Leicester Tigers were beaten 26-13 by Exeter Chiefs as the Gallagher Premiership restarted at Sandy Park on Saturday.
Five months on from Round 13 of the season, the action finally resumed following the COVID-19 shutdown, with Steve Borthwick leading Tigers as head coach for the first time.
Matt Scott and David Williams made their debuts in the backline, and fellow new arrivals Zack Henry and Luke Wallace saw action from the bench in the second half as Tigers emerged empty-handed.
A fixture originally scheduled for March 21 got under way behind closed doors after Tom Youngs led out Tigers in his 150th starting appearance for the club and both teams paid tribute to the NHS and Rugby Against Racism before kick-off.
Tigers started brightly in terms of possession, territory and also keen defence, taking a six-point lead through George Ford before Chiefs grabbed scores through Dave Ewers and Stuart Hogg to lead 12-6 at half-time.
Luke Cowan-Dickie’s converted score at the restart stretched that lead and they added a penalty try for a bonus point before Tigers received he same award to make it 26-13 around the hour and there were no further scores either way in a scrappy final quarter.
Tigers made a good start to the afternoon with Tommy Reffell winning a penalty over the ball and Ben Youngs taking a quick tap to threaten the line. Debutant wing Dave Williams was stopped short on the right but the forwards kept their patience on the ball until space opened again, this time for George Worth before he was stopped by a high tackle.
A carry from Tom Youngs when Chiefs missed their first lineout kept the visitors on the front foot and the game was nearly nine minutes old before Exeter built their first phases in attack, where Reffell got over a tackle from Jaco Taute to gain another breakdown penalty.
When referee Tom Foley blew again in Tigers’ favour on Exeter’s 10-metre line, Ford judged the kick from 40 metres perfectly to put the opening points on the board with 11 minutes gone.
Scrum-half Youngs showed good anticipation in defence on halfway to stop Ollie Devoto and, although they were pushed back by a kick in behind, Tigers defended resolutely and were rewarded with put-in at scrum following a knock-on in front of the posts.
Ford doubled the advantage with a superb drop goal after strong possession on the left which took him past 600 Premiership points for the club.
After a brief drinks break, Tigers got forward again as Ford looked to pick out Jordan Olowofela on the left but he was closed out as he claimed the high ball.
But Chiefs claimed the opening try of the afternoon after Henry Slade prodded a penalty down their right and, after Luke Cowan-Dickie had been stopped a fraction short, Ewers picked up to push over.
Joe Simmonds pulled his kick wide of the near post with Tigers ahead by a single point approaching the half-hour mark.
Harry Wells and skipper Tom Youngs received direction from the referee after two more peanlties at the set-piece but strong work in defence kept Exeter out and Dan Cole clawed loose ball back for Youngs to kick clear.
Matt Scott showed his strength in defence to hold up Devoto and then stopped international team-mate Stuart Hogg on halfway.
But the Chiefs full-back quickly made amends as he finished a sweeping move from a scrum on halfway to dive into the right-hand corner to give the home team the lead for the first time just seconds away from the half-time whistle.
Simmonds, kicking from the right touchline, this time hit the mark to make it 12-6 as the teams headed into the break.
The hosts were immediately back on the scoreboard from the restart, gaining territory with a penalty on the left and then scoring their third try as hooker Cowan-Dickie tapped as the whistle went again and pushed his way over. The conversion made it 19-6.
Another penalty award for Chiefs brought pressure back on the Tigers pack at a five-metre lineout and it also brought the bonus point score as the referee awarded a penalty try as their maul rached the line and also issued a yellow card to No8 Jordan Taufua with Tigers now 26-6 behind.
A scrum penalty finally got Tigers back into the attack and, after Ford set up position on the left, Wells caught lineout ball and, as the maul charged forward, referee Foley repeated the dose from the opposite end of the pitch to award Tigers a penalty try and show yellow to Chiefs lock Jonny Hill.
With the score now at 29-13, and both teams with 14 men, a second drinks break followed, with both sets of coaches keen to introduce fresh legs from the bench.
Penalties had racked up against Tigers throughout and another whistle gave Exeter position in the right-hand corner. This time, though, they were victims of the penalty call as they tried to set up another maul.
Nephi Leatigaga, Jake Kerr and Joe Heyes formed a new front row as Tigers won a scrum penalty in an attacking position and Taufua was back on the field as they tried to set up a push for the tryline, but Exeter’s defence kept them out.
Zack Henry completed a quartet of debutants with 68 minutes played before Thom Smith made his Premiership bow in the closing stages.
Tigers were still looking for chances in attack, with Williams almost finding a way through before opposite wing Olly Woodburn dived on his chip ahead on the right and Chiefs having to resists some pressure on their own 22 before eventually finding their way out safely.
The game ended with Williams sensing his chance on the right wing, but the chip was again mopped up in defence as Chiefs brought the game to a close with five points banked.