Inside the Tigers’ Den - South Sea stars provide the X Factor

Logo Munipola scoring for the Leicester Tigers. Tiger Images EMN-140324-132942001
Logo Munipola scoring for the Leicester Tigers. Tiger Images EMN-140324-132942001
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It’s a crime that rugby in the South Sea islands is not given more support by the rest of the rugby community because without their incredible exports world rugby would be a poorer place.

Fijian winger Vereniki Goneva, Tongan prop Logovi’i Mulipola and Samoan-born centre Manu Tuilagi were amongst the try scorers for Leicester Tigers on Sunday in a glorious demonstration of attacking rugby.

Manu Tuilagi handing off the Exeter defence. Tiger Images EMN-140324-132953001

Manu Tuilagi handing off the Exeter defence. Tiger Images EMN-140324-132953001

Goneva was once again the star of the show despite world class displays from a number of Tigers in an emphatic 45-15 thumping of the LV= Cup Champions Exeter Chiefs.

Leicester rose to the challenge of facing the newly-crowned cup winners with their best all-round display of the season.

The winger, who is the subject of a tug of war between Leicester and French Top 14 side Castres, set up two tries before scoring himself.

First to cross the line was Manu Tuilagi who made his first home start since recovering from a season-long injury.

The alert Anthony Allen off-loaded to Goneva who set up the man who has been playing in his position to stroll in.

Right from the off it was obvious Leicester were in the mood for running rugby, playing with a sense of freedom and confidence which has been missing at times this year.

After the match, Leicester’s director of rugby Richard Cockerill said he had been encouraging his side to have fun in training and the change in attitude was plain to see at Welford Road.

There were few bigger smiles at the almost sold out stadium than on the face of fan favourite Logo Munipola,
who scored one of the best prop tries you are likely to see.

His rampaging run saw him shrug off the first tackle before steamrollering young England international Jack Nowell who was left in a crumpled heap on the Welford Road turf.

While the South Sea contingent were using their flair to delight the crowds, Leicester’s skipper Ed Slater was putting in an equally impressive shift in the second row.

Slater has really grown in stature since becoming captain and if ever there was a man who was suited to the metaphorical armband it is the athletic second row.

At times the back row convert appeared to be taking on the visitors by himself. His handling skills give him a dexterous extra dimension to his game to add to his rugged physicality.

Again after the game Cockerill was full of praise, saying he fully expects both Slater and Graham Kitchener to become Test locks before the end of the year.

Exeter showed that they are not to be underestimated however, using their exceptional organisation and considerable power to smash a driving maul over the line at the second time of asking.

However, the try was just a blip in Leicester’s good afternoon.

In broken field play Leicester were untouchable on Sunday, and Goneva’s bamboozling weaving run to the Exeter line, which was more akin to the Fijian 7s team, was a moment of beautiful individual rugby purity.

Goneva’s 11th try of the season was perhaps his best yet and showed why the 29-year-old is in such high demand both sides of the channel.

Cockerill said: “Niki is not under contract to anybody next season and, at this point, we are a long way down the line to sorting that out. In the world of recruitment, I never say never until it is written down and the ink is dry - but I am as confident as I can be.

“Niki is a Fijian Test player but he came from Tarbes to this club, and we made a huge effort to get him here.

“We have a good environment and we give him an opportunity to play in these big games. We look after him both mentally and physically but we are not going to match the French financially, none of us are in the Premiership. But not all that glistens is gold. We can offer good coaching and a good environment.”

Cockerill added: “We are a big club, let’s not get away from that. People want to play for us.”

Adam Thompstone crossed in the second half for Leicester before replacement scrum half David Mele scored a double to end the party with the exhausted and battered Chiefs unable to keep pace with the unrelenting defending champions who looked well rested from their two-week break.

The victory kept Leicester in the Aviva Premiership top four and a win at derby rivals Northampton could even see them steal an unlikely home semi-final. What it does mean is it is all to play for heading to Franklin’s Gardens.