Stuart Hogg helped Exeter make the “perfect return” to action as the Gallagher Premiership leaders claimed a bonus-point win over Leicester Tigers on Saturday, with the Scotland captain grabbing one of the Chiefs’ four tries.
The 26-13 win enabled Exeter to extend their lead at the top of the table to eight points – 161 days on from their last game because of the coronavirus pandemic, as Hogg and Chiefs debutant Jonny Gray locked horns with fellow Scotland international Matt Scott, the Tigers’ summer recruit from Edinburgh. With Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Sam Skinner also making late appearances off the bench for the Chiefs, it will have been a game of much interest to national coach Gregor Townsend as he looks towards the clash with Wales in October when the Six Nations is finally completed.
Exeter had been in impressive form when their season was put on pause, scoring over 50 points in their previous two home games and establishing a five-point lead at the top of the Premiership.
Closest challengers Sale’s defeat at Harlequins on Friday had also come as a boost, but Leicester were hungry visitors as their season of discontent resumed.
Scotland centre Scott made his debut in the Tigers starting XV, while former Glasgow lock Gray was the notable newcomer for the hosts.
After George Ford had put the Tigers 6-0 ahead with a penalty and drop goal, Exeter hit back with two tries. First flanker Dave Ewers sneaked over in the corner and then in a well-worked back move Olly Woodburn fed Hogg, who sprinted clear for a try which Joe Simmonds superbly converted from the touchline for a 12-6 lead at half-time.
The writing was on the wall for the Tigers and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie scored within two minutes of the restart and Simmonds converted.
Further forward power brought a penalty try, a bonus point and a 26-6 lead, with Leicester losing No 8 Jordan Taufua to the sin bin. But the numbers were even again when second row Jonny Hill was yellow carded as a Leicester penalty try cut the gap to 13 points.
The Tigers refused to lie down in the final quarter but they lacked the necessary composure to again breach a resilient Chiefs defence.
“It was what we were expecting – a difficult first half where everyone was trying to find their feet again and not much quality from one phase to the next,” said Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter. “Leicester posed us a lot of problems and it was a good workout for us. In many ways it was the perfect return in that we got the win, but there is plenty to work on.
“At one stage we were struggling to know if we were going to win a lineout. They stopped us doing some of the things we wanted to do, but you have to be true to yourselves. It will take a few weeks to be absolutely flying. But the important thing is we have the ability to keep winning in a number of ways.”
Steve Borthwick was in charge of Leicester for the first time and the former England forwards coach has seemingly made his presence felt already.
Leicester were a pale shadow of their former selves before the lockdown in March, but the Tigers competed throughout and finished strongly when the Chiefs might have run away with the game.
“What I’ve asked for right from the very start is the effort from the players,” Borthwick said. “We made mistakes and there are things to learn, but the effort and the attitude of the players was outstanding.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do because the team isn’t in the position it is in the league for no reason.”
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.
Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.
Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.