LONDON (AFP) – Manu Tuilagi ended a tricky week making headlines for the right reasons after starring in English Premiership champions Leicester's 31-6 victory at home to Newcastle on Saturday.
Tuilagi was reprimanded by Leicester after making a 'bunny ears' sign behind the back of Prime Minister David Cameron at a Downing Street reception to celebrate the British and Irish Lions' series win in Australia.
But the 22-year-old England back returned to business at Welford by setting up two of Leicester's five tries as the Tigers went top of the table with a bonus point victory over newly-promoted Newcastle.
"It was Manu's first game since the Lions and he got through 75 minutes and showed how important he is to our team," said Leicester backs coach Paul Burke.
"There are not many players in world rugby who can do what Manu does."
Newcastle boss Dean Richards was back at the club he served with distinction as both player and a coach for the first time in five years following the 'Bloodgate' scandal that cut short his spell in charge of Harlequins and saw him serve a three-year ban for instructing a player to fake injury.
"We came here with a lot of young boys who did not have the experience Leicester have," said former England No 8 Richards.
"You could not go anywhere else other than here to gain that experience. I'd still have liked the scoreline to have been reversed and in time it will be."
Elsewhere, Northampton coach Jim Mallinder was left fuming after his side's controversial 26-24 loss away to Gloucester where England centre Billy Twelvetrees's late penalty secured victory for the Cherry and Whites.
Northampton appeared to have won at Kingsholm after Stephen Myler converted wing Jamie Elliott's 79th-minute try to give the Saints a one-point lead.
But although television replays indicated four Gloucester players were offside from the restart kick, referee Martin Fox penalised Northampton at an ensuing reset scrum when it looked as if Gloucester No 8 Ben Morgan had illegally kicked possession back into the set-piece.
"It is a shame when games are decided by the referee in the last couple of minutes," Mallinder said, while his Gloucester counterpart, Nigel Davies, commented: "Sometimes you get the rub of the green, sometimes you don't."
London Irish coach Brian Smith said he felt "gutted" after the Exiles squandered an 11-point lead in a 29-23 home defeat by Exeter.
"At the back end of the match we couldn't defend our errors, we needed to bring our error rate down but we didn't eliminate those errors and they came back to bite us on the backside," said former Australia and Ireland back Smith.
Friday saw Harlequins win 37-13 away to Worcester, the London club running in four tries.
Afterwards, Harlequins coach Conor O'Shea praised the performance of skipper Chris Robshaw, England's captain during last season's Six Nations before being rested for the tour of Argentina.
There have been suggestions Robshaw could lose his England role permanently to fellow back-row forward Tom Wood, who led the side against the Pumas.
"I see a lot of speculation about Chris," O'Shea said. "How anyone could ever not put him on a team sheet is beyond me. He is absolutely magnificent."
Friday's other match saw former England fly-half Danny Cipriani score 21 points in Sales's 26-22 win over Wasps, his former club.
Sunday's lone Premiership fixture is set to see the end of one unbeaten league record this term as Saracens welcome Bath to northwest London.