Leicester Tigers scored six tries in coming from behind to win 41-21 at Northampton Saints in the 250th East Midlands derby on Saturday.
Tigers trailed 14-3 in the first half but fought back after the break with full-back Freddie Steward completing a hat-trick as Saints collected three yellow cards in the closing quarter of an hour.
Two tries in the space of two minutes around the 15-minute mark put Saints in front, but a Steward score got Tigers back into the game just before half-time, trimming the deficit to just four points in the latest instalment in a 142-year-old rivalry.
Despite a third from Saints just after the break, the set-piece gave Tigers a platform to build from as Guy Porter scored and then Chris Ashton, George Martin and two more from Steward in the last 10 minutes settled the outcome.
Steward was making his first appearance of the season after England’s summer tour and international colleague Jack van Poortvliet made his 50th first-team appearance in his first starting selection of the campaign.
Saints included internationals Lewis Ludlam, Courtney Lawes and Tommy Freeman plus Wales fly-half Dan Biggar who returned after illness as they defended a five-match winning run on home soil – the team’s best sequence at the Gardens since 2015.
Back after missing the Round 2 win over Newcastle, Freddie Burns got the game started, with Tigers in change colours of red and white, but it was Saints who gained first field position with Rory Hutchinson prodding play into the right-hand corner, though Hanro Liebenberg’s lineout catch allowed the visitors to play out.
After a scrum penalty led to a second whistle as Nemani Nadolo carried in midfield, and Burns opened the scoring with the kick from 40 metres.
But Saints immediately opened an attack on their right, using a lineout to get the backline moving, until a tackle from Charlie Clare on No8 Juarno Augustus dislodged ball less than 10 metres out from the tryline.
Dan Biggar had the ball down under the posts for Saints on 10 minutes, but the home crowd celebrations were cut short as referee Karl Dickson confirmed a forward pass back on the 10-metre line and play restarted with a Tigers scrum.
Saints were not denied for much longer, though, scoring twice in the space of just two minutes to take a 14-3 lead.
First, Alex Mitchell capitalised on a break down the left to run in under the posts and then George Furbank created the space for Tommy Freeman to score in the left-hand corner when Steward found himself outnumbered. Biggar converted both scores.
Tigers were penalised for a first time on 26 minutes as Matt Proctor worked his way out from his own line after a kick from van Poortvliet into the corner.
The visitors almost found a breakthrough as Jimmy Gopperth latched on to a break by Nadolo, but Biggar made the tackle almost within reach of the tryline in the corner.
It began a good spell of pressure from Tigers, though they turned down a kick at goal to build set-piece pressure, gaining scrum penalties without finding their way to the line.
Porter and Potter then combined to give Nadolo another run down the left, the wing bouncing off two attempted tackles before Saints were penalised as they tackled Tommy Reffell.
Tigers stayed on the tryline through phase after phase with the forwards until the call to play wider and a quick exchange of passes gave Steward a run-in for his first of the season. Burns added the extras just before half-time to cut the gap to 14-10.
Freeman almost found his way to the left-hand corner early in the second half, only for Potter to win the race for loose ball, but they returned moments later to claim their third try.
Lewis Ludlam made the break and lock Alex Coles was on his left shoulder to run in. Biggar’s conversion made it 21-10.
But Tigers quickly used another big scrum to manufacture a reply, with Steward freeing Nadolo and, with defenders closing in, Porter provided the final reach for the line. Burns converted to make it a four-point game again.
Scrum-half van Poortvliet, in his 50th first-team appearance, was held up over the tryline after Dan Cole’s carry through contact 15 metres out.
Ben Youngs – in his 27th derby appearance – and Joe Heyes joined the action on the hour, with play still in the Saints 22, and the visitors were piling on the pressure before a stoppage for injury to Saints prop Ethan Waller.
Phil Cokanasiga replaced Porter during the stoppage, with play eventually restarting with a five-metre scrum which led to a penalty and warning to the Saints.
The re-set provided more ball for Tigers, but Hutchinson intercepted and temporarily Saints broke out, though they were down to 14 with Augustus in the sin-bin. Proctor was the man detailed to leave the backline and join the scrum.
Replacement Chris Ashton was stopped as he raced towards the left corner and Saints were then down to 13 men as prop Emmanuel Iyogun was whistled at another scrum.
They paid the price immediately, with Tigers opening play to the left and Ashton raced in to score and put the visitors one point in front at 22-21.
They quickly increased it with George Martin barging over and, after TMO replays, Alex Mitchell was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on before Burns added the conversion for an eight-point lead.
Tigers nearly added a fifth from a quick penalty in their own half, but Steward just lost control as he reached to the line.
But he was immediately back on the ball and on the scoresheet from Ashton offloaded through a tackle against outnumbered opponents and Steward completed a hat-trick in the 79th minute in the same corner.