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Exeter Chiefs extended their lead at the top of the English Premiership table by beating Leicester Tigers 26-13 in front of England coach Eddie Jones on Saturday in both sides' first game in

161 days.

The Chiefs scored four tries in a bonus-point win including one by Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg against a Tigers outfit coached by former England forwards coach Steve Borthwick for the first time.

They hold an eight-point lead over Bristol Bears, who edged relegated Saracens 16-12, and leapfrogged Sale Sharks into second.

The Sharks, despite giving former Tigers star Manu Tuilagi his debut, suffered a surprise 16-10 defeat on Friday at Harlequins.

Exeter's game reflected how much has changed since the coronavirus pandemic took hold and forced rugby, like most other sports, to suspend their campaigns.

The match was played behind closed doors with spectators still barred from attending sports events apart from selected ones under a British government pilot scheme.

Both teams observed a minute's silence in recognition of National Health Service workers and those who lost their lives during the pandemic -- with a number of names listed as a memorial on screens in the stadium.

However, the teams made different gestures with regard to the fight against racism.

Prior to kick-off Exeter players stood in formation to face a message of "Rugby Against Racism" on the big screen, but not all players chose to take a knee.

Leicester players did universally take a knee -- a gesture that has become commonplace in sports since the death in Minneapolis police custody of unarmed African American George Floyd.

The Exeter players, aside from not having their home following cheering them onto the pitch, also entered for the first time without being greeted by the mascot "Big Chief".

The club board decided to retire him although after a review they retained the Chiefs branding, declaring it was not racist and was in fact "highly respectful".

In doing so they decided not to go down the same route as NFL franchise the Washington Redskins, the three-time Super Bowl winners who last month dropped their name and logo.

On the pitch, Hogg's try was the 50th by the club this season and the perfect riposte to two early penalties from England fly-half George Ford.

England hooker and man of the match Luke Cowan-Dickie also scored one though his celebrations were cut short when he was sick on the pitch.

Their tries were celebrated in the traditional Chiefs manner with the 'Tomahawk Chop'.

Rob Baxter, Exeter's director of rugby, said understandably players had been rusty, but he was pleased with how the performance had developed.

"We wanted to get some rugby under our belt and now we can look forward because there are one or two things we can get better at," said Baxter.

"In many ways it was the perfect return in that we got the win, but there is plenty to work on." afp