, only for Dan Cole to charge it down with Liebenberg on hand to pick up the rebound and score.

That was the precursor for Tigers to dominate the next 10 minutes. They turned down two kickable penalties in favour of attacking line-outs and were rewarded when Clare crashed over.

Exeter immediately stormed back and replacement prop Schickerling was denied a try by a knock-on but they continued to pour pressure on their opponents. Twice they were held up over the line but they suffered a blow when Alec Hepburn was yellow-carded for a high tackle.

The decision looked to be crucial but Hepburn returned just in time to see Schickerling crash over for the winner.

Financially-stricken Worcester fall to heavy defeat

Worcester collapsed to a heavy defeat in their Premiership opener to confirm that a long season awaits on and off the field as London Irish strolled to a 45-14 victory.

Facing the prospect of administration due to debts exceeding £25million, the Warriors found no refuge on the pitch at Brentford Community Stadium as they leaked seven tries.

Their players have still not been paid fully for August and, with £6million in tax due, the club face a winding-up court hearing on October 6 while behind the scenes new owners are sought urgently.

Evidence of the financial emergency was seen in last season’s kit still being used, with the jerseys displaying no player names in order to make them more swappable given the limited numbers available.

Curtis Langdon and Jamie Shillcock did go over in the second period for Worcester but they were just consolation scores as the Exiles dominated.

Ben Donnell, Ben White and Ollie Hassell-Collins went over before the break and they scored four more times after the interval through Henry Arundell, who touch down twice, Will Joseph and Agustin Creevy.

Harlequins begin season with win over Falcons in thriller

Elsewhere, Harlequins avoided an opening day scare to see off Newcastle 40-31 in a pulsating Premiership contest at Kingston Park.

Newcastle struck first through hooker George McGuigan before the away side soon responded with Tyrone Green and Wilco Louw going over.

Adam Radwan and Nathan Earle registered sublime solo scores to give the hosts a three-point lead at the break but Quins scored twice in quick succession after the interval through George Head and Lennox Anyanwu.

Tries from McGuigan and Logovi’i Mulipola threatened to give Falcons a shock win but Quins skipper Alex Dombrandt powered his way over before Joe Marchant put the icing on the cake on a nervy but deserved victory for last year’s semi-finalists.

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