Northampton Saints took Derby Day honours with a 36-13 victory over Leicester Tigers in Round 5 of the Gallagher Premiership season at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.
In the 244th East Midlands derby, Saints claimed five tries – three of them in the first half – as they built on their good form at the start of the season.
Guy Thompson got his first Premiership try of the campaign midway through the first half for Tigers, but a pair of scores from Matt Proctor gave Saints the initiative which they would not let slip. They stretched their advantage through Api Ratuniyarawa just seconds before the break ,with the big lock only added to the line-up ahead of kick-off as one of three changes as Saints lost Courtney Lawes, Owen Franks and Dan Biggar to injury.
Saints got their bonus-point try through Tom Collins and then replacement Fraser Dingwall added a fifth on a tough day for the visitors.
Both teams flew into their early challenges but it was a scrappy start with a high error count until a smart set of phases gave Ben Youngs and George Ford a chance to set Jaco Taute away. When he was tackled 20 metres out, Tigers continued to recycle until a whistle in their favour right in front of the posts and Ford put the day’s first points on the board with the kick.
When Saints threatened in the right-hand corner, Thompson read a pass in front of his own posts and intercepted. But his offload went forward and play came back for a Saints set-piece which provided their breakthrough score.
Cobus Reinach took play to the right from the set-piece and, with Tigers focused on the scrum-half, Kiwi centre Proctor charged on to the short pass to score. Grayson’s conversion made it 7-3 on 19 minutes.
Tigers lost Jonah Holmes to injury as the game restarted, with Andy Forsyth introduced on the wing just as the forward pack put pressure on Saints with a powerful drive in the corner. Two penalties and a warning followed against Northampton as play stayed five metres from their tryline.
Another big push, with Sione Kalamafoni and Wells getting close to the whitewash, ended with Dan Cole and then Thompson making the last charge for the try. Ford added an immaculate conversion for a 10-7 lead with 24 minutes elapsed.
The reply was a bizarre one when Lavanini chased a clearing kick, only for it to rebound off his head straight into Alex Waller’s hands. The prop had plenty of green space in front of him before being brought down by the scrambling defence, though Grayson added a penalty for a tackle around the prop’s collar to level the scores at 10-10.
And the home side went ahead again with Proctor’s second try, finishing in the corner as they kept ball alive in contact from one side of the field to the other with the centre adding the finish after Rory Hutchinson had been blocked out just short of the line. Grayson’s touchline conversion made it 17-10.
Kalamafoni, Cole and Lavanini were prominent carriers as Tigers tried to build phases of possession, but Saints cleared their lines with a penalty award from Matthew Carley. Cole was quickly forced into action at the other end of the field as he flattened full-back George Furbank as he danced his way through the first line of defence.
But Saints claimed a third try as Tigers lost ball at a set-piece and Ratuniyarawa finished a break from Naiyaravoro to score. Grayson’s kick was not the prettiest but still went between the posts for a 24-10 lead at half-time.
Jake Kerr joined the forward pack early in the second period just as Cole’s work at the breakdown brought a penalty in Saints territory and Lavanini carried strongly from the set-piece before Saints closed and the big Argentinian almost made a breakthrough moments later as he joined forces with Genge. Saints, though, closed in quickly again before losing lock Alex Moon to a yellow card as he slapped ball out of Youngs’ hands.
Ford kicked the three-pointer to make it 24-13 but Saints were quickly back on the attack and kept their rivals pinned back until Hutchinson’s clever kick into the corner led to a bonus-point score.
Tigers went long at the lineout but lost possession off the back and, after a couple of pushes towards the line, Grayson used a long pass out for Collins to score in the corner. The fly-half missed the conversion kick at 29-13 on 59 minutes.
Lavanini’s appetite for work was apparent in another big hit in defence followed by work at a ruck on the other side of the pitch, but Tigers just couldn’t get a foothold in the form of meaningful possession. And they paid the price when another missed lineout provided ball for Saints who finished through replacement Fraser Dingwall on their right and Grayson’s conversion stretched the lead to 36-13 inside the final 10 minutes.
Another error from Tigers back on their own tryline provided Saints with a five-metre scrum and they had a penalty too right in front of the posts as the clock reached 80 minutes but Tigers this time held out one last push.