Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill believes his side are developing an ‘us-against-the-world’ mentality, as they just about held off high-flying Exeter Chiefs at home to win 31-27.
Manu Tuilagi, Peter Betham, and Adam Thompstone all touched down before 50 minutes for Leicester, and coupled with their opening penalty try they looked to have the game won with half an hour remaining.
But Exeter had other ideas and gave the Welford Road faithful a nervous final 20 minutes when both Dave Lewis and Ian Whitten responded, before dogged defence from the Tigers meant Kai Horstmann's last-gasp score earned the Chiefs only a solitary bonus point.
The result moved Leicester up to third in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table at the expense of Wasps, and with tough games ahead Cockerill was relieved to keep building their momentum with two bonus points in two weeks.
“Our physicality was good all game, and certainly early on the set-piece worked well for us,” he said.
“I thought we took our opportunities well and obviously scoring four tries to take a bonus-point win from a clash with Exeter is an excellent result.
“Both sides had guys missing but our intent to play I thought was outstanding, although I am disappointed at the end there to have let them back in the game and given them a point at the end.
“I am a little frustrated with that, but it was a fantastic result and a fantastic game of rugby – physical, fast, and furious.
“We knew Exeter were going to come back into the game at some point, and they did, but thankfully we gave ourselves a big enough lead to ride that storm.
“This gives us the chance to go to Wasps next week on a high, then we play Saracens and Sale so we have a tough run coming up. Everyone would like us to lose and fall away but we will dig in there, and everyone can decide whether we’ve turned a corner here.”
Meanwhile, Exeter stayed second in the Aviva Premiership Rugby standings – although with Saracens losing at home to Northampton Saints, Rob Baxter’s men could have gone top with victory.
But he insisted he was satisfied with their form, and chose to take the positives from a second-half performance that saw them almost pull off an improbable comeback and dominate the set-piece.
He said: “We have looked at three games – Bath Rugby, Leicester Tigers and Newcastle Falcons – as a mini-league and if we can win next week we will have got two wins and a bonus point.
“That's pretty good form and I think we are the only team to take points from every fixture. That shows consistency.
“It was them scoring those points at the start of the second half that brought out the best in us.
“Our scrum was outstanding, it's not often you come to Welford Road and dominate the scrum.
“But we conceded four tries, some of them well constructed, and at the end of the day they got five points and came away with a good win.”
Leicester Tigers: Bell, Thompstone (Veainu 79), Betham, Tuilagi, Goneva, Burns (Williams 64), Kitto, Ayerza (Brugnara 60), Thacker (van Vuuren 79), Mulipola (Balmain 40, Mulipola 72), Fitzgerald (Kitchener 76), Barrow (Williams 64), Croft, McCaffrey, Slater.
Not used: G Tresidder.
Exeter Chiefs: Dollman, Jess (Bodilly 74), Whitten, Hill, Short (Hooley 76), Steenson, Lewis (Chudley 58), Low (Hepburn 58), Yeandle (Taione 70), Francis (Williams 58), Atkins (Stevenson 25-27, 64), Parling, Ewers (Horstmann 60), Salvi, Armand.
Tries: Penalty, Tuilagi, Betham, Thompstone
Conversions: Burns 4
Yellow Cards: Barrow
Tries: Lewis, Whitten, Horstmann
Conversions: Steenson 3
Penalties: Steenson 2
Yellow Cards: Parling, Jess
Referee: M Carley