Tigers take over at the top
Leicester moved above Northampton at the top of the Aviva Premiership with a hard-fought 22-15 victory away at plucky Exeter.
Last Updated: 02/01/11 7:53pm
Leicester took over from Northampton at the top of the Aviva Premiership table thanks to a hard-fought 22-15 win away at Exeter.
For the second time this season the reigning champions were pushed all the way by the Chiefs, who had come close to pulling off a shock result in the reverse fixture at Welford Road before eventually succumbing 37-27.
The Tigers scored the only three tries of the contest on Sunday - Jordan Crane grabbing two of them - but were never able to shake off their plucky hosts.
In the end a losing bonus point was no more than Exeter deserved for their efforts in front of a record crowd of 10,495 at Sandy Park.
Such a tense contest didn't look likely when Leicester notched their opening try inside three minutes, with the score all about the Tuilagi brothers.
Centre Manu recovered an error from Exeter winger Mark Foster and broke free before offloading to sibling Alesana to finish off. Jeremy Staunton proved unable to add the conversion, leaving the score at 5-0.
The Chiefs, to their credit, responded to the early setback with a penalty from Ryan Davis that took the fly-half past 100 points for the campaign.
Staunton and Davis then traded penalties before Leicester moved further clear with Crane's first try on the half-hour mark.
The number eight was on hand to take a short pass and race over from close range virtually untouched, the successful conversion from right in front of the posts by Staunton making it 15-3.
A third penalty from Davis did keep Exeter in touch at the break, though they looked set to concede again right at the start of the second half.
The Tigers launched an onslaught on the home line but somehow those brave Chiefs stood firm, eventually seeing off the danger by pushing prop Dan Cole into touch out on the left.
A fine Geordan Murphy break saw the visitors go close again soon after, though they weren't without the odd moment of concern in defence themselves.
Foster burst free on the left but was unable to find fellow speedster Nic Sestaret with his pass, much to the obvious disappointment of the Frenchman.
Although the opportunity went begging, a fourth penalty from Davis shortly after meant Exeter were somehow just three points adrift.
The number then 10 had a glorious chance to draw his team level when their opponents were penalised for coming in at the side. However his well-struck kick drifted just wide, letting Leicester off the hook.
Their relief turned to delight soon enough when Crane's second try pulled them clear. Similar to his first score, the England international was in the right place to go over from close range as Exeter's line was breached again.
Toby Flood, who had missed a penalty soon after replacing Staunton after 57 minutes, slotted over the extras to give the away team a 10-point cushion with just under 10 minutes to play.
Gareth Steenson, on for Davis, landed a penalty to cut the gap to seven but then saw another attempt rebound off the crossbar and stay out.
He then ruined any chance Exeter had of claiming a draw when his attempt to kick a penalty to touch went too long, allowing Leicester to escape from Devon with a triumph that pushes them to the summit for the first time this season.