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.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
Thank you to all those who made the trip down the M1 to support the boys at Franklin's Gardens, and for those who followed the action on Matchday Live.
We'll see you next season for more Premiership Shield action.
FULL TIME | 38-28
Grayson boots the ball out, and that's the game. Four Tigers tries cancelled out by six Northampton scores, who go through to the Shield semi-finals.
PENALTY ON THE FLOOR
Northampton win a penalty at the breakdown, and that's the game.
Kalamafoni and David Feao disrupt the Northampton lineout, and the ball gets out to the Tigers backs.
They break down the left, but the last man, but Blommetjies is bundled into touch.
Just a couple of minutes to go, and Tigers have the throw at the lineout. Hardwick feeds his backs, but the ball is ripped.
We have a bit of kick tennis, and Steward finds some space behind the Northampton line for touch.
TIGERS SHUFFLE THE PACK
Replacement hooker Jamie Harding is on for Will Evans as Tigers shuffle their forward pack.
BREAK IN PLAY
Time to catch our breath after another blistering few phases of play from Leicester is brought to a halt with a peep on the referee's whistle and ironic cheers from the home fans as his arm goes up on their side.
Telusa breaks down the right-hand side this time, but his offload finds grass instead of Leicester hands. That could have been tasty.
We've missed you, Telusa. Veainu bursts through the Northampton line on the far touchline, and it takes two defenders to bring the Tigers full-back down.
SAINTS SWAP HOOKER
George Newman is off, replaced by Josh Taylor in the Wandies' front row.
...AND THE KICK
Hardwick gets the conversion to make this a ten-point game.
The tries are coming thick and fast now, and Tigers get in on the action with a hat-trick score for Clayton Blommetjies down the left-hand touchline.
Tom Freeman and Charlies Davies are both on for the Wanderers, in place of Tom Emery and Connor Tupai.
Tigers fans, rejoice.
Telusa Veainu is on the field in place of Leo Gilliland in the Leicester back three.
WANDIES ADD ANOTHER
Northampton are over again, this time through No8 Tui Uru. The conversion hits the upright, so Northampton lead 38-21.
Sione Kalamafoni returns to action in a Tigers shirt, coming onto the field in place of Valentino Mapapalangi.
AND THE EXTRAS
Grayson adds the extras and Northampton lead 33-21.
END TO END STUFF
Northampton break, only for Tigers to turn the ball over on their 22. Law taps and goes from a penalty and makes 60 metres, but Tom Collins covers his chip ahead and recycles the ball.
The home side run it from their tryline, and despite a crcunhing Freddie Steward tackle on his opposite number Emery, Kellaway gets in for his second try of the match.
MORE GROUND FOR TIGERS
Tigers looking to take the momentum out of the game and just starting to slow the ball a little. The pack win another penalty and Tom Hardwick kicks onto the Carlsberg Stand roof.
Grayson adds two more points, and Northampton have a five-point lead for the first time in this game.
BONUS-POINT FOR NORTHAMPTON
Northampton break down the left wing, and Emery hacks ahead for his team mates to gather before Ken Pisi dots down for the bonus-point score.
Osman Dimen and Sam Costelow both join the action, in place of Campese Ma'afu and Tim Bitirim respectively.
SAINTS SWAP PROPS
Northampton have changed both their props, with Will Davis and Jamal Ford-Robinson both on for Toby Trinder and Karl Garside.
WIN AT SCRUM TIME
Tigers put in another solid shove at scrum time to win the penalty. Hardwick makes more ground with another tasty touchfinder.
TO ME, TO YOU
Both sides put in some big hits and great carries in a breathless couple of minutes, the highlights being some twinkle toes from Blommetjies and a Tuilagi take off his bootlaces.
Northampton come away with it, though, and kick to touch. All 30 players happy for the rest in this heat.
Northampton get their third, this time after full-back Tom Emery spots a gap on the near touchline to feed Tupai. Grayson misses the conversion, so Leicester still lead.
The Wanderers ship the ball along the line, and Tigers do a great job of slowing play at each phase - first with a crunching Blommetjies tackle, and then with Tuilagi working hard over the ball.
Northampton get the ball to the right, but Blommetjies tackles his man over the corner flag and it's a no try. Great defence.
Bit of confusion on halfway as the home side fumble the ball, but the penalty goes their way and Grayson makes good ground with the kick to touch.
Tigers hold strong on the initial drive, to force Connor Tupai to pull the ball out.
