There is a growing feeling that Leicester can lose any number of first choice players and still emerge on top against all-comers. Yesterday, with 11 full internationals either, resting, recuperating or residing on the replacements' bench, they brushed aside the busy, bustling challenge of National Divison One Exeter.
In so doing Leicester ensured that they maintained their clean sheet against the Devon side, because in four hours of cup rugby spanning almost a decade, Exeter have yet to score against the Tigers. In 1993 Tigers crushed them 76-0, and three seasons later Leicester won in Devon by the same score they managed yesterday.
Bravely as Exeter, third in the First Division, fought, they were no match for the canny Premiership leaders. There was a bonus for Leiucester as well with Martin Corry ending an anxious eight weeks on the sidelines recovering from a hamstring problem by making a triumphant and energetic return to action after coming on as a first-half replacement.
It was not until late in the first half that Exeter began to provide the Tigers with a rival ready and willing to take them on, particularly at the breakdown, where the Chiefs scavenged turnover ball but could not convert possession into points.
It looked as if Leicester might be suffering from the same malaise when the fly-half Andy Goode pushed a second-minute penalty wide to the right of the posts, but the five-times winners of this knockout competition finally got on the scoresheet five minutes later. A burst upfield by the centre Leon Lloyd set up position outside the Exeter 22. The scrum-half Harry Ellis then found Glenn Gelder-bloom who sent the teenager Ollie Smith over in the corner.
Again Goode failed with the kick, but Exeter were still on the fringe of the tie, and before 20 minutes had elapsed the Tigers went further ahead. The left wing Steve Booth broke through and got the ball to Gelderbloom who repeated his feat to send in the 19-year-old Smith for a second try, this one under the posts to allow Goode finally to land a kick.
Thus reassured he had not lost his touch Goode then landed a 24th minute penalty, which aroused Exeter from their slumbers and saw them finish the half in full cry.
Although they showed willing thereafter, the conditions – icy rain and a slippery ball – contributed to handling errors. But their resistance was certainly spirited, well for an hour anyway. They eventually subsided after Lloyd in the 64th minute (his 50th try for Leicester), and lock Guy Manson-Bishop three minutes later, breached their defences.
Leicester: G Murphy; O Smith, L Lloyd (R Kafer, 74), G Gelderbloom, S Booth; A Goode, H Ellis (J Grindal, 65); P Freshwater (D Jelley, 69), R Cockerill (capt; G Chuter, 69), R Nebbett, G Manson-Bishop, B Kay (M Corry, 37), W Johnson, A Balding (P Short, 53), P Gustard.
Exeter: J Hill (J Gaunt, 57); C Wall, S Marsden (D Kelly, 74), S Ward, P Tretheway; C Malone (capt), R John (B Meinung, 78); D Porte (J Hobson, 52), K Brooking (N Clarke, 52), P Sluman, I Brown, A Harris (A Reed, 65), G Willis, R Baxter, B Foote.
Referee: N Yates (Bowden, Cheshire).