Borthwick salutes Ford as Leicester end long wait for Exeter win

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Pass master: Leicester fly-half George Ford (AFP/Glyn KIRK)
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Leicester boss Steve Borthwick hailed George Ford after the England fly-half steered Leicester to their first Premiership victory over Exeter in four years during a season-opening 34-19 win at Welford Road on Saturday.

Ford missed the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa and was not considered for England's pre-season internationals against the United States and Canada by Red Rose boss Eddie Jones in order to recover fully from a niggling calf problem.

The rest appeared to have done the 28-year-old good as Ford expertly guided the Tigers to a commanding victory that suggests he will still be vying with Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell for the England No 10 shirt.

"George Ford for me controlled that game for large parts of it. It was great to see him back fit and performing as well as that," Borthwick said.

"You can see by the way he played the sharpness he had in his game. He's only going to get better and better. I watch him on the training field and he's sharp. He controlled that game brilliantly."

Leicester secured a bonus-point with a fifth try that delighted the home fans at Welford Road but former England captain Borthwick was the first to acknowledge Exeter, with several stars resting up after their international exertions, were not at full strength.

"We're pleased with the start but understand that Exeter were missing an awful lot of players," he said.

Exeter boss Rob Baxter was left frustrated by his side's inability to make the most of their close-range opportunities.

"Without breaking it down into every little mistake we made, the tale of the game was that we had enough five-metre pressure and opportunity to score more points than we did," he said.

Northampton launched their campaign with a 34-20 bonus-point win over Gloucester.

However, Saints boss Chris Boyd was far from satisfied despite his side scoring tries through George Furbank, Nick Auterac, Tom Wood and James Grayson, with the latter adding two penalties and three conversions.

"Yes it's great to be back with a noisy crowd and five points in the bag, but we were patchy and rusty," said Boyd. "It's not a performance to be proud of as we are capable of far better."

Meanwhile, Worcester coach Jonathan Thomas was delighted by an "exceptional" performance from new recruit Willi Heinz that saw the England scrum-half score a try in a 36-24 win over London Irish.

The 34-year-old Heinz also created a bonus-point score for Worcester No 8 Matt Kvesic and Thomas said: "I thought Willi was exceptional.

"He is a really experienced player, with his Crusaders background in New Zealand and international rugby. His personality is one that he wants to help people grow. He is invaluable to us as a player and as a person."

Saturday's late kick-off match produced a thrilling finish as Sale survived a dramatic Bath fightback and a last-minute penalty attempt in a 20-19 home win.

Replacement back Orlando Bailey, on for former Sale star Danny Cipriani early in the second half, just failed to cap a remarkable Bath recovery.

The visitors led after being 17-0 down only for Kieran Wilkinson to put Sale back in front before a long-range miss from Bailey with the final play of the game.

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