Leicester Tigers gained a second win since the season’s restart with a 28-24 victory over Northampton Saints at Welford Road on Sunday in Round 20 of the Gallagher Premiership campaign.
Ben Youngs, on the occasion of his 250th first-team appearance for the club, set Tigers on the way with an early try while the kicking of Zack Henry stretched the lead 16-3 as the game entered its second quarter.
But there were no breeches of the short-handed defence and Tigers had the final word in the half as Freddie Steward kicked a penalty from close to halfway to make it 19-10 at the break chasing a first win over their neighbours since the Twickenham meeting in October 2018.
The hosts received a third yellow card, this time to Hanro Liebenberg, and were thankful for two more Henry kicks to have some breathing space entering the closing four minutes before Saints grabbed a consolation score on the final whistle.
Led out by scrum-half Youngs in his 250th appearance – and 200th start – for the club, Tigers kicked off towards the Robin Hood Stand end in blazing sunshine, but it was the visitors who were first on the scoreboard, Biggar kicking a penalty from 25 metres.
But Youngs scored his try after picking off loose ball from George Furbank just as the full-back felt the full force of a tackle from Nemani Nadolo. Henry’s conversion made it 7-3 on seven minutes.
Another Nadolo tackle, this time on Taqele Naiyaravoro, stopped Saints in their tracks, allowing Luke Wallace to steal ball and Youngs to turn the defence with a clever kick to the corner as Tigers played the territory game.
Wallace’s work over the ball won another penalty and Henry landed the kick to make it 10-3 on 15 minutes.
Turnover ball on halfway allowed Tigers to spread play to the left and Henry kicked into the Saints 22 to pin the opposition back, before debutant Kini Murimurivalu showed his ability on the ball, offloading for Facundo Gigena as they got forward again.
Another breakdown penalty gave Henry the chance to make it 13-4 from 35 metres.
A dart from Alex Mitchell threatened the Tigers line until he was caught 10 metres out and, when the whistle blew at the breakdown, Youngs hammered the ball down the pitch. Furbank fielded in his 22 but was met again by Nadolo and gave away another penalty. Henry, though, clattered the post with the kick.
The rebound was knocked-on by Saints and, after Matt Scott and Nadolo attacked the tryline, a score was awarded under a pile of bodies before referee Wayne Barnes checked the replays and agreed there had been a knock-on.
He had been playing penalty advantage, though, and play resumed after the well-earned drinks break, with Henry stretching the lead to 16-3 from the tee.
Saints had an immediate penalty of their own from the kick-off and Tigers had to defend in the corner where there was also a delay as the visitors’ prop Francois van Wyk limped off, to be replaced by teenage debutant Emmanuel Iyogun.
Tigers defended through a series of phases among the forwards before they lost Lavanini to the sin-bin after collapsing a maul five metres out.
Saints attacked from the set-piece again and this time Barnes signalled a penalty try and showed the yellow card to Harry Wells, leaving Tigers with 13 men with the lead cut to 16-10 with 11 minutes to go until half-time.
Guy Porter left the field after a clash of heads with Lewis Ludlam but a timely tackle from Nadolo gained more valuable turnover ball and a penalty from which Henry could take play upfield again.
Nadolo and Matt Scott joined the scrum as Saints knocked-on in midfield and at the next set-piece a penalty award brought celebrations from the big Fijian before Steward took on the kick from 48 metres to make it 19-10 at half-time.
Ellis Genge joined the Tigers front row for the start of the second half, replacing Gigena who was making his first start in more than six months, and the first scrum brought a penalty award in front of the dug-outs. Henry judged the kick to perfection as he made it 22-10.
Steward produced a trysaving tackle on Naiyaravoro who ignored support with no other defender in sight and then Nadolo stole ball on the opposite side of the pitch bit was penalised in contact.
Saints tried to take their maul up to the line and, although they were stopped, Liebenberg was sin-binned as he stopped the ball coming back. Tigers, though, survived the pressure with some big defence on their own line in the only shady part of the pitch and even got the penalty award at the breakdown.
Harry Potter made a big hit out wide as play opened up again, but Saints had throw-in possession as play restarted from the final drinks break and the young wing was back on the ball to kick clear as they over-threw.
But Saints found a lifeline when prop Paul Hill latched on to ball 25 metres out and beat the ast tackle to score at the right-hand post and Biggar added the kick to cut the gap to five points at 22-15.
Tigers wanted the net score but Henry put a penalty wide after Saints lost lock David Ribbans for a high tackle on Steward.
Henry made amends with a drop goal after dome patient build-up making an eight-point gap entering the final 10 minutes of the game.
Ben White released some pressure at the opposite end of the field with a kick up to halfway from a five-metre lineout claimed by Calum Green. The scrum-half then read an over-thrown lineout to take play on again, though Saints were able to clear up the touchline.
Liebenberg’s break from deep took play back into Saints territory and then Potter sidestepped twice through broken field before Tigers spilled ball in midfield and the scrum brought a penalty as Jordan Taufua attacked his opposite number as he picked up.
With less then four minutes left, Henry’s successful kick – low but on target – settled some nerves as the lead reached 11 points over their oldest rivals and took his own tally for the day to 20 points.
Play ended with three penalties close to the Tigers tryline and finally Henry Taylor found enough space and tired legs in defence to dive over for Saints. Biggar’s conversion brought the game to a close.