Leicester Tigers claimed Derby Day honours at Twickenham with a 23-15 victory over Northampton Saints on Saturday.
In a first Twickenham meeting since the 2013 Premiership Final, George Ford gave Tigers an early lead with a penalty before Saints forced a breakthrough try from Jamie Gibson. After Ford had added a second kick, Tigers ran in two tries inside 60 seconds around the half-hour mark from Ben Youngs and Jordan Olowofela to lead 20-5 against their East Midlands rivals.
Saints added their second try in added time at the end of the half as they cut that deficit to 10 points at half-time.
The second half was a more scrappy affair, with the rain playing its part, but Saints gathered momentum in the final half-hour to claim a try from Mike Haywood which narrowed the gap to 15-23 with 10 minutes left on the clock but that was the end of the scoring.
It was an emotional day for former Saints centre Rob Horne whose career was ended by injury in the derby meeting at Welford Road last season. The game was moved to HQ in support of the former international who suffered paralysis in his right arm after a collision in the opening seconds of the derby last April.
In team news announced on Friday, Tigers welcomed back Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs, while Jonah Holmes and Harry Wells also came into the starting team. Saints included former Tigers flanker Gibson but were forced into a late change when Courtney Lawes was ruled out by a back injury, with Api Ratuniyarawa stepping up from the bench and Tom Wood joining the replacements.
Horne delivered the matchball to appreciative applause around the stadium at a rain-lashed Twickenham and it was Ford who got the game under way.
Tigers, in their alternate white kit, had an early win when they took turnover ball on the ground in the Saints half and the travelling support sensed a chance when Tuilagi saw some space. And, after keeping ball in foreign territory, they had the first penalty of the game just 20 metres out.
Ford chipped the kick over for a three-point lead with less than five minutes played.
A big scrum on halfway brought another penalty moments later, but Ahsee Tuala kept Ford’s kick to the corner in play and Saints were able to clear.
Tigers lost Jonny May to injury after just eight minutes with what looked like a shoulder problem after carrying ball near halfway. As he left the field, Olowofela was given an early opportunity to return to action.
A kick off the outside of his right boot by full-back Mallinder gave Saints their first taste of the action in the Tigers half on nine minutes, pushing play into the corner, but they knocked on less than 10 metres out after Tigers had missed their own lineout throw.
A long pass from Cobus Reinach evaded the Saints backline and almost provided a turnover for Tigers, but Tuilagi just failed to get hold of the skidding ball. From the scrum, Mallinder pushed a kick up to the tryline, but Holmes was confident enough to run it out before Youngs kicked clear.
Tigers were then penalised in the next phase and Biggar turned down the chance of going for goal to kick into the corner. Saints missed their man and Guy Thompson gathered, but the referee’s assistant brought play back for a penalty against Dan Cole for contact in the lineout.
This time, they secured ball and despite a big hit from the Tigers pack, retained it through three more phases for Gibson score under a pile of bodies. Biggar was off target with the conversion kick but Saints led 5-3 on 17 minutes.
A wayward pass put Biggar under pressure near his own line soon after the restart as David Denton and Mike Williams chased him down and they were rewarded with a penalty award. Ford, though, pulled his kick left of the posts.
A break by Tuala threatened for Saints before Olowofela stepped in and then Thompson hacked play upfield but was just unable to grab the greasy ball with 40 metres of green space in front of him.
Tigers had another scrum penalty on 23 minutes, with referee JP Doyle clearly saying “both props going backwards” to the Saints pack as Ford pointed to the posts. Just short of the 10-metre line, wide on the left, Ford struck the ball cleanly and firmly to put Tigers in front at 6-5.
They stretched the lead with a Youngs try on 30 minutes after superb work from Adam Thompstone and Holmes.
Thompstone beat Mallinder to a high ball and managed to a flick a pass under pressure to Holmes and, with the defence outnumbered, he saw Youngs in support to run in and score. Ford added the kicked to make it 13-5.
One minute later and Tigers were further in front when Olowofela slid into the left-hand corner after Holmes had tidied up ball in his own half and then got Tigers going forward again.
Saints, who had lost Tuala to injury and then scrum-half Reinach to blood, wanted an instant response and built a number of phases in attack before spilling ball, with Sione Kalamafoni and Harry Wells working hard in defence.
They were then held up on the right-hand post, Denton wrapping up his opposite number. Play restarted, though, with an attacking scrum with just two minutes remaining in the opening period. Again, Saints retained ball to push for the line. Again, they stalled just short of the whitewash. And again restarted with a scrum. The defence reacted and held ball up off the floor to earn put-in at the next set-piece.
The danger was not over, though, and after restarting the game with four seconds remaining on the official clock, Tigers were free-kicked a the scrum and Saints stayed within reach of the line through the phases before lock David Ribbans forced his way over. Biggar missed his second conversion attempt as Tigers returned to the dressing rooms 20-10 in front.
Tino Mapapalangi had replaced Denton in the back row in theclosi9ng moments of the half and remained on the field at the start of the second period, though Reinach did return fromk his blood injury for Saints.
There was no let-up in the rain, which did not help the flow at the start of the second period, punctuated by set-pieces and spilled ball.
Saints gifted Tigers some territory when he was adjudged to be in front of fly-half Biggar as he went for a cross-kick just 25 metres from his own line and Ford pushed Tigers into the left-hand corner. At the lineout, though, scrum-half Reinach somehow ripped ball out and Saints cleared into touch 20 metres upfield.
A charge from Greg Bateman had the visiting support in good voice moments later and Tigers again put their penalty into the corner as they built some pressure on the Saints defence. But ball was wrapped up again in possession less than 10 metres out and Saints could restart with a scrum put-in.
The clock had reached 12 minutes in the period when Mallinder kicked up the right touchline and all of it has been played inside the Saints half. But they started to come into the game with some possession on the right before Ben Youngs blocked a grub-kick from Tom Collins and hacked upfield before winning a penalty as Saints chased back.
Ford added the three points from 30 metres out to make it 23-10 with the first score of the half on 58 minutes.
Holmes gathered the restart and ran at the Saints defence, but Tigers were forced back after kicking ball away and Collins almost found his way through on the wing before the forwards continued to knock at the door right on the tryline. A big hit from Tuilagi pushed them back as they tried to open play up but Kalamafoni was called for offside as Saints tried again.
Tigers did their best to upset the lineout in the corner from the penalty but were blown again for taking out the lifters and Saints set up a repeat. This time Cole led the defensive charge and Tigers finally forced an error. Saints dropping ball 10 metres out in a central position.
Tigers had spent a good 10-minute spell in their own defensive zone and stayed there when Kalamafoni dropped ball as he tried to run out from the base of the scrum with 15 minutes remaining.
Saints looked like they’d found some space on the right after Teimana Harrison set up a charge towards the line, but Kyle Eastmond quickly attacked the tackle area and referee Doyle whistled in his favour, allowing Ford to clear. But then Tigers were penalised and pinned back in the corner again.
This time they made Tigers pay with replacement hooker Mike Heywood forcing his way over. Biggar missed his conversion kick again as Tigers led 23-15 entering the final 10 minutes.
David Feao, off the bench for Bateman, almost became a derby hero when he barged his way towards the tryline but then lost control of the ball just a couple of metres out.
A scrum win against the head allowed Tigers to take up some more time and take the sting out of their rivals as play alternated either side of the halfway line with the clock ticking down and the game ended with Eastmond forcing another error anmd Tigers celebrating Derbny Day victory.