EXETER Chiefs cannot be a bad team if they only play for 40 minutes and push Leicester Tigers as hard as they did.
But they will need to make the most of dominant spells if they are to push into the Premiership's top four this season.
A 21-9 victory for Leicester at Sandy Park yesterday looked like being the least they would get from their trip to Devon. It took the hosts more than 20 minutes to have possession inside their opponents' half.
Tries from Ben Youngs and Vereniki Goneva as well as five points from the boot of Toby Flood gave Leicester 15 points for the loss of none by half-time. And the truth is that it could have been far worse for Chiefs.
However, they returned for the second half a different side – no doubt after a few strong words from head coach Rob Baxter – and briefly looked as though they might take the game.
In the end, three Gareth Steenson penalties was all Chiefs gained from phase after phase of possession inside the Leicester 22.
Although the outcome was disappointing, there were positive elements for Chiefs. Most notably, the continued good form of young No.8 Dave Ewers, who has taken the responsibility of replacing the retired Richard Baxter with impressive maturity.
Likewise, England Under-20 centre Sam Hill continues to justify his place, Phil Dollman looks assured at full-back in the absence of Luke Arscott and wing Tom James will offer Chiefs a constant threat.
Few of those promising signs were evident early on against the Tigers. The Chiefs survived a harrowing opening five minutes, where they hardly touched the ball and could have easily been ten points down.
The Tigers were tenacious in their early attacks, with scrum-half Ben Youngs sniping and fly-half Flood orchestrating moves deep inside the Chiefs' 22.
Indeed, a chip from the Tigers' ten into the space behind the Chiefs' try line appeared to have been touched down by full-back Niall Morris. It was only a lengthy delay for confirmation from the television match official that confirmed the ball had actually been knocked on.
Chiefs were then penalised for pulling down lock Geoff Parling, but Flood sliced his kick wide of the posts.
The onslaught never slowed, however. And the inevitable score arrived from Ben Youngs, sneaking down the blindside after a catch and drive to score in the corner for an unconverted try.
Chiefs were compounding the situation with a malfunctioning line, issues with their scrum as well as some basic passing and handling errors.
And when centre Jason Shoemark was penalised for not rolling away, Flood ensured it was third-time lucky, extending his side's lead to eight points midway through the first half.
Exeter grew into the game a little more in what remained of the first 40 minutes, spending significant time in the Leicester 22, but rarely threatened their try line.
There first realistic chance of points came after 30 minutes but Steenson's long-range penalty drifted just wide. Their work with the boot was equally unsuccessful from open play, constantly kicking possession away in a manner that rarely yielded a tangible advantage.
The biggest mistake of the half from Chiefs was arguably saved until last. Chiefs turned a promising attack into a scrambled defence. A blind flick pass from prop Hoani Tui initially gave the ball away, and although he made amends by retrieving possession, a misplaced pass then put Goneva through from just inside the Chiefs' half.
The second try was the least Leicester deserved. Indeed, the mere 15-point deficit for Chiefs was perhaps a little kind on a first-half performance riddled with basic errors. They had been comprehensively outfought and out-thought by the Tigers throughout.
Chiefs did not remain pointless long into the second half though. A bright start, led by the excellent Ewers, put them on the front foot, eventually drawing a penalty from Tigers' prop Dan Cole, gave Steenson another chance and he put three points on the scoreboard for the home side.
He doubled his points count in the 51st minute after further pressure along the Tigers' try line. Some slightly cynical defensive work prevented Chiefs from taking their first try, despite them opting to kick one penalty into the corner.
In the end, Steenson kicked for goal, a mere three points hardly a just reward for an excellent spell.
It was a pattern that continued up to the hour mark. Steenson soon got his third penalty through the posts and the momentum shift was such that many inside Sandy Park were expecting more than just the losing bonus point suddenly on offer.
Unfortunately, Steenson contributed towards Tigers' next batch of points. He ran the ball into an isolated position and produced a forward pass and within moments of the resulting scrum, Flood was kicking for goal to extend his side's lead back to nine points.
Chiefs continued to dominate, but their efficiency at turning pressure into points was already looking like being the difference between the two sides.
There were some fine individual moments – an outstanding run from James, hard-running from Hill and bruising collisions from Tom Johnson – but it failed to produce a try.
It was a situation exasperated by Flood's ability to keep the scoreboard moving in his side's favour. Yet another penalty for Leicester meant that Chiefs now needed one of those elusive scores to take a solitary league point from a game and unfortunately it just never came.