Leicester battle past Saints
January 8, 2011
Leicester's Manu Tuilagi breaks clear of the Northampton defence during Saturday's clash at Welford Road
© Getty Images
Leicester Tigers overcame Northampton 27-16 at Welford Road on Saturday to snatch bragging rights in the east midlands and a crucial psychological advantage in the race for pole position in the Aviva Premiership.
After their surprise home loss to Harlequins last weekend the Saints were unable to find an immediate fillip as their previously watertight lineout was dismantled by Man of the Match Louis Deacon and a combination of his second-row partner George Skivington and flanker Craig Newby.
Newby scored one of the Tigers' two tries, with loose-head Marcos Ayerza barrelling over in the second-half to turn the tide the way of the hosts for the final time. Toby Flood returned from injury at fly-half and slotted in seamlessly to kick 17 points.
Ben Foden had given Northampton an early lead with an eye-catching try but the visitors lost influential figures in Courtney Lawes and Chris Ashton to injury in the first-half, slowing their momentum and providing a possible headache for England boss Martin Johnson with their Six Nations opener against Wales on the horizon.
The Saints fired a telling shot after only 50 seconds with a superb try to Foden, whose dart to the corner also showed up the defensive frailties still possessed by the Tigers' new golden boy, Manu Tuilagi. The teenager hesitated for just a moment as the visitors shipped the ball across their backline and Foden pounced, moving in to out and finishing out wide.
Stephen Myler smashed over the conversion but Leicester reacted like champions to snatch an 8-7 lead. Anthony Allen and Geordan Murphy combined to send the Tigers flying upfield and a Ben Youngs tap penalty continued the momentum prior to Flood opting for a successful shot at the uprights.
The home side continued to attack with pace and intelligent running angles and found further reward as Murphy and Tuilagi punched holes in midfield. Ayerza powered forward before offloading to his fly-half, whose flick pass provided Newby with the impetus to crash over from close range.
Myler quickly re-established the Saints' lead with his first penalty on 12 minutes following an over-excited hit on Phil Dowson by Youngs, but they were then damaged by the loss of Lawes. Foden nevertheless continued to probe and got his side on the front foot by beating two tacklers thanks to a timely block on Murphy. His endeavour was ended by Alesana Tuilagi wiping out the supporting Paul Diggin to force a knock-on.
There was a let-off for the hosts on 19 minutes as Myler sent his second penalty wide of the mark, a mistake that Flood did not repeat five minutes later as the Tigers snatched an 11-10 lead thanks to some powerful running by their winger, Tuilagi. Northampton then suffered their second major injury blow as Ashton hobbled off to be replaced by Scotland international Joe Ansbro.
Myler missed a long-range shot at goal from a muddy halfway line and Flood saw a similar effort fall well short before the break, leaving Leicester with the narrowest of leads at the whistle.
Flood opened up a four-point gap with a penalty just after the restart when Tom Wood was pinged for hands in a ruck and Leicester began to turn the screw further at the lineout. Northampton bit back hard on the floor however and secured two vital turnovers inside their own 22 to blunt the home side's slashes at the line.
While their lineout was under pressure the Saints' scrum embarrassed the Leicester eight with a 10-metre march up the centre of the field on 51 minutes and Myler rewarded their efforts with three points to make it 14-13. The kick drew a line under the debacle for Leicester and they immediately hit back with a scrum penalty of their own, powered by replacement tight-head Dan Cole.
Flood landed a timely kick to restore his side's cushion but it lasted a matter of moments as a rare slip from Murphy presented the ball to Diggin on the Leicester 22. The diminutive winger's snappy follow-up gave the Saints position and referee Dave Pearson was quick to blow up for another ruck infringement, Myler adding the points to his side's total on 59 minutes. Leicester went route one to score the game's decisive try, sending heavy traffic into the Saints' midfield channels. Thomas Waldrom crashed into space off the back of a lineout and with quick ball at his disposal Youngs sent Ayerza across the line after the Argentinian international had arrived on the gainline at pace.
Flood converted and extended the Tigers' lead when Saints replacement Mark Sorenson saw yellow for cynically ending an attack close to his own line. Northampton refused to go away quietly though and a brilliant pickup off his toes by Wood took them to within metres of the Leicester line before Foden was hustled into touch off the back of a penalty. In the course of the move Murphy was injured, the Ireland international requiring a stretcher as he left the field.
Flood missed two kicks in the closing stages but it was of little importance to the home fans, who were celebrating long before Youngs hammered the ball into the stands to end the game.
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