Leicester Tigers took two points from a 41-39 defeat against Northampton Wanderers in the Premiership Shield on Monday evening and were one last-minute kick away from taking a maximum from the derby fixture.
Trailing 19-0 early on, a young Tigers team fought their way back into the game and, even when Wanderers thought they’d taken the game out of reach at 32-41 with just a few minutes remaning, there was still some drama left in the game.
First, Sam Costelow converted a try from replacement prop Keston Lines after a clever inside pass on the edge of a ruck and then the Welsh fly-half had one final chance with a 40-metre penalty with 80 minutes up on the clock.
Although he connected strongly and the kick had plenty of legs, it went wide of the posts and the visitors were able to celebrate their victory.
The Wanderers ran in four tries in the first half, but didn’t have it all their own way as Tigers claimed two scores from forward drives and also one from Costelow to bring it back to 19-26 at the break.
An Andrew Symons break brought the opening score for the visitors, as James Mitchell arrived in support and slid over the line after being taken down a few metres short, then a 70-metre break from Ollie Sleightholme gave No8 Tui Uru a chance to score their second.
George Martin and Taylor Gough both made solid hits in defence and Henri Lavin won an important penalty over the ball just in front his own line as a more experienced Wanderers side enjoyed the bulk of possession early on.
The third try came from slick hands along the backline before Harry Mallinder, on his way back from injury, scored to the right of the posts. Grayson added the conversion for a 19-point lead approaching the half-hour.
A penalty against kick-chasers gave Tigers a first real attacking opportunity and they made it count when Thom Smith caught the lineout and the forwards drove Gough over to score. Costelow added the extras and the fly-half was back in the action just a few minutes later when he charged down a clearing kick 35 metres out, kicked the loose ball on and just got the decisive touch over the line.
But Wanderers still had one more try left in them, with strong running and support play leading to a score for prop Karl Garside. Grayson’s extras gave them a 26-12 lead just short of half-time.
They lost flanker Ollie Newman to a yellow card for taking a man in the air and Tigers immediately set up a push through the forwards on the right to go over for a third try, with Jimmy Stevens credited with the score. The conversion from wide on the right brought Tigers back to within one score at 19-26 at the close of the first 40 minutes.
Tigers lost Leo Gilliland to injury straight from the restart but then levelled the scores with a try from Joe Batley and conversion from Costelow.
Some good work at the other end of the field blocked out the Wanderers before Jack van Poortvliet combined with Batley in attack and, even when ball was lost, play came back for a penalty and Costelow added the kick to cut the gap to just two points.
Wanderers, though, made a clinical break in the backs, with Grayson running into space and ten passing out to the right where Ryan Olowofela finished in the corner.
There was still time for a grandstand finish thanks to the Lines try and then so close to a final victory when Costelow thumped his kick from the tee with time already up but saw it miss the left-hand post.