Vereniki Goneva proved he is most certainly is a capable replacement for Manu Tuilagi as he produced a man-of-the-match performance to help Leicester Tigers edge past Exeter Chiefs.
The Fijian, who is usually out on the wing but currently is being asked to fill in at centre while Tuilagi is sidelined, scored a first-half try to add to Ben Youngs’ earlier effort in an important 21-9 Aviva Premiership win at Sandy Park.
Toby Flood kicked 11 points from the kicking tee as he captained the side and despite a much-improved second-half display for the home side, two penalties from the fly-half always kept the visitors ahead.
The Tigers thought they had made the early breakthrough after just three minutes when Niall Morris latched onto a cute Flood chip but the television match official ruled the full-back had knocked on before grounding the ball.
Flood then had the chance to put his side ahead a few minutes later after Damien Welch was penalised at the line-out but he dragged his kick right of the uprights.
Tom James then upended Blaine Scully to give Leicester an attacking position inside the Exeter 22 and after several phases of play Ben Youngs touched down despite pressure from David Ewers.
Following a driving maul, Tom Youngs passed to his younger brother who had peeled off to the right and touched down in the corner, Flood however was again wayward with the conversion.
Jason Shoemark then conceded another penalty for not rolling away after 15 minutes and this time Flood made no mistake, taking the score onto 8-0.
The Chiefs were under the quash for most of the half but after Julian Salvi was penalised at the breakdown, Gareth Steenson was presented with a chance to get his side’s first points of the afternoon.
The fly-half came into the game boasting a 94 percent success rate from the kicking tee, the highest of anyone in the Aviva Premiership, but he couldn’t convert the penalty as it sailed wide.
With two minutes remaining in the half Exeter front-rower Hoani Tui won back the ball to put his side on the attack but a poor pass from James Scaysbrook fell loose and there was Goneva who picked the ball up and raced through to score.
Flood was then successful with the relatively simple conversion to take Leicester 15-0 ahead at the break.
It was the Chiefs who added the first points of the second-half – their first of the entire game – as Steenson slotted home a penalty after Dan Cole had been penalised for deliberately slowing the ball down.
And on 50 minutes the fly-half was successful once again after Salvi was penalised for coming in at the side – taking the score onto 15-6 and passing 500 Aviva Premiership points in the process.
Exeterwere certainly more competitive in the scrum in the second-half and after Youngs was penalised under pressure, Steenson again made them pay.
The penalty brought the home side to within a converted try of the champions but a strong scrummage from Leicester shortly after saw Flood restore a nine-point lead.
Another Flood penalty in the 73rd minute left Exeter with only hope of securing a losing bonus point but Goneva then almost had his second after a kick and chase at the death, Welshman James chasing back to secure the loose ball.
With the 80 minutes up Exeter had one last scrum just inside their own half with which to build a final attack from, but a knock-on from James ended proceedings as Leicester recorded a hard-fought victory.