Stand-in captain Toby Flood kicked all of Leicester Tigers’ points as they defeated Exeter Chiefs 12-9 to move into second in the Aviva Premiership table.
Flood got the better of his opposite number Gareth Steenson by four kicks to three, with the Chiefs man’s last-minute penalty falling five metres short of the posts to deny his side a share of the spoils.
Seven players who featured in England’s Six Nations defeat in Wales last week were named by Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill in his starting line-up with Flood, an England replacement in Cardiff, captaining the side in the absence of both Geordan Murphy and Louis Deacon.
The Chiefs started well and when Julian Salvi was penalised for not rolling away, the first points were put on the board by the hosts as Steenson kicked the penalty through the posts.
Flood was quick to draw the visitors level though with a penalty of his own, the replacement England fly-half levelling matters again in the 17th minute having missed a drop-goal attempt just moments earlier.
Flood though looked in good form and he made it 6-3 to the Tigers with a comfortable kick through the posts from a central position, as his side made the most of a good spell of possession.
The Chiefs were able to respond almost immediately when the Tigers were penalised from a lineout 30 metres out and Steenson struck through the posts for 6-6, at a time when the visitors appeared to be gaining the upper-hand.
It was developing into a stop-start affair with both sides penalised for not releasing the ball, and Flood had the opportunity for his third successful penalty on the half-hour mark, which he comfortably dispatched from 35 metres out.
The first real chance for a try fell to the visitors with five minutes of the first half remaining, but full-back Mathew Tait passed up what looked a certain score following a flowing move involving Jordan Crane, Ben Youngs, Flood and Manu Tuilagi. But after taking Tuilagi’s pass five metres from the try-line, Tait was tackled at the last moment by Chiefs youngster Jack Nowell, with Tom Croft waiting for a simple pass to his left.
And they were immediately made to pay for passing up that opportunity as Steenson made it 9-9 just before the break after Leicester were penalised for offside.
Tait’s opportunity when two-on-one remained by far the best chance of a try by the midway point of the second-half in a game increasingly dominated by the forwards.
Both sides were guilty of infringements in the scrum and of knock-ons in promising positions as the sell-out Sandy Park crowd became restless at a lack of free-flowing rugby.
As the match approached the final ten minutes the visitors were in the ascendancy looking for a crucial try and they were awarded their fourth penalty when replacement scrum-half Will Chudley infringed by coming into the side on Ben Youngs, with Flood coolly dispatching for a 12-9 lead.
With the last kick of the game Steenson missed the chance to level matters after Tigers replacement Martin Castrogiovanni gave away a penalty, but his kick fell just short.