It may be a mystery to the Exeter forwards who spent Saturday afternoon cracking their heads unsuccessfully against the mobile brick wall that was the Leicester pack, but in the open spaces there was some Nobel Laureate codebreaking going on.
Toby Flood's form had been mixed coming into this rampant 30-8 win on the back of Leicester's dire draw with Saracens and reverse against Harlequins. Asked whether he needed to play his way into the season, the England fly-half and favourite to wear the national No 10 jersey in the autumn internationals evoked the spirit of the mathematical genius John Forbes Nash. "In my position, the more you see and the more you become accustomed to how teams are dealing with you this year allows you to work out how best to approach things," said Flood. "You just become used to seeing those structures and defensive patterns again. It's almost A Beautiful Mind-esque. You see the numbers and the triggers and you then work out from them."
The mental problems suffered by Nash – played by Russell Crowe in the film referenced by Flood – were beyond those wrought at home to Harlequins, but you could see his point. An off-day in September may not be crucial; getting your eye in for the autumn Tests, which will determine England's seeding in December's World Cup draw, and for Leicester's important matches to come, certainly is.
"There was a real buzz around the team," Flood said after helping the wing Adam Thompstone run in a hat-trick on his first start for Leicester after joining from London Irish. One flick of the boot to pass the ball soccer-style to Matt Smith for the second try was footballing genius. "We talked about how we should approach the game. It's more of a mental thing than a physical thing and an attitude thing. It was just about us being spot-on."
There is not room here to go into all Leicester's injury problems. Suffice to say the rarely seen England centre Mathew Tait is slated for an A team appearance against Worcester tonight while other missing internationals Ben Youngs, Steve Mafi, Manu Tuilagi and Louis Deacon may return in the Premiership at Sale on Friday night. Daniel Bowden, the button-bright former London Irish inside centre who could become a key component of Leicester's back line, failed to finish his Tigers debut after damaging his ribs. Julian Salvi, perhaps Leicester's most in-form player with his battering work on the openside flank, went off after a bang on the head. George Chuter, Boris Stankovich and Scott Hamilton were only short-term absentees; Geordan Murphy may need another couple of weeks to fix his knee; Marcos Ayerza will return soon from Argentina duty. Tom Croft, the England flanker with a dodgy neck? Not so sure.
All in all, the feeling among the doyens of the Leicester committee who were still imbibing the nectar of victory in the Caterpillar Stand a couple of hours after the final whistle was that a team more representative of the Tigers' top-line strength would take the field for the red-letter Heineken Cup opener in Toulouse on Sunday week. Leicester Lite, as Saturday's team might have been called, still had enough nous and force in the tight phases to keep at bay an Exeter team usually proficient in the set-piece. Tom Johnson or Sireli Naqelevuki made their customary straight-line bursts for Exeter, but Leicester's scramble defence yielded only an added-time try to the flanker Ben White.
Leicester: Tries Thompstone 3; conversions Flood 3; penalties Flood 3.
Exeter: Try White; penalty Mieres.
Leicester: Morris; Thompstone, Smith, Bowden (Allen, 49), Goneva; Flood (Ford, 66), Harrison (Phibbs, 66); Mulipola (Balmain, 66), Youngs (Stevens, 71), Cole (Castrogiovanni, 59), Kitchener, Parling, Crane (capt, Slater, 61), Salvi (Deacon, 12-15, 38), Waldrom.
Exeter: Arscott; Whitten, Naqelevuki, Shoemark (Dollman, 65), Jess; Mieres (Steenson, 66), Thomas (Chudley, 50); Sturgess (Moon, 61), Whitehead (Alcott, 66), Rimmer (Brown, 77), Hayes (capt), Hanks (Muldowney, 56), Johnson (White, 61), Scaysbrook, Baxter.
Referee T Wigglesworth (Yorks).
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