Northampton hung on with 14 men in the closing stages to clinch a typically hard-fought East Midlands derby against Leicester and maintain their push for a play-off place. The Saints were forced to make three changes when Ollie Sleightholme, Ethan Painter and Teimana Harrison failed late fitness tests, but the disruption did not affect their performance in the opening half with Leicester looking the more disjointed of the two sides.
It was a contrast in styles from the opening minute when Northampton ran from their own line and David Ribbans conceded a scrum for a forward pass. The Tigers were more direct, using penalties to set up driving mauls and kicking with enough variety to test the positioning of the Saints’ back three and minimise the risk of counter-attacks.
Saints took the lead after ten minutes when David Ribbans forced his way over the line after Dan Biggar and Piers Francis had both been twice held up short. Leicester used a penalty to set up a rolling maul ten metres out, but they were held up and when Northampton infringed in a similar position five minutes later, George Ford took the three points.
Both teams were disrupted by injury. Leicester centre Dan Kelly suffered a concussion after 17 minutes, which brought Nemani Nadolo off the bench, and Northampton’s scrum-half Alex Mitchell was forced off by an ankle injury after edging the tussle with his England rival Ben Youngs.
Northampton played with more fluency than their rivals who made a number of unforced errors on a sunny afternoon. Rory Hutchinson intercepted George Ford’s pass to Kini Murimurivalu on the halfway line to extend his side’s lead to 12-3 with Biggar’s conversion but Nadolo powered his way over from close range three minutes before half-time for the Tigers’ first try.
"We played some horrible rugby in that second half…but we just ground it out"
"Just really relieved it was really important for us."@SaintsRugby's Dan Bigger relieved to get the important win after a close contest with Leicester Tigers. ? #GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/mJvhmqlyMD
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) April 24, 2021
They were then playing with 14 men with Matt Scott in the sin-bin for a high tackle on Northampton’s No8 Shaun Adendorff. It was Leicester’s 17th card of the Premiership campaign and Harry Wells increased the tally five minutes after the restart for his third slightly late tackle of the match and second on Biggar.
Northampton were then 18-10 ahead through two Biggar penalties on either side of the interval and when Sam Matavesi finished off a lineout move following the penalty conceded by Wells, they looked secure. Leicester did not go down quietly. They were on their best home run for five years with six successive victories and a Ford penalty was followed by Nadolo’s second try.
Northampton played the last six minutes with 14 men after JJ Tonks saw yellow, but two late home attacks ended in penalties for holding on and the Saints tiptoed in.
'I was very much a middle-to-bottom player in a club… it’s their salaries that are getting cut by a large amount. Those players are left in the s***' @TomStephenson13 walked away from rugby at 26, his mental health in tatters. He talks to @heagneyl ???https://t.co/tIADPwvn0G
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 11, 2021
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