Exeter Chiefs extended their lead at the top of the Gallagher Premiership with a 26-13 bonus-point victory over Leicester Tigers witnessed by England head coach Eddie Jones.
Jones would no doubt have been impressed by several of his players as Exeter declared business as usual and 11th-placed Leicester showed signs of fresh life under new coach Steve Borthwick.
This was Exeter’s first game since the club decided to keep their controversial Chiefs branding following a board review amid claims that it was racist.
Club mascot ‘Big Chief’ was missing along with the Sandy Park fans absent because of the coronavirus pandemic after Exeter’s decision to retire him in the wake of those internal discussions.
But the Chiefs’ ‘Tomohawk Chop’ celebration remained to greet the home side’s four tries.
The Chiefs had been in impressive form when their season was put on pause 161 days earlier, 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 under Borthwick.
Scotland centre Matt Scott and on-loan wing David Williams made debuts in the starting XV and Zack Henry joined Luke Wallace among new faces on the bench. Club captain Tom Youngs stepped out for his 150th start.
Scotland lock Jonny Gray was the notable newcomer for hosts who were without England wing Jack Nowell.
George Ford kicked off for the Tigers after a minute’s silence for those NHS workers who had died in the Devon area during lockdown and after players from both sides opted to take a knee in a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Tigers drew first blood in the 11th minute through Ford’s 45-metre penalty and their line-speed in defence, and their tenacity at the breakdown, thwarted the Chiefs whenever they had the ball.
Exeter looked the rustier of the two teams and Ford extended the visitors’ lead with a superb drop goal from 25 metres as Gray closed him down.
Leicester had looked anything like a team one place off the bottom of the table, but their goal-line came under increasing pressure as the half wore on.
Exeter were rewarded when flanker Dave Ewers sneaked over in the corner and a 12-6 lead was theirs right on half-time.
The Tigers were split open by a well-worked back move and Olly Woodburn fed Stuart Hogg, who sprinted clear for a try which Joe Simmonds superbly converted from the touchline.
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 number eight 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.
Leicester refused to lie down in the final quarter but they lacked the necessary composure to again breach a resilient Chiefs defence.