Leicester Tigers were beaten 24-11 by Northampton Saints in the opening East Midlands derby of the season at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.
Tries from Luther Burrell and Dylan Hartley gave Saints a 14-point advantage in the opening half-hour before Tigers got on the board with a George Ford penalty and it was 17-3 at half-time with the visitors finding themselves pushed back on their own line for lengthy periods.
And the hosts grabbed the opening try of the second half when a quick interchange of passes around a ruck put Tom Collins on a clear run to the line.
Tigers claimed the final score of the day, with Jonny May showing his finishing skills on the left, but with only a penalty from Ford to add to it, they returned empty-handed in the second weekend of the Aviva Premiership season.
Saints gave a debut to Australian centre Rob Horne and called wing George North into the team for the first time since the summer’s Lions tour, with former Tigers flanker Jamie Gibson included in the back row.
Both teams were looking to bounce back from defeat in Round 1, with Saints beaten heavily by Saracens at Twickenham while Tigers lost at home to Bath.
Tigers, in their all white alternate kit, received the kick-off, with Smith taking a clean catch, and the centre was involved three times in defence in the opening minutes.
Saints enjoyed the majority of possession early on, with Tigers getting through their tackles, especially in the middle of the pitch. Respite finally came with a penalty at a scrum near halfway, which allowed Ford to kick to the left touchline. But ball was lost on the long throw and Saints were able to start again.
A second penalty provided lineout ball but Tigers knocked-on in midfield and the crowd was quickly on its feet as Saints made a break through Tom Collins, only to be halted when Telusa Veainu brought down Michael Paterson 20 metres out.
A lineout miss from Tigers led to a breakthrough score for Saints as they retained ball in the attacking 22 and Luther Burrell found space on the right with the defence stretched to score. Harry Mallinder added the conversion for a seven-point lead on 13 minutes.
A big hit by Burrell on Jonny May stopped Tigers in their tracks near their own 10-metre line as they looked to get forward and referee JP Doyle soon drew together the captains to have a quick word about discipline as Saints were given a penalty just inside their own half.
Mallinder booted the kick to the left corner, but a huge hit by Hamilton on Gibson dislodged Saints possession just as they looked to threaten.
Ford had his first sight of the posts after 24 minutes after Tigers won a third scrum penalty, this time on the Saints 10-metre line. But the fly-half kicked wide of the right-hand post and the score remained 7-0.
Instead, Saints stretched their advantage with a second try as Dylan Hartley forced his way over at a close-range ruck, with the TMO check confirming the grounding. Mallinder’s kick made it 14-0.
Harry Thacker was called from the bench before the game restarted as Tom Youngs made way after a knock, and Tigers finally got points on the board in the 30th minute when a series of phases in the Saints half brought a penalty against Gibson, and Ford made the kick.
The final minutes of the half were played out close to the Tigers line, with a number of penalties against the visitors and Mallinder prodding play into the left-hand corner.
First, the Tigers defence kept out a forward drive, but the pressure stayed on and the referee called together both captains again as tensions rose.
While Tigers continued to make tackles, they were on a warning from referee Doyle when he blew again and Mallinder put the penalty over to bring the half to a close at 17-3.
Ford, captain in the absence of Tom Youngs, got the second half under way but Brendon O’Connor’s day lasted only another 60 seconds as he hobbled away after chipping ball down the right touchline. Dom Ryan came off the bench to slot into the back row.
Mike Williams replaced Graham Kitchener after the lock left for a head injury assessment, but the replacement was in trouble in less than three minites, penalised for a no-arms tackle and then receiving a yellow card for team offences after the first-half warning from referee Doyle.
A typically rampaging run from Genge near halfway promised to give Tigers a platform to get forward, but Ben Youngs was outnumbered in support and the ball was lost.
Ford kicked the first points of the second period, making it 17-6 after Saints had been penalised in fielding a Youngs box-kick.
Williams returned from the sin-bin without any points being conceded, but Tigers still had a long way to go to take something out of the game in the closing 20 minutes.
Obstruction at a ruck from Toomua gave Saints a penalty 40 metres out and Mallinder gave it a good thump, only to see the ball drift wide of the left-hand post with the lead still at 11 points.
But the hosts only had a moment to wait for their score, with wing Collins linking perfectly with the half-backs o the edge of a ruck to run free to the right of the posts. Mallinder this time made sure of the kick as the lead reached 24-6.
Tigers changed the props as the game restarted, introducing Logovi’i Mulipola and Greg Bateman, and smart work by Youngs and Toomua threatened a break but Saints quickly got back to cover and Jonny May had no space to work in as he received the ball on the left touchline.
May, though, had a better opportunity in the last minute of the game, claiming his third try for the club after Toomua gave him possession 40 metres out and the England win chipped ahead and then won the race to the decisive touch. With just 20 seconds remaining on the clock, Ford was unable to convert a hurried kick, though Tigers did win ball again at the restart before Saints managed to close out one final attack.