Rob Baxter warned the rest of the Premiership Exeter will only get better after his side returned to action with a bonus-point win in front of England head coach Eddie Jones.
Five months may have passed since the Chiefs and Leicester last played, but lockdown and the impact of coronavirus hasn’t changed the fact they have very contrasting fortunes.
Tigers – under new head coach Steve Borthwick for the first time – did start well, but they were eventually ground down by Exeter’s dogged and no-nonsense pack.
Baxter’s side stayed top and scored through Dave Ewers, Stuart Hogg, man of the match Luke Cowan-Dickie and a penalty score with Joe Simmonds kicking two conversions.
Hogg’s effort was Exeter’s 50th in the Premiership this season while England hooker Cowan-Dickie stood out despite him being sick on the field as he celebrated his try.
Exeter director of rugby Baxter said: ‘We wanted to get some rugby under our belt and now we can look forward because there are one or two things we can get better at.
‘In many ways it was the perfect return in that we got the win, but there is plenty to work on.’ Baxter also confirmed England wing Jack Nowell missed out with a minor hamstring injury.
Jones was a late arrival at Sandy Park and he missed his fly-half George Ford kick Leicester into a 6-0 lead as Exeter started sloppily. The Chiefs soon warmed up to grind Tigers down. Ewers was driven over before Hogg produced the best try of the day.
Exeter broke from their half before Olly Woodburn straightened the line and put the Scotland full-back away. Hogg still had plenty to do but showed great pace to score in the corner. Simmonds converted.
Cowan-Dickie made it three at the start of the second half and marked the score in bizarre fashion by being ill in his mouth. Simmonds converted before the two sides exchanged penalty tries.
Leicester No 8 Jordan Taufua and Exeter’s Jonny Hill were both yellow carded for illegally trying to stop their opposition from scoring. Tigers – who have gone through seismic changes during lockdown – persevered but Borthwick knows he has plenty of work to do.
The former England forwards coach confirmed giant wing Nemani Nadolo was absent due to a visa issue. ‘You have to credit Exeter – they’re a good side,’ said Borthwick, whose team were undone by conceding 22 penalties.
‘We gave them some opportunities and a side of that quality will take those opportunities and put you under pressure.
‘What I’ve asked for right from the very start is effort from the players. We made mistakes and there are things to learn, but the effort and the attitude was outstanding.
‘We’ve got a lot of work to do. The team isn’t in the position it is in the league for no reason.’