And David Feao has replaced tighthead Gaston Cortes, who has got a vital 40 minutes under his belt on his return from injury.
CHANGE AT HALF TIME
Tui Uru is on for Mitch Eadie in the Northampton back row.
SECOND HALF STARTS
Tom Hardwick gets us underway in this second half, Tigers now attacking towards the Main Stand at Franklin's Gardens.
HALF TIME | 14-21
Tigers lead at half time here at Franklin's Gardens after tries from Fred Tuilagi and Clayton Blommetjies (two).
KNOCK ON IN GOAL
Northampton knock the ball on over the line, and the referee signals for a Tigers scrum in the final play of the half. Tuilagi digs the ball out from the base, and his bundled into touch.
Mitch Eadie intercepts a loose Tigers pass and makes 40 metres down the far touchline, to the delight of the home crowd. Leo Gilliland does a brilliant job of stopping him, though, with just moments to go in this first half...
Referee brings us back - initially we think for a late shot on Hardwick - but it's actually for a Northampton forward pass. The fly-half kicks to touch and makes even more ground this time around.
PENALTY AT THE SCRUM
The Northampton front row must surely be on their final warning after a Tigers scrum on halfway holds strong and the penalty is awarded Leicester's way.
Hardwick makes ten metres or so with the kick, and McMillan will have the throw.
Tigers are seven points ahead once again after Hardwick kicks the conversion. He's three from three so far.
Fred somehow gets the ball down off the back of the scrum following good Tigers pressure in the home half.
RESET AFTER RESET
Three minutes later, but we will complete this scrum...
TIGERS HELD BACK
Tigers unlucky not to be over the line, here, after some huge carries from the back row and another Tuilagi offload. Scrum on the five-metre line...
HANDS FROM FRED
Tigers really want to run the ball, and Fred Tuilagi offloads off the deck following a strong Will Evans run, though the ball is spilled a couple of phases later.
Northampton got the ball away from the scrum quickly to put the Tigers defenders on their toes, but their final pass is forward.
Both sides look happy to see the water carriers onto the field in the baking sunshine.
CRUNCH FROM TINO
Tigers are back in the Wanderers' 22, and Valentino Mapapalangi makes a crunching run into two Northampton defenders. But Tigers are pinged for an infringement on the floor, and Northampton will have the put in to the scrum on their five-metre line.
AND THE EXTRAS
Grayson curls the kick between the posts, and we're all-square once again.
WANDIES DRIVE OVER
Northampton set off the back of the lineout, and while the initial drive is held, they go again and Mitch Eadie gets the score.
HARD AT THE BREAKDOWN
Both sides going in strong at the breakdown, with Will Evans disrupting Northampton ball to great effect.
The Wanderers win a scrum, though, and this time the referee's arms goes up on the Northampton side. Grayson kicks to the corner.
PLUS TWO MORE
Hardwick adds the extras from the touchline.
SECOND FOR CLAYTON
Jonny Law fires the ball quickly out the back of a strong Tigers scrum, and the ball goes through hands to find Blommetjies on the left wing, who gallops in for his second.
HARDWICK KICKS TERRITORY
Northampton have the lions' share of the possession at the moment, but Ross McMillan nabs the ball off the back of their lineout and Tom Hardwick spots some space in behind the Wanderers line. He's unlucky not to find touch, but Tigers are back into the home side's half.
CONFUSION IN MIDFIELD
A bit scrappy from both teams in midfield, and Kellaway almost thinks he's away for a second. The referee brings us back for a Tigers scrum, and after the penalty goes the visitors' way Fred Tuilagi taps and goes from the base.
Grayson adds the touchline conversion and we're all square.
WANDIES HIT BACK
Northampton pull the ball off the back of the lineout, recycle, and then switch it back to the touchline where Andrew Kellaway crashes over to score.
PINGED IN THE CORNER
Tigers now defend their line after they are penalised in their 22. Wanderers have the throw into the lineout.
Tom Hardwick adds the extras and Tigers lead, seven points to nil.
CLAYTON OVER THE LINE!
Tigers break off the back of an early lineout, and it's Clayton Blommetjies who dots down for his first try in Leicester colours.
KICK OFF AT FRANKLIN'S GARDENS
James Grayson hoists the ball into a blue Bank Holiday sky and we're underway in the Premiership Shield.
We're here at Franklin's Gardens on a glorious Easter weekend to see the Tigers Development XV take on Northampton Wanderers in the final Premiership Shield fixture of the season.
Follow all of the updates LIVE right here, on Matchday Live.