Recent arrival Clayton Blommetjies claimed a hat-trick of tries for Leicester Tigers Development XV in the final round of The Premiership Shield against Northampton Wanderers at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday but it was the hosts who emerged as 38-28 victors.
The Blommetjies treble and a score from No8 Fred Tuilagi secured a point for the Tigers in the final round of Northern Conference fixtures on a warm and sunny Easter Saturday as Northampton secured second place in the table as they came back from 14-21 down at half-time.
There was also a welcome return for Sione Kalamafoni and Telusa Veainu as second-half replacements and for tighthead prop Gaston Cortes who started following his recovery from injury.
Tigers took the lead after just three minutes with a try from wing Blommetjies, picking up at the back of a ruck after the platform had been laid at a lineout on the left and Tom Hardwick added the conversion.
Wanderers, though, responded in kind within four minutes, using a penalty in the corner to establish possession and then James Grayson floating a long pass out wide of Andrew Kellaway to dive in and score. Grayson added the touchline conversion to level the scores.
The home side threatened a length-of-the-filed break straight from the restart before knocking-on on their own 10-metre line and, instead, Tigers worked their way to a second score for Blommetjies, dotting down in the left-hand corner after smart work from Hardwick, Tim Bitirim and full-back Freddie Steward. Hardwick added the kick to make it 7-14 on 16 minutes.
A scrum penalty in the right-hand corner gave Wanderers a chance to set up another lineout drive and Mitch Eadie this time added the touchdown, with Grayson’s conversion levelling the scores again at 14-14.
Tigers took the lead for a third time approaching half-time as a dominant scrum on the Northampton five-metre line presented a chance for Tuilagi to score and Hardwick’s conversion made it 14-21.
No8 Eadie threatened another score for the hosts as he broke free on the left, only to be brought down by Wales age-group wing Leo Gilliland. Tigers then mopped up loose ball and kicked into touch with the stadium clock on 40 minutes, only for the referee to rule that time had not in fact elapsed and the visitors had to defence another set-piece in their own 22 before the whistle went with the lead intact.
That seven-point advantage survived when Wanderers thought wing Tom Collins had scored with a dive into the right-hand corner early in the second half but, after consulting with the assistant in that corner, the referee ruled he had lost control of the ball.
Northampton created another opportunity, though, using an overlap on the left to set up scrum-half Connor Tupai to score their third of the day. Grayson’s conversion attempt drifted wide with the score at 19-21.
Another score would guarantee progress to the Shield semi-finals for Wanderers, who went into the game five points clear of Worcester in the battle for second place in the northern table, and it came on 55 minutes when Ken Pisi followed Kellaway’s break to get the vital touch under the posts and put them in front for the first time. Grayson’s simple conversion made it 26-21.
A Jonny Law tap penalty back in his own 22 gave Tigers something to chase as he kicked ahead, but Collins and Grayson combined to escape almost on their own tryline before Wanderers broke out on their left flank again for Kellaway to score and Grayson stretched the lead to 12 points with the extras and try number six quickly followed for Tui Uru after a smart exchange of passes on the opposite wing as the scoreline reached 38-21.
Sione Kalamafoni made his return at the end of a three-game ban, as a replacement for fellow Tongan forward Valentino Mapapalangi just after the hour mark and Telusa Veainu returned from a lengthy injury absence for the final 15 minutes.
Blommetjies grabbed his hat-trick score as he ran on to a pass from Hardwick who quickly added the conversion with Tigers 38-28 behind and a little over 10 minutes remaining on the clock.
And the South African almost sniffed out a fourth when Tigers won lineout ball on the right and quickly spread play to the opposite wing before the defence closed in just five metres from the tryline in the final scoring opportunity of the afternoon